Christmas stollen has become Durham holiday tradition
What began as a holiday presentation to lords in Germany has evolved into a burgeoning Durham tradition that transcends cultural lines.
The bakery at Guglhupf is quiet for a few hours each morning. Between making the traditional breads that comprise the menu, there is stollen, the Christmas fruit and nut bread that marks the holiday season.
Made between Thanksgiving and Christmas, stollen is a German tradition that dates back to the 1300s, with its modern rendition dating back to 1657 when Dresden bakers petitioned the pope to use butter and milk in stollen in addition to the Catholic Church approved water, flour and milk.
After submitting to reasonable taxes, Dresdner stollen was born. Claudia Cooper is the proprietor of Guglhupf and the person who introduced the German staple to the broader Durham community.
Cooper said that when she first told her patrons about stolen, they were a little less than enthusiastic and more cautious with their taste buds. But that quickly changed.
“I think they have thoroughly embraced it,” she said. “It’s really unique to Durham, even the Triangle area. This is a very food educated audience.”
Christian Oertel is a fourth-generation baker who grew up in a small German town that made stollen each year. Standing before a table loaded with raw ingredients, he begins a batch of the holiday treat.
Flour and milk go into a large mixer followed by sugar, spices, raisins, butter and almonds. Oertel lets the mixed dough rest a bit before it is broken down into one of three sizes, a small loaf, a large loaf or a star.
“Everything comes together in the end,” Oertel said of the ingredients. “It’s one of the breads where the flavor comes more from the ingredients than the preparation process. The ingredients are very rich. You’ve got to know how to work with them.”
Where the American fruitcake is more dense and very sweet, Oertel said the stollen version is a yeast-based, rich fruit bread.
One batch of stollen dough yields 60 of the large loaves with the small loaves being about half the size of the larger ones, he said.
Once the loaves leave the oven, Oertel drenches them in butter before covering them in granulated sugar. They loaves rest overnight and absorb the butter and sugar coating before being dusted in snow, or powdered sugar.
The entire process from the mixing of the ingredients to the individual snow dusting, packaging and shipping, is done by hand. Stollen elves dispense the snow, tie the bags and ship the bread.
“We work with all natural ingredients. You feel good about selling it,” she said. “I definitely think that part of the appeal is that everything is handmade. Once you take the hands away, it completely changes it.”
And travel time doesn’t hurt stollen since it tastes better as it sits, Oertel said, noting that “it preserves well” and that once purchased it can be kept for weeks, even months when properly stored.
“Over the years we’ve sent stollen to every state,” Cooper said. “A lot of it stays here. About two-thirds of it is local and about one-third we send out. Then it travels all over.”
Durham’s love affair with stollen is apparent because “it has been growing in number over the years,” Oertel said.
‘There are certainly a lot of Germans here and the international community here in the Research Triangle Park and we’re well known for it,” he said. “I enjoy making it for people. It’s a lot of work but it’s for such a short time that the time always flies by.”
Despite being available once a year, it can be purchased through Dec. 31 in person at the bakery or online at www.guglhupf.com.