Like many American families, our holiday table at Christmastime is often a melting pot. From Ukrainian borscht and the potato-stuffed dumplings called pierogi to English plum pudding and the French Yule log cake Bûche de Noël, we enjoy a mix of traditional foods gathered from our family's diverse cultural heritage.
At my parents' house, Christmas brunch would not be complete without stollen, a traditional German bread filled with nuts, marzipan and rum-soaked fruits and topped with a wintery dusting of powdered sugar.
Stollen has been made in Germany since the 14th century and, like many holiday foods, has religious symbolism. The cake's oblong shape is said to represent baby Jesus wrapped up in a blanket, with the fruits and nuts symbolizing the gifts of the three wise men.
Stollen's dense texture gives it a long shelf life, and many people send it as gifts or order it through the mail. If you're lucky, you can find a German baker in your hometown and get stollen right from the source.
The Fressen Artisan Bakery in Portland makes its first seasonal batches of stollen in October, partly to accommodate early demand, but also to give the loaves time to mature. Stollen can be eaten the same day, says Fressen owner and head baker Edward Loesch, but it's best when allowed to sit for two or three weeks before it's sold.
"In that time, that's when the flavors mature and develop more complexity," says Loesch. "The flavors of the fruits and spices become more pronounced the more it sits."
German customers start asking for stollen in November, and demand picks up a few weeks before Christmas. Loesch has one customer who buys 12 loaves at the end of the year for an elderly German friend. "We wrap them for her and she freezes them so she can have a stollen to eat every month."
Go Try It
Fressen Artisan Bakery
- 523 NE 19th, Portland
- 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday
Fressen sells its German-style breads and pastries to restaurants, at farmers markets and through its new shop which opened earlier this year next to the bakery. "It's nice to have a retail space," says Loesch, "because you finally get to see the reaction of people and hear how they like it."
This time of year, Loesch encourages his non-German customers to give his stollen a try, even though "it might seem a little bit too much like fruitcake to them."
"We have seen a lot of American customers open up their palates, trying [the stollen], liking it and maybe adopting that tradition for themselves."