SHEPHERDSTOWN – English plum pudding. Italian panettone. Buche de Noel from France. All kinds of international desserts serve as Christmas traditions, but for many, it’s stollen made in Shepherdstown that takes the cake.
Thanks to the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery, it’s easy to get a taste Old Germany right on German Street.
Historians say stollen debuted in the German city of Naumburg in the early 1300s as a Christmastime offering for the bishop at the local Catholic church.
Because of the Advent fast, bakers then had to make their holiday treat with just oats, flour, turnip oil and water, but then as now, stollen was shaped in a small loaf – to resemble the infant Christ wrapped in a blanket.
Today, there are hundreds of versions of stollen, all of them much more elaborate (and no doubt, tastier) than that early turnip seed-and-oats recipe.
Still made only during Advent and at Christmas, a modern-day stollen may include butter, German pastry flour, almond paste, candied citrus peel or zest, raisins and other dried fruit, rum- or brandy-soaked pecans, almonds or other nuts, all spiced up with vanilla, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and other tastes.
Bakers in Shepherdstown make their stollen in small batches with rum-soaked raisins, dates, pecans, marzipan and the cake’s trademark coating of thick, snow-like powdered sugar.
So good is the Sweet Shop’s stollen, it’s won coverage on the Food Network and in Gourmet magazine. Fans of the cake from across the United States and even worldwide order stollen to enjoy themselves, to slice and serve at Christmas gatherings and to give as gifts.
“We have customers in Germany who tell us ours is the best stollen they’ve ever had,” says Pam Berry, who co-owns the 30-year-old bakery with her husband, Rusty. “It’s addictive.”
At the bakery at 100 W. German St., customers can order a slice of stollen to devour on the spot or pick up a loaf or half-loaf to take home or to give as a holiday present. The cake comes boxed or, for a bit more, tucked in a lovely commemorative tin that shows the Shepherdstown streetscape.
As in centuries past, making stollen remains labor-intensive and time-consuming, but it’s worth all the effort, Berry explains.
“People tell us it just wouldn’t be Christmas without our stollen,” she said.