German Christmas foods & recipes
Customs of one of the most important German holidays
Certain foods are inevitably linked with Christmastime in Germany. Learn about some of these foods and the traditions behind them. If you're feeling in the spirit of the holiday, you can try out the recipes for the German holiday treats. Or if baking is not your forte, we'll point you to places where you can buy these treats so you can still enjoy them without the effort of making them.
This famous fruitcake -- though not exactly what English-speakers associate with "fruitcake" -- is closely associated with the Christmas holiday because it was originally produced as food to be eaten during the Advent fast. The first Christstollen, named such because it was meant to resemble a swaddled baby Jesus, appeared in Naumburg (Saale) in 1329. Stollen has been sold at the Dresden Christmas market since the 15th century. It took several decades before the bland, baked oat, flour, and water mixture was transformed into the light, hearty loaf we know today. Butter, raisins, and lemon zest are mixed into a yeast dough and the baked Stollen is dusted with powdered sugar. Variations include the addition of marzipan, poppy seeds, dairy products or various nuts.
Each year the city of Dresden puts on a Stollen Festival to celebrate the food that takes its name from the Saxon city. In imitation of the gigantic Stollen baked in the city in 1730 on the occasion of Augustus the Strong's grand festival of baroque proportions, each year the bakers of Dresden produce a 3000 to 4000 kg stollen. It is cut into half-pound sections and served to the festival visitors. The following recipe won't supply an entire city but the two 12-inch loaves it produces will feed a good-sized family.
Recipe for Dresdener Stollen - How to make your own German Christmas stollen
Glühwein - Hot mulled wine
Literally, "glow wine", this hot, mulled wine is a favorite beverage at the Christmas markets. It is often served in commemorative mugs that you can optionally purchase as a souvenir of your visit to the market. Europeans have been drinking mulled wine since the 5th century.
The beverage consists of red wine and spices heated to just below boiling point before drinking. The Swedish variety, called Glögg, also includes raisins and almonds. At the markets, vendors will offer optional additions to the mulled wine, such as a shot of rum, amaretto, or elderberry cordial.
Glühwein is perfect drink for those dark, cold December days. It warms the body and the spirit and sets the perfect holiday mood.
Lebkuchen - German-style gingerbread
Gingerbread, also called Pfefferkuchen (pepper cake) due to the pungent, oriental spices it uses - cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, coriander, and anise -- is baked without the use of yeast and is sweetened with honey. Lebkuchen has existed in German-speaking regions since at least the turn of the 14th century. Because its production required the use of ingredients that had to be imported, the first Lebkuchen was baked in cities that were centers of trade. One of these was Nuremburg. In the mid-1600s, the city instituted strict regulations governing the production of the confection.
Until the advent of industrialization, Lebkuchen was made by hand. Even today, many bakeries hand-create these specialties. The recipes used have been passed down from generation to generation. Main ingredients include honey, flour, sugar, eggs, nuts, candied citrus fruit, marzipan, and a variety of spices.
Modern-day variations may include almonds or other nuts, orange or lemon zest, or a chocolate covering. Lebkuchen also takes the form of the edible Hexenhaus (witch's house), also known as Hansel and Gretel's house after the famed Grimm's fairy tale of the same name.
While not a German invention, marzipan has become inextricably linked with Christmastime in Germany. This sweet treat made from almonds and sugar first came to Europe from the Middle East during the 14th century as a delicacy served at the table of the nobility. Mass production eventually allowed for greater distribution.
Laws govern the kinds and proportion of ingredients allowed in authentic marzipan. It must contain two parts almonds to one part sugar, and rosewater is the only flavoring ingredient that may be added. Once made, the marzipan may be molded into numerous forms, which are then often iced or decorated or dipped in chocolate.
Apart from the common loaf-shaped Marzipanbrot and the spherical Marzipankartoffeln, it can be found in every form imaginable - from fruits, vegetables, and animals to hearts, stars, buildings, and figurines. The most famous of German marzipan hails from the city of Lübeck, particularly from the producers Niederegger and Carsten's.
Buy professionally made marzipan
These represent a variety of delicate Christmas cookies: rolled dough cookies such as Springerle, hand-formed cookies such as Vanillekipferl, or piped cookies known as Spritzgebäck. The ever ubiquitous Christmas Spekulatius, a kind of spicy pastry dough cookies, is made using cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. Spekulatius is available in many forms and flavors, including almond, butter, and chocolate varieties. These are often baked during the Advent season or store bought.
Other types of Christmas cookies include: Dominosteine (layered gingerbread, jam, and marzipan enclosed in a chocolate shell), Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars), and Pfeffernüsse (spicy gingerbread cookies).
German Christmas cookie recipes: Pfeffernüsse, Springerle, Spritzgebäck, Vanillekipferl, Zimtsterne.