Tomorrow I will be elbows deep in Stollen dough. My grandparents were the offspring of German immigrants, and the stollen became the symbol of the kitchen work obligations which came at the start of our family’s Christmas holidays.
Stollen is one of those butter and candy peel sweet breads you have during the holidays. If you’re American, it’s likely you do it without thinking of the history of the thing. But since I’m a little blasé about sweet things, I’m sometimes more interested in the history than the actual cakes.
And the history—as well as the cake’s evolution—can be quite fascinating. According to Wikipedia:
Early Stollen was different, with the ingredients being flour, oats and water.7 As a Christmas bread stollen was baked for the first time at the Council of Trent in 1545,8 and was made with flour, yeast, oil and water.
The Advent season was a time of fasting, and bakers were not allowed to use butter, only oil, and the cake was tasteless and hard.5 In the 15th century, in medieval Saxony (in central Germany, north of Bavaria and south of Brandenburg), the Prince Elector Ernst (1441–1486) and his brother Duke Albrecht (1443–1500) decided to remedy this by writing to the Pope in Rome. The Saxon bakers needed to use butter, as oil in Saxony was expensive, hard to come by, and had to be made from turnips.
Turnip oil! Can you imagine? Eventually, it took several papal appeals to be allowed butter. And with some later additions, like marzipan and candied peels, stollen’s path began to merge with Panettone and it began to look much like the one I will be making tomorrow morning.
But if I were to make panettone, it would likely take several days. It has some quirks in the way it’s fermented, and perhaps that’s why it’s so prized today.
In any case, here’s where Luca of Luca’s Italy comes in. His podcast about the history and evolution of what we know today as Panettone is fascinating, and he tells it well. Have a listen:
Luca has posted a couple of historic videos of the production of Panettone on his site, so if you are entranced with the making of this Italian delicacy, head on over to his podcast page.