Americans like to joke about fruitcake at Christmastime. But in Dresden, Germans celebrate their stollen with an annual festival, a parade, and the crowning of a Fruitcake Princess.
Consider the American fruitcake. This humble holiday sweet endures a reputation in the US as the sad, dry epitome of all white elephant gifts. And no Christmas goodie is more likely to become an internet meme than the lowly fruitcake.
Not so in Dresden. Here, stollen, as it’s called in Germany, has long been considered a food fit for kings, and for centuries, the German fruitcake has been the star of its own Advent celebration.
A Fruitcake Parade
Each year in early December, Dresden honors its beloved fruitcake with Stollenfest, a day-long, citywide celebration of the tasty fruit- and nut-filled loaves and the talented bakers who create them. The festival takes place in the center of Dresden’s Old City, in Altmarkt Square, and marks the unofficial launch of the city’s Advent season.
At the center of Stollenfest is the Riesenstollen, believed to be the world’s largest fruitcake, a powdered sugar-coated loaf that weighs in at nearly two tons. A team of horses transports the royal blue carriage and its enormous cargo into the historic city center with much fanfare. Past the Dresden Cathedral and the iconic Zwinger Palace, past the Frauenkirche church and throngs of cheering onlookers, the giant stollen makes its way to the Streizelmarkt, Dresden’s Christmas market, which dates from 1434 and is thought to be Germany’s oldest.
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Accompanying Dresden’s giant fruitcake is the Stollenmädchen, the Fruitcake Princess, who is typically an apprentice stollen baker or pastry chef. Her duty is to represent Dresden’s prized fruitcake and its pastry chefs for the coming year at Christmas markets and press events around Europe. A colorful procession of hundreds joins the Stollenmädchen through the city’s cobbled streets: medieval-style jesters and jugglers, marching bands, and brightly adorned horses. Parading alongside the others are Dresden’s all-important pastry chefs, from whose kitchens the city’s famous fruitcake comes. They and their journeyman bakers are clad in crisp white aprons and puffy chef’s caps, wielding wooden spoons and baking paddles, pushing carts filled with fresh baked goods, and beaming with pride at their role as the creators of Dresdner stollen.
When the entourage finally reaches the city square, the Fruitcake Princess takes on the task of overseeing the slicing of the giant stollen, the ceremonial first cut always performed with an equally giant five-foot-long knife. Thousands of fruitcake fans will purchase rich, buttery slices of cake, leaving telltale signs of confectioners’ sugar around their mouths and on their shirtfronts. Proceeds from the giant fruitcake will be divided between charity and a fund to foster the development of the next generation of Dresden’s master bakers.
Centuries of Stollen Goodness
Dresden has been baking stollen since at least 1474. Originally considered a fasting food and made only of flour, yeast, and water—the use of butter or milk was deemed too decadent by the Catholic church—the fruitcakes became richer over the years. By the mid-1500s, stollen had evolved to include butter, cinnamon, cloves, spirits, almonds and, naturally, dried fruits like raisins, lemon zest, and candied citrus peels. It became tradition by 1560 for bakers to present their monarch with a loaf or two of their best stollen each year at Christmastime.
In 1730, when the powerful prince-elector Augustus the Strong ruled over Dresden and the surrounding state of Saxony, he flouted his dominion’s might and wealth with a magnificent Baroque festival. A self-professed stollen fanatic, Augustus invited all of Europe’s movers and shakers to attend his extravaganza, a festival that culminated in the unveiling of the world’s largest fruitcake. And thus, Stollenfest was born.
More than 100 bakers produce authentic stollen in and near Dresden today, taking orders as early as a year in advance of Christmas. The Dresdner Stollen Association keeps a careful watch on the quality of its city’s fruitcake bakeries, placing an official gold seal of approval on loaves produced by its member bakers. Protecting their standards is important since Dresdner stollen enjoys EU protection status, like that of prosciutto di Parma and Dutch gouda.
Visitors fortunate enough to visit Dresden during the Advent season can catch Stollenfest in person. They can also watch master bakers mixing, kneading, and baking fruitcake at the Showroom Bakery in the heart of the city’s Christmas market.
INSIDER TIPContact the Dresden Tourist Information Center for a list of Dresden bakeries offering hands-on stollen instruction.
But curious gourmands can enjoy Dresden’s famous fruitcake even if they can’t make it to Stollenfest. The cellophane-wrapped loaves find their way to bakery shelves throughout Saxony from September through January. And you can buy them online from bakeries like the Dresden Stollen Bakers, the Dresdner Backhaus, or specialty German food supplier The Taste of Germany. Buyers need not worry about the loaves’ freshness. Stuffed as they are with rum-soaked fruit, they’re well-preserved against mold. And tradition has it that patrons never slice into a loaf before it has aged at least t weeks, no matter how hungry they are.
Fruit cake! Wow! A great dessert or snack! Ripe preserved fruit (and nuts) embeded in just the right 'carrier' dough. A memory of Christmases at home...
Totally unforgettable for all the right reasons!
How did this fab dessert ended up being despised or loughed at - I will never understand.
Oh, and by the way - it is not a humble dessert! It is fabulous and only in Germany. And it is not always called 'stollen'.. this tradition is present in other European countries as well.
Keep in mind that in the old times you had to create desserts out of what one had at hand.
That meant flour, yeast, honey as a sweetener and of course dry fruit (already sweet by nature). No wonder many areas a variety of fruit cakes were created and enjoyed!