Who Invented the 'Stollen'? Feud Erupts Over Famous German Christmas Cake

Dresdner Stollen baked in the grand city of Dresden is the queen of German Christmas cakes and has gained a growing popularity abroad. But the small town of Torgau is risking the wrath of Dresden's bakers by claiming it invented the cake 550 years ago, and launching its own Stollen to mark the occasion.

At Christmas time in Germany, no household is without its "Dresdner Stollen," a bread loaf-shaped cake containing raisins and marzipan which the city of Dresden has prided itself on for half a millennium.

Celebration of the powdered-sugar-coated delicacy reaches religious proportions in this eastern city. Thousands turned out last Saturday to cheer the world's biggest Stollen, a three-tonne monster, as it was hauled through the streets on a horse-drawn cart in an annual ritual not unlike a crowd of Aztecs worshipping a sun god.

Marching bands and dozens of bakers followed the 4.35 meter-long cake, made with 74 liters of rum and 2.6 million raisins, all the way to the city's main Christmas market, where it was cut into bite-sized half-kilo portions.

But the festivities have coincided with a claim by the small town of Torgau, 75 kilometers to the northwest of Dresden, that it was a Torgau baker who invented the Stollen.

"We don't want to start a Stollen war and we don't want to talk down the Dresdner Stollen in any way," Anja Jerichen, head of Torgau's tourist information office, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We just want to point out that the Stollen in its current form goes back to a cake made 550 years ago by the Torgau baker Heinrich Drasdow."

Plucky Torgau Baker Defied Pope

In 1457, Drasdow added butter, raisins and sugar to a recipe that had been devised more than a century earlier in the German town of Naumburg a little further west, said Jerichen, citing historical research. Drasdow was brave because adding butter was in direct contravention of a papal ban on butter being consumed in the Advent fasting period leading up to Christmas.

Drasdow had a letter of privilege -- a type of patent -- from the local duke to bake his revolutionary new Stollen, which was far more tasty than the original dreary mix of flour, water and brewer's yeast the Naumburg bakers had presented to their bishop in the early 14th century as a fasting food. The white oblong shape of that cake was intended to symbolize the baby Jesus in swaddling, and has remained unchanged to this day.

The "Drasdow Stollen" was baked 17 years before Stollen was even mentioned in conjunction with the city of Dresden in historical records. It gradually became known as "Dresdner Stollen" because the people of Dresden don't enunciate clearly, claims celebrity chef Reinhard Lämmel in his "Saxony Cookbook," adding insult to injury.

Predictably, Dresden's bakers are having none of it. Wolfgang Hesse, head of the city's Stollen Protection Association, told SPIEGEL ONLINE: "It doesn't matter who baked what 500 years ago. The real Christmas Stollen only comes from Dresden. I'm sure Torgau bakes good Stollen. But Dresden never claimed to be first, we're just the best."

Marketing Success

Dresden's bakers have certainly been the best at marketing their Stollen over the centuries. Dresdner Stollen has trademark protection and has established itself as the Mercedes of Christmas cakes in Germany.

Only the cakes produced in the city's 150 bakeries, many of them family-run, may be called Dresdner Stollen.

The city's Stollen Protection Association maintains strict quality control and dictates the quantities of raisins, almonds and other ingredients that go into it. However, subtle differences remain in the recipes passed down through generations of bakers, and a true Stollen connoisseur can detect them, said Hesse.

Dresden's bakers churn out more than two million Stollen cakes in various sizes each year.

"It doesn't matter who invented it, it was the bakers of Dresden who refined the recipe and turned it into a world-famous cake," Marlon Gnauck, manager of Dresden-based bakery Bäckerei Konditorei Gnauck, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Because we're selling so many of them, it's understandable that others are trying to get a piece of the cake, as it were."

Just as German-style Christmas markets are popping up in cities around the world, Dresdner Stollen is enjoying growing international popularity. Gnauck exports 80 percent of the around 7,000 Stollen cakes his company bakes every year, mainly to European Union countries (especially France) but also to the US.

But plucky Torgau is fighting back. "We've been marketing our own Stollen more aggressively this year to mark its 550th anniversary and have started baking the Torgau Butterstollen according to an old recipe," said Jerichen.

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