x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dresden's pride, Torgau's envy?

The bakers of Dresden are so proud of their "Dresdner Stollen" Christmas cake that they parade a three-tonne version of the sugar-coated delicacy through the city each year.

BERLIN // The bakers of Dresden are so proud of their "Dresdner Stollen" Christmas cake that they parade a three-tonne version of the sugar-coated delicacy through the crowded streets of the eastern German city each year in a ritual a bit like an ancient tribe worshipping the effigy of a sun god. The bread loaf-shaped cake containing rum, raisins, marzipan and spices is produced elsewhere in Germany too but Dresdner Stollen is by far the most famous, and enjoys trademark protection closely observed by the city's Stollen Protection Association. The sublime-tasting treat, based on a more than 500-year-old recipe, is synonymous with Christmas in Germany. Over the Advent period, it replaces Black Forest gateau on cafe plates, and few self-respecting households go without their Stollen.

All seemed well until the small town of Torgau, 75km north-west of Dresden, dared to claim that it invented the Stollen 551 years ago, a full 17 years before the first such cake was ever mentioned in connection with Dresden in historical documents. Local newspapers described the ensuing controversy as a "Stollen War", and while that term may be a slight exaggeration, there is no denying that Dresden's mighty baking establishment was irked. "What does the grand oak tree care if a little pig scratches itself on its bark? That's all that needs to be said about this," the director of the Dresden Stollen Protection Association, Wolfgang Hesse, said in a terse comment on Torgau's claims.

He went on, though. "Dresdner Stollen has won a special reputation over the years. It's up to the consumer to decide what's best." Marlon Gauck, a Dresden baker who makes 8,000 Stollen cakes a year, said: "All that matters is that a Stollen tastes good, and mine's the best. It's impossible to say who really baked the first cake. Besides, marketing is key and Dresden's bakers have been good at that. It's natural that it should spark jealousy." Historians in Torgau said the Stollen in its current form dates back to 1457 when Heinrich Drasdow, a Torgau baker, decided to contravene a Papal ban on using butter in the Advent fasting period leading up to Christmas.

The plucky Mr Drasdow added butter, raisins and sugar to a sour-tasting recipe for a fasting cake devised a century before that in the nearby town of Naumburg, which has so far remained silent in the controversy. The Naumburg cake tasted awful because it was made simply from flour, water and brewer's yeast, but its shape was the same as the modern Stollen - white and rectangular. Mr Drasdow had secured a letter of privilege, in effect an early type of patent, from the local duke to bake his revolutionary and delicious "Drasdower Stollen". What happened then was an accident of history caused by the mumbling local accent in this eastern part of Germany, Saxony, historians said. "Language researchers have found out that because Saxons tend not to speak very clearly, Drasdower Stollen became known as Dresdner Stollen over the centuries," said Cornelia König, director of Torgau's Museum for Civic and Cultural History. It was an unfortunate turn of events for Torgau because Stollen cake is big business. Dresdner Stollen, the Mercedes-Benz of Stollen cakes, can only be legally produced by 140 licenced bakers in Dresden. They churn out two million of the cakes a year, many of which are exported to Europe as well as to the United States. Many of the bakeries have their own websites through which their Stollens can be bought online. Mr Gauck's bakery exports 15 per cent to 20 per cent of his cakes to other countries in western Europe as well as to the United States. He charges ?11 (Dh55) for a one-kilogramme Stollen in a festive cardboard box. Frieder Francke, a Torgau baker, knows he cannot compete with the might of Dresden's Stollen establishment. But he began baking an original Drasdow Stollen last December based on the original recipe he obtained from descendants of the master baker who invented the cake. "It would be a dream if in a 100 years' time people were to say the Drasdow Stollen is the real Stollen," Mr Francke said. "But I don't have the money, the ambition or the will to start up the marketing machine that would be required to do that. We don't have enough bakers in Torgau to do this and Dresden's bakers are far more powerful." Mr Francke's Drasdow Stollen is proving highly popular among the people of Torgau, though, and he expects to sell 500 to 600 of them this season. dcrossland@thenational.ae