This Christmas, every baker in town seems to be making stollen, the German ‘bread’ that’s more like a cake, baked as it is with dried fruits, candied citrus peels, nuts and spices — and a marzipan centre. Stollen’s sudden popularity in India is somewhat inexplicable. Until a few years ago, very few had even heard of it, but now it’s available across cities — made by local home-bakers as well as pan-India bakeries and chocolatiers like Theobroma and La Folie. In Bengaluru, where I live, several large patisseries around town, from Lavonne to Happy Belly Bakes, Liliyum Patisserie and Honore, have baked stollens this year.
“Stollens make for great gifts. The loaf is dipped in butter and sugar after being baked, which creates a kind of anaerobic coating that prevents mould formation and lets flavours develop over time, so it stays fresh for ages and can be shipped across large distances,” says Dina Weber, the founder of Mysuru-based SAPA Bakery, which was one of the first to start making stollen in India over four years ago.
SAPA’s OG stollen is a variety called the Iron Ore Mountain Stollen — named after a region in Germany where this variety is popular. Weber, who is from Germany but has lived in India for several years, says there are many versions of stollen made across Germany during Christmas. “Baking stollen was essentially a way of using up local fresh produce, which would be collected and preserved during the summer months, so there are subtle differences depending on the region and what grows there,” says Weber. She and her staff start soaking dehydrated fruits in Old Monk rum four months before the baking process starts (around the end of November). Then they make the marzipan blocks that form the heart of the stollen, and make a roux to bring more moisture into the dough. This year, they are baking over 1500 loaves.
There is a fascinating piece of Christian religious history behind the stollen, Weber reveals. In the 15th century, the Catholic Church prohibited the use of butter and animal fats during Lent, believing that these fuel lustful and impure thoughts. People could only use vegetable oils, but these were expensive. But then, in the late 15th century, Pope Innocent VIII issued his “Butterbrief”, a papal decree that excluded Dresden's stollen bakers from the 1450 butter ban. “From then on, stollen grew in popularity as a festive treat,” says the official agricultural and rural development website of the EU, explaining why the Dresdner Christstollen, from the Dresden region of Germany, is protected by a Geographical Indications (GI) tag.
That, thankfully, does not prevent Indian bakers from trying their hand at baking stollens. Weber is not perturbed by the fact that so many bakeries are making it now, even though these versions may not be perfectly ‘authentic’. “It’s okay, they want to try it. I do wonder though how you will be able to recreate it without tasting the original or different versions. It would be like me trying to make dosas without ever having a dosa,” she says, laughing.
Biting into a slice of the SAPA stollen, lightly toasted and brushed with hot melted butter, such doubts disappear. Move over, plum cakes, the stollen is here.