Fruitcake. It’s the butt of jokes this time of year.
But in Dresden, Germany, fruitcake — or, more properly, stollen — is the food of kings. And the stuff of celebrations.
On Dec. 3, Dresden honors its beloved fruitcake with the annual Stollenfest, launching the Advent season with a sugar-frosted loaf weighing a whopping 2 tons.
Transported by horse-drawn carriage, the giant stollen makes its way through the historic old city, past the Dresden Cathedral and 15th-century Royal Palace, beneath the shadow of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) to the Striezelmarkt Christmas market, which takes its name from the iconic cake. (Striezel is an alternate name for stollen.)
A colorful cast of 500 joins the stollen parade. Marching bands and bakers, regimental soldiers and pastry chefs all pay homage to the holiday treat as festivities draw to a climax: The enormous stollen is sliced into thousands of pieces under the watchful eye of the fruitcake princess, or Stollenmadchen.
The history of fruitcake in Dresden dates to at least 1474. But Stollenfest traces its roots to 1730 and Augustus the Strong, a powerful Saxon ruler. To prove that everything he did was bigger and better, Augustus invited all of Europe to Dresden for a magnificent baroque festival whose highlight was the unveiling of the world’s largest fruitcake.
An authentic handmade Dresdner loaf includes almonds, spices, spirits and dried fruit such as candied peels, lemon zest and raisins. Some also contain marzipan. Dresden’s Stollen Association keeps close tabs on fruitcake quality, offering its seal of approval to some 130 bakers. Dresdner stollen enjoys European Union protection status, much like French Champagne and England’s Stilton cheese.
Visitors who can’t make it to Dresden’s Stollenfest still have plenty of opportunity to enjoy the beloved fruitcake. The festive loaves begin showing up on bakery shelves in September and remain there into the new year; www.dresdnerstollen.com.
Amy S. Eckert is a freelance writer.