The feasts of November and December highlight some of our most treasured culinary traditions, many of which possess strong German roots. Whether they are made at home, purchased at holiday markets, or ordered online, Christmas cookies and cakes are greatly beloved! This is the season for extensive nibbling of our German holiday baking traditions — there are always plenty of sweets to sample!
Baked Goods With History
Plätzchen (Christmas Cookies)
Today’s Christmas cookies (Weihnachtsplätzchen) find their roots in Germany’s medieval monasteries. These monasteries were wealthy enough to afford expensive oriental spices such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger and cardamom. These spices were, and still are, necessary to make the most delectable of holiday sweets! Monks with a sweet tooth created all kinds of fine baked goods for Christmas and started Germany’s holiday baking traditions. Thank God for this truly miraculous Christmas invention!
Christmas cookies come in a variety of forms and shapes. Many are stenciled out of flat dough, and they are a staple in almost all kitchens during the Christmas season! In fact, it is said that even Justin Bieber needed homemade Plätzchen as an inspiration for his hit Christmas record. These may have included the classic Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars), Pfeffernuss (pepper nuts), or Kipferl! All of these may be made at home also! We have plenty of Christmas cookie recipes to explore on our website. However, if you really like eating them more than baking them, you may of course purchase Plätzchen, or any other dessert, on our website Thetasteofgermany! You’ll find that Germany’s holiday baking traditions have been exported to North America by small and midsize artisanal German bakers. These include Dr. Quendt, Coopenrath, Lambertz, Hans Freitag, Oebel, and many others.
The word Stollen means a “log post.” It symbolizes the belief in the load-bearing power of Jesus in Christianity. The earliest document that mentions Stollen dates to the year 1329. Bishop Heinrich of Naumburg (Saale) officially received this treat of yeasty bread, candied fruits and confectionary sugar as a gift. In the middle ages, Stollen was a rather thin bread fit for the fasting of advent. Today, Stollen is found at any grocery store in Germany and all over North America. Naturally, of course, there are differences in quality and taste. The Dresdner Stollen is a specialty of designated origin protected by EU law. It is in Dresden that bakers created the world’s largest Stollen, which weighed 4,200 kilos and measured over 3 meters long.
Contrary to popular belief, the name Lebkuchen is not derived from the German word Leben (life). Instead, it comes from the Latin word libum, which was flat dough offered during church service. In the Middle Ages, monks and churchgoers ate Lebkuchen-style baked goods at Christmas and Easter, accompanied by strong beer, which was a popular source of sustenance during times of fasting.
Lebkuchen Through History
Ancient Egypt served Lebkuchen-style baked goods, such as pepper cake or honey loafs, as a treat. In fact, Lebkuchen, as it is known today, originated in Belgium in the early Middle Ages. Later it spread eastward to the city of Aachen in the form of Aachner Printen. Once again, it spread further eastward to the Franconian monasteries. Here monks serving Lebkuchen as dessert added many exotic spices and spread the Lebkuchen dough onto thin wafers (Oblaten). Lots of Lebkuchen bakers are still be found in the vicinity of Nürnberg, Franconia’s largest city, which was a medieval trading hub for spices and other fine ingredients.