Christmas bread in Vancouver
After living in North America for most of my life, I moved to a hot climate where every single day was about 30 degrees. While living in warm weather definitely had its advantages, the one time of year when I had difficulty appreciating it was during Christmas. Somehow it became absolutely impossible for my mind to picture snow, reindeer, and fat men in snuggly suits as I was surrounded by palm trees and mangoes. That was when I first fell in love with stollen; and I learned how taste can powerfully conjure up memories, images and feelings.
For me, stollen tastes of Christmas. Perhaps this is because this Christmas loaf originated in Germany. It has a dense consistency and is speckled with currants, dried fruits, nuts and orange zest. My favourite type comes with a thin ribbon of marzipan in the centre, and it is finished with a fine dusting of powdered sugar. One bite of its spicy sweetness and I am immediately transported to one of those outdoor German markets (something else we’ve appropriated in Vancouver!)
The tradition of stollen began in Saxony around the mid 14th century, when during Christmas time, this loaf was shaped to represent the Christ child wrapped in swaddling clothes. An interesting piece of its history is that at that point in time, the Roman Catholic Church forbade the use of butter in baking as people were obliged to observe fasting during this period. Originally stollen was quite simply composed of water, flour and oil. It wasn’t until the 15th century when an intrepid prince elector petitioned the pope in Rome to lift the butter ban. While the pope did allow this concession for the prince elector’s family, the general public remained butterless until the middle of the 16th century!
Dresden in particular is well-known for their stollen where it has been sold in Christmas markets since the middle of the 15th century. However, it has made its way around the world and is now sold in many countries which have placed their own unique twist on this old favourite. A good example is the pan de Pascua made in Chile, flavoured with rum.
One of my favourite finds in Vancouver is the stollen made by a local chef known as Chef Kev whose products can be found at the Baker’s Market, or ordered online. I find his stollen just the right texture—an excellent cross between bread and cake that is flavoured with his secret blend of spices (cinnamon, cardamom, maize, allspice, clove and nutmeg). The marzipan that runs down the centre of his stollen is handmade as is the candied orange peel studded throughout the loaf. The dried fruit and orange peel have been soaked in brandy a month before baking. Needless to say, it is one of my favourite Christmas treats that I look forward to all year long.
Although stollen can be kept on the shelf for months at a time (it gets better with age), Chef Kev now gives customers the option of vacuum packaging the loaves. As I’ll be sending a few loaves to my relatives enjoying the 30 degree weather in the Philippines this Christmas, I’ll definitely be availing of this option.
By the way, this is the last week of the Baker’s Market before Christmas, and they are now at a new location. Get your goodies while you can!