Saxony – Cuisine and Culinary Treasures

Coat of Arms of Saxony

Saxony, Germany’s easternmost state, looks back on a long history which spans over 1000 years. As is true for much of Germany, this territory has undergone numerous political metamorphoses from a medieval duchy, to a kingdom, to the thriving federal state it is today, brimming with high tech factories, historic treasures and hip arts scenes.The state owes much of its strong economy to the three major cities of Dresden, Leipzig and Chemnitz, which together once formed one of the most important industrial centers in Germany and each featuring a trough of culinary treasures. This distinct history is reflected to this day in the special title “Free State” (a designation of independence from the medieval Roman-German empire) which Saxony holds dear, similar to its southern neighbor Bavaria.

Dresden

Saxony’s capital Dresden has often been likened to Florence, hence its common name Elbflorenz, or “Florence on the Elbe.” Pre-World War II Dresden was indeed an architectural marvel which was almost completely destroyed towards the end of the war. The city has since reclaimed some of its former glory through reconstruction.

Dresden Strietzelmarkt

Dresden Christmas Market

Dresden is also home to Germany’s oldest Christmas market, the Striezelmarkt, the earliest record of which dates back to 1434.The world’s tallest such Christmas pyramid has a prominent place at the Striezelmarkt. The name of Dresden’s famous Christmas market is derived from the words “Strietzel” or “Strutzel” which mean a longish piece of yeast dough, synonymous to the word “Stollen.”

Dresdner Stollen

What would German Christmas be without the traditional sweet bread called Dresdner Stollen Saxony’s most well-known culinary specialty dates back to as early as the 14th century. What started out as a dry white bread customarily prepared during the pre-Christmas Advent season has developed into a beloved culinary treasure. Originally, Stollen was prepared using nothing but flour, water, yeast and oil, in compliance with a decree passed by the Roman Catholic Church according to which people were not to use butter and milk during Advent. Thanks to a petition by a prominent representative of Saxony’s nobility, who also happened to be a passionate gourmet, the Pope granted Saxon bakers an exception to this “butter ban.” In return for payment of a fine, bakers would be permitted to add milk and butter to their Stollen “with a clear conscience and God’s blessing.” This marked the beginning of an ongoing competition among Saxony’s master bakers to see who could bake the finest Stollen.

Dresden at Night

Dresden Eierschecke

Dresden Eierschecke is a traditional three-layered sweet treat featuring a pie crust (first layer) topped with Quark cream cheese (second layer) and vanilla custard (third layer). After baking, the pastry is typically dusted with powdered sugar for an added touch of sweetness. The name Schecke derives from a 14th century three-layered men’s garment.

Leipzig

Modern Leipzig is known as Saxony’s economic powerhouse, with a strong allure for young professionals finding a vibrant cultural scene, affordable living costs and a burgeoning job market. Leipzig’s central location within Germany makes it a hub for logistics and transport. Leipzig’s worldwide reputation is founded on the city’s importance as a music, publishing and trade show hub. Without a doubt, the baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who lived in Leipzig from 1723 until his death in 1950, and Richard Wagner, who was born here in 1813, are among city’s most well-known residents.

Auerbach’s Keller

Auerbach’s Keller holds a storied place in Leipzig’s history and culinary landscape. Immortalized in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s masterpiece “Faust,” this iconic 500 year old establishment is nestled in the heart of Leipzig’s historic district, Stepping into its halls feels like journeying through centuries of cultural significance. Auerbach’s Keller serves up hearty German dishes and authentic regional flavors. The cellar’s historical significance as a gathering place for intellectuals, artists, and thinkers adds an extra layer of allure, making Auerbach’s Keller a must-visit destination for both gastronomic delights and cultural immersion in Leipzig.

Leipziger Allerlei

The legend goes that Leipziger Allerlei was invented during the Napoleonic Wars between 1803 and 1815 when the citizens of Leipzig hid the bacon and meat from marauding soldiers, thieves, and beggars and offered their “guests” instead of a dish with mixed vegetables and bits of crayfish from the nearby river Peiße. In truth, the recipe is probably much older. It calls for fresh Möhren, (carrots), Kohlrabi (kohlrabi), Blumenkohl (cauliflower), Weißer Spargel(white asparagus), and Morcheln (morels) to be steamed, or sauteed, and served with butter sauce, pieces of crayfish or pork and bread dumplings.

Chemnitz and the “Saxon Switzerland”

Like no other city in Germany, Chemnitz stands for engineering and innovation. At the end of the 19th century, Chemnitz registered about six times more patents than anywhere else in Germany. The city of roughly 250,000 people, called Karl-Marx-Stadt during the times of the former German Democratic Republic, is nestled at the foothills of the mountainous area known as the Erzgebirge, (in English Ore Mountains), a mountain ranges that forms state’s geographical backbone. Giant sandstone rock formations, known as the Sandsteingebirge (Sandstone Mountains), also often referred to as Saxon Switzerland (Sächsische Schweiz), are a favorite tourist attraction which enjoys special popularity among rock climbers.

Christmas Pyramid at Dresden Christmas Market It’s also the “Land of Magic Woodworking” where hundreds of small artisanal shops produce hand-carved and -painted nutcrackers, ornaments, figurines, miniature villages, the famous Schwibbogen and the intricate revolving Christmas pyramids which are traditionally powered by the heat of live candles. Regional craftsmen have exhibited their wooden arts and crafts at the Leipzig trade fair for over 300 years, going back as far as 1699. This long tradition of wooden toy making continues today and seems to be continuously gaining popularity. Designs and motifs have remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years and are cherished the world over. One of Germany’s most unique Christmas decorations also originated in this region.

Other Saxon Culinary Highlights

Bautzener Mustard

The picturesque town of Bautzen, located to the East of Dresden, holds a distinguished place in Saxony’s culinary tradition. Bautzener Mustard is a beloved condiment cherished by food enthusiasts across Germany and beyond. Made from a blend of finely ground mustard seeds, vinegar, and spices, the mustard boasts a bold and tangy taste with a satisfying kick and is most often served with sausages and pretzels.

Silesian or Sorbian Poppy Seed Cake

One unique feature of Saxony is the presence of the Sorbs, also known as the Wendish people, a West-Slavic ethnic minority residing primarily in the Lusatia region of Saxony, in an around Bautzen. With a rich cultural heritage dating back over a millennium, the Sorbs are recognized for their unique language, traditions, and customs. Despite their small population, estimated at around 60,000, the Sorbs have maintained a strong sense of identity and pride in their heritage. One prominent culinary specialty from that region (which includes the neighboring Polish region of Dolny Śląsk (Lower Silesia) is the Schlesische Mohnkuchen (Silesian poppy seed cake).

Fürst (or Count) Pückler Ice Cream

The famous Fürst Pückler ice cream was created by a confectioner from Saxony and named after the count Hermann von Pückler-Muskau. The ice cream consists of three layers – chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, and is also known as Neapolitan ice cream or Harlequin ice cream. See recipe here.

Meissen Porcelain

Meissen porcelain was the first high quality porcelain to be produced outside of China. The first European porcelain was manufactured in Meissen when the Royal Porcelain Factory was opened in 1710. Often families own a set of Meissen porcelain which is proudly handed down from generation to generation. Meissen’s delicate tea and coffee sets (consisting of tea/coffee pots, serving plates, cups and saucers) are made from the finest porcelain and one of their most beloved classic designs is a very colorful flower design. The cups are decorated with these little flowers not only on the outside but they also have a flower design on the inside, centered on the bottom of the cup.

Saxon coffee culture

To say that Saxons love their coffee might be considered a gross understatement. Saxons look back on a long tradition of a so-called Kaffeehauskultur, or “coffee house culture.”  Coffee houses in Dresden, Leipzig and Chemnitz used to grand in scale and served as vital centers of communication, essential to society’s commercial and cultural well-being. Johan Sebastian Bach, Leipzig’s most famous composer and organist, even composed the  “Kaffeekantate” (Coffee Cantata) in 1734 (based on a poem by Christian Friedrich Henrici (also known as Picander) eulogizing the enjoyment with this hot beverage.

At some time in the 18th, coffee beans became scarce due to trade restrictions imposed by the Prussian and Saxon kings who favored beer and did not want to for expensive imported coffee.  During this time,  coffee substitutes like chicory coffee and the uniquely Saxon expression of Blümchenkaffee (little flower coffee) were born. Blümchenkaffee denotes an especially weak cup of coffee which is so thin that one could see the flowers at the bottom of a Meissen coffee cup – an example of Saxon sense of humor.

A famous invention related to Saxon coffee culture: the coffee filter. Melitta Bentz, a housewife from Dresden, Germany, revolutionized the coffee brewing process with her invention. Frustrated with the bitterness and sediment often found in coffee brewed the then conventional method, she discovered that blotting paper from her son’s schoolbook effectively filtered out unwanted particles while allowing the flavorful coffee oils to pass through.  She patented the invention and, thus, founded today’s global leading coffee filter producer.

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