Follow Me Foodie to the Stollen Smackdown!
Eating my way through 18 stollen to find THE BEST in town!
Be stollen my heart! 18 stollens traveled near and far for a spot in the “Stollen Off” or “Stollen Smackdown”! From Vancouver to Victoria, Quebec and Ontario, and of course even Germany, it was a search for the best stollen in town… or just out of whatever we could get our antsy hands on!
I’ve done some pretty crazy foodie things in the past and this was one of them! Let us loose and we’ll just embrace the fat kid inside. From epic summer BBQ’s, to pie parties, and now stollen smackdowns, we’re a rowdy bunch of food obsessed geeks and the only shame we have is on the person who brought the worst thing. Or what’s worse? The person who brought the generic mass produced “grocery store” brand. Yes, put us all together and you might not even want to be invited, although I promise the only thing being judged is your food. We save the juicy talk for after you leave 😉
Anyways, this year, or holiday season, I became obsessed with stollen. It’s happened before when I get on these mini food obsessions and go on mini hunts to find “the best” of whatever I’m craving for at that moment, and this was one of those times. I’ve done it with pizza, tacos, XLB, tamago, duck confit, runny egg yolks, short ribs, poutine, Japanese sablefish, wontons, egg tarts, BBQ pork buns, ramen, macarons, almond croissants and small things like that, but not to this degree. This was legendary.
Boy I must have been super good this year to be invited to this magical holiday moment. Of course being the Gemini I am being super good also meant being able to be super bad. So bring on the stollen (pronounced schtollen) and let’s get this party schtarted. It came down to 18 stollens (some doubles), 8 stomachs, 2 jugs of Avalon eggnog, one winner, and no Pepto Bismol.
What is Stollen?
Stollen is traditionally a German cake, or sweet and rich German bread eaten during Christmas. It is traditionally hand formed in a loaf shape and made with milk, butter, sugar, eggs, yeast, rum soaked raisins, dried or candied fruits (usually orange and lemon), almonds and Stollen spices which may include cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace etc. There are different types and styles of stollen, but my favourite has a stick of marzipan (ground almond paste) baked into the centre which is called Marzipan Stollen. All stollens are covered with sugar, icing sugar or powdered sugar after it bakes. It is best eaten a few days to a week and a half after it’s baked so the flavours have time to set and the texture is right.
I have to say that this is not a typical “Christmas Cake”. I guess it is a “German Christmas Cake”, but it’s definitely not one of those gross Christmas Cakes most of us feared as kids and thought only moms and grandmas ate. This is Christmas Cake 2.0 even though it’s existed for centuries.
The first stollens were actually made without milk and butter due to advent and respect to religion, and it wasn’t until later when people protested for the ban to be lifted. Those are my kind of people! And then to celebrate they threw stollen into the water… just kidding, it’s not the Boston Tea Party!
This may be the only occasion when I discriminate against shape and size. Authentically, the shape of the loaf has a bump in the middle to resemble the camel’s hump. The stollen is symbolic for the camel and the gifts it brings to Christ Child on its First Christmas. The “gifts” and “treasures” are supposed to be the candied fruits. Others say the stolen is supposed to resemble Christ Child in a blanket, which sounds super creepy to me, but in the end it just better taste really good!
What I look for in a Marzipan Stollen:
1) Freshness (best eaten 5-10 days after and not fresh or stale)
It should have a hump in the middle, and if it has marzipan it should be 5% of the Stollens’ total weight. It should be dense, but not hard.
There is an aroma when you take it out. It smells like rich bread, warm spices, almonds, or fresh citrus fruit.
4) Sugar coated exterior
There’s a thin dusting of sugar, powdered sugar or icing sugar.
5) Moist and rich buttery flavour in the bread
6) A lemon or orange scent and flavour which can be mild
7) Texture is consistent and not crumbly, too bready, or chewy
8 ) Sweetness of bread and marzipan
The bread shouldn’t be that sweet since it has the fruit, and the marzipan should have the flavour and texture of ground almonds, but still be creamy.
9) Ratio of marzipan to bread (A good amount of marzipan)
10) Quality of ingredients (butter or margarine, natural or extracts)
11) Type/Amount of raisins and candied fruits
No fake candied fruit. Slivered or whole almonds as opposed to sliced, moist rum soaked raisins as opposed to dry, and a good amount of fruit without being a fruit cake.
12) Stollen spices (not overwhelming, but noticeable)
Of course what is traditional is arguable and what is “authentic” might not be what tasted best, so in the end it’s always what you enjoyed most and personal tastes. The perfect stollen can be forever debated and I’m not a professional pastry chef, but there was a professional German baker testing these stollens out with us and guiding us along the way. Generally all stollens are sweet cakes that are always pretty good, but when you have them back to back like this, you can really separate the “bad” from the good.
Note: The “ratings” are just my personal tastes and only for the stollen and not for the bakery.
On the table:
- Small about 350g $17 Large about 800g $27
- Available at Thomas Haas stores and Whole Foods Market.
- I know it seems like the most obvious and the “I could have guessed it” choice, but you try all 18 and you tell me this wasn’t the best. I bet it’ll be in your top 3 at least.
- We knew it was known as “the best in town”, but the thought of it getting better at some less known bakery was something worth researching.
- This was the first stollen I’ve ever tried, and that’s pretty much getting Dom Pérignon as your first sip of champagne.
- I love Thomas Haas, but even in a blind tasting I still picked this and the Four Seasons Stollen as my tops.
- It had a classic granulated sugar and dusting of powdered sugar on the exterior, but it was thin so it wasn’t too sweet.
- It was one of the richest and butteriest in flavour without being oily and greasy.
- It was almost like a moist and rich shortbread cake and very buttery in an authentic stollen way, not a butchered “American stollen” way too.
- From bread to marzipan the whole thing was creamy and consistent in texture with all parts being moist.
- The marzipan centre was fairly large and it wasn’t that sweet and I could tell it was actually made with ground almonds and not just all sugar.
- The marzipan was creamy and soft and it had a real almond flavour and not just extract, although I wouldn’t mind a bit more extract.
- It had no grainy granulated sugar texture either and it was less sweet than most.
- It had a good amount of slivered toasted almonds, lots of juicy plump big golden raisins and moist rum soaked dark raisins.
- I prefer all golden raisins, but I don’t mind the dark, which are the ones usually used anyways. The golden ones are a bonus.
- It had an orange scent, but no candied orange or lemon pieces. I like candied citrus fruit if it’s fresh, and I’m neutral to them being in stollen.
- The stollen spices were on the mild side, likely to suit tastes of the mass market, but overall it was delicious.
- The only other thing was the shape. I wish it had been the traditional stollen shape with the hump in the middle. It didn’t affect flavour, but it’s part of the aesthetic.
- I was actually told that they used to make it in traditional shape, but I guess with the high demand, it’s now the more mass produced looking rectangular loaf.
- About 450g 1lb $20
- Available at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver at The YEW Restaurant.
- This was easily my second favourite and part of the creme de la creme of stollen.
- It had a classic coating of crispy granulated sugar that wasn’t too thick, but I do prefer the powered sugar (not icing sugar) and that’s just personal.
- It was super moist and buttery without being oily or greasy and it’s very slightly less rich than the Thomas Haas one.
- It was still like a rich shortbread cake, and just like the Thomas Haas one the whole thing was creamy and consistent in texture with all parts being moist.
- It was sweet, but not too sweet and full in flavour.
- It had a pretty big stick of marzipan (bigger than the Thomas Haas one) in the centre that was soft, but slightly floury in texture with less almond flavour than the Thomas Haas one. I was hoping for a bit more almond extract or natural almond flavour.
- The marzipan was heavy and still made with ground almonds and smooth in texture.
- It was mild on the stollen spices, but it had lots of crunchy toasted almonds, no dark raisins, and only juicy plump golden raisins which I think is best. It tasted better than most of the raisins we had in all the other stollens.
- It didn’t have much or any orange and lemon peel though, which again I’m neutral to if it’s fresh and good quality.
- Like the Thomas Haas one it was the loaf shape instead of the traditional hump shape, but at least it didn’t affect flavour.
- The differences between this one and the Thomas Haas stollen are extremely marginal, and in the end it comes down to personal preference.
Note: It’s interesting to note that Thomas Haas’ (who previously worked for Four Seasons before opening his own shop) stollen recipe is likely inspired by the long time Four Season Vancouver pastry chef, Gerhart Witzel, who comes out of retirement to make the FSV stollen.
- 350g $10 600g $15
- Sweet Thea found at the local Farmer’s Markets in Metro Vancouver.
- This was the first one we tried and it was pretty dry and there weren’t many stollen spices.
- It wasn’t very buttery in flavour and it had some raisins which weren’t very plump or juicy and some almonds, but no apparent citrus fruit flavour.
- The marzipan was noticeable grainy and very sugary and sweet.
- The outside was dusted with icing sugar and I prefer granulated or powdered sugar.
- It didn’t really taste like a stollen and it was lacking in flavour in the bread part and in general.
- It would be good for bread pudding and we had a bread pudding pile.
- 450g $15
- Available at La Boulangerie at The Sutton Place Hotel, Vancouver
- This was decorated with a candy cane and fondant flower and it looked a bit bake sale like.
- Oh no! Is that a green candied cherry? I can’t say I’m a fan of those anytime I see them.
- This was more bready with layers than cakey and it wasn’t too sweet, but it didn’t have as many raisins or almonds.
- It actually tasted like a Hot Cross Bun/Cake, so it wasn’t really stollen. The bread part was almost layered.
- It wasn’t too sweet and it was moist with some raisins and some candied lemon and orange zest.
- It also had some sliced (not slivered) almonds, so they were almost unnoticeable and just added in texture.
- I could taste more stollen spices in this than the Thomas Haas and Four Seasons Stollen which I liked.
- The marzipan was on the small side and off centered, but it was creamy and it wasn’t all sugar. It had a good amount of almond extract in it and it had great flavour. It was a good marzipan!
- The outside was a crust of granulated sugar and icing sugar and it was a bit thick, but not overwhelming either.
- Despite it being more like a Hot Cross Bun than a stollen, I liked it!
- This was last year’s winner at the Stollen Off and it was the exact same recipe this year, but it didn’t turn out so well.
- It ended up breaking apart and was a bit dry and crumbly, so it just shows you how high maintenance and technical it is to make.
- Bread pudding pile.
- Available at The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.
- This one is a bit difficult to order because Hotel Vancouver doesn’t really advertise it.
- You kind of have to ask for it and you might want to call ahead to avoid confusion. The person who brought it did called ahead, but there was still confusion.
- It comes wrapped in plastic wrap and it’s quite rustic, but the whole ordering/picking up operation is a bit “black market” stollen.
- This was the most yellow in colour out of all the stollens.
- It had a bit of a floury aftertaste which I only noticed going back to it after the Thomas Haas and Four Seasons Stollen. I thought it would be an eggy aftertaste if anything.
- The marzipan stick in the centre was a bit small, but it was super creamy, melt in your mouth soft, almost a bit doughy, but not chewy and also not too sweet. I actually really liked the marzipan in this one! It was one of my favourite marzipans.
- I could taste the stollen spices, but it wasn’t too strong and it had nice pieces of orange peel, lots of moist dark raisins that weren’t particularly large or plump, and some almonds although not many.
- My other concern was that the outside was a bit dry and the centre was moist so it was slightly inconsistent.
- The outside was very lightly dusted with powdered sugar which I liked.
- Despite this not being an authentic stollen, although it did have the nice hump, it was actually pretty good.
- 800g $15.95
- Available at Fieldstone Artisan Breads in South Surrey/White Rock, BC.
- This was just sitting on the table and it didn’t look like their specialty. Their other baked goods looked fantastic though!
- It was crusted with a thick layer of icing sugar on the outside which was way too sweet.
- It tasted quite stale and bready and the raisins were a bit dried out and there was a lack of flavour and stollen spices.
- It wasn’t very eggy and the marzipan was small, creamy and not sweet, but almost oily looking.
- Rum Stollen: Small (500g) $9.99 Medium (700g) $13.99 Custom order large (900g) $19.99
- Marzipan Stollen: Small (500g) $12.99 Medium (700g) $14.99 Custom order large (900g) $29.99
- Available at Artisan Bake Shoppe in North Vancouver, or the German Christmas Market in downtown Vancouver.
- Their Marzipan Stollen still has a bit of rum because the fruits are soaked in it.
- This one had a sugary granulated sugar coating that was a bit too thick and crunchy for my liking.
- There was a gap between the marzipan and bread which isn’t very ideal, but can be overlooked. I’m not sure if it’s like that all the time.
- It smelled and tasted like a dense cinnamon raisin bread more so than a stollen, but it had a good amount of stollen spices and aroma.
- The cake had a nice butteriness, but not as rich as the Thomas Haas and Four Seasons one.
- It had moist dark raisins, juicy plump golden raisins, a bit of candied orange pieces and a decent amount of almonds, but the bread was slightly dry.
- The marzipan was creamy and almost not that sweet at all, but I could have used a bit more extract or almond flavour. There was a good amount of it.
- It took on the authentic shape of a stollen and it was pretty good!
- Marzipan Stollen: Small (350g) $20 Large (680g) $24.95
- No Marzipan Stollen: Small (350g) $10 Large (680g) $12
- Available at Plöger Delikatessen in Vancouver.
- Plöger Delikatessen is a traditional German Bakery in Kitsilano that’s been open since 1935.
- I haven’t tried their other stuff, but this was probably one of my least favourite stollen and it was the most expensive without the quality to back it up.
- The bottom was scorched and there were very little raisins and it was the driest stollen with the least flavour.
- There were no almonds and the marzipan was almost like a jelly and it didn’t seem house made.
- It had a dusting of icing sugar and the right shape, but it was quite stale and disappointing.
- 550g $26
- Available at Fol Epi Organic Bread & Pastry in Victoria, BC.
- This was an organic stollen and you could tell the ingredients were high quality.
- It was quite dense and it had the strongest cardamom flavour of all the stollens.
- It was loaded with a variety of raisins, currants, lots of fresh candied citrus fruit, and whole toasted organic almonds.
- It was definitely more like a fruit cake than a stollen.
- The marzipan was also the most noticeable and it was the only one where it wasn’t smooth and I could actually bite into ground almond crumbs. I actually kind of liked that too because it made the ingredients taste really fresh.
- It was almost overly moist, but all the ingredients are organic so I’m not sure if that’s why it was like that. It could be from the abundance of fruit too.
- It came across as a Christmas Cake meets a raisin bread and the overall flavour was strong with spices and fruit.
- The outside was dusted with granulated sugar and there was an apparent cinnamon and clove flavour coming from it as well which made it very aromatic.
- It had the strongest cinnamon and cardamom flavour of them all.
- The bakery itself is worth checking out despite the stollen not being the best.
- Small (450g) $10 Large (1200g) $20
- Available at Stickling’s Specialty Bakery in Peterborough, Ontario.
- The marzipan centre was very small and it was grainy and sugary without much ground almond flavour and texture.
- It had almonds, raisins, candied orange and the bread was quite moist, but inconsistent.
- The outside was a bit dry and the centre of the bread was moist so you had to eat it together.
- It had a light dusting of powdered sugar and it was edible and okay, but not necessarily a good one.
- This went in the bread pudding pile.
- 750g $10.99
- Available at Ruby Eats Toronto, Ontario.
- This one smelled like cheese so I’m not sure if it went off or if it always smells like that.
- The fake candied fruit was overwhelming and visually displeasing already.
- It was quite dry and stale and it tasted more like a shortbread cookie.
- The coating looked like cheese and smelled like it, so we didn’t put this in the “bread pudding” pile.
- If you toasted it, it would be passable biscotti.
- 480g $7.50 (He said it was a “special price” on Dec. 14, so it could vary.)
- Available at Nougat Bakery & Delicatessen in Kitchener, Ontario.
- This was one of the least favourite and it was incredibly stale and hard to cut, bite and chew.
- There were big hazelnuts in it which is unusual and the marzipan was almost a sheet in the centre.
- I love hazelnuts, but these ones tasted a bit old.
- Sizes, with or without marzipan all between $5-11
- Available at Grain Harvest Breadhouse and St. Jacob’s Farmers Market, Ontario.
- This one smelled like rotten eggs so I think the outer coating went off during travel time. That’s why I rated it “n/a”.
- Nonetheless, it didn’t look good with the giant pieces of candied green cherries that I really dislike.
- I did try the bread part and it tasted like regular bread with no spices and it was quite dry.
- The whole almonds were the best part and I just plucked those out.
- 2lbs (1000g) Stollen Dresden, 1lbs (750g) Stollen Dresden
- Available at La Mie Matinale bakery in Montreal, QC or you can order online.
- This is a lesser known bakery in Montreal and they use a stollen recipe that’s been in the family for 50 years.
- This had an overwhelming amount of icing sugar coated on the outside and it was just cracking into bits as we sliced it.
- Not only did it have and an icing sugar crust, but it also had a coating of granulated sugar so it was extra sweet on the outside.
- There was very little marzipan that was off centered and it was a bit stiff, chewy, grainy and sugary and almost like fondant.
- It was very dense and loaded with almonds, plenty of semi-moist raisins, lots of candied orange and lemon pieces.
- It even had walnuts and dried sour cherries which aren’t traditional to a stollen although still tasty. This was the only one with those ingredients.
- It was bordering on a Christmas/fruit cake, but the minimal bread part there was, was quite dry and crumbly.
- I could taste the cardamom and aromatic stollen spices and it had a ton of ingredients in it, but it was on the sweet side.
- If it wasn’t for the overload of icing sugar crusted on the exterior and the grainy marzipan it was actually pretty good.
- Available packaged at specialty grocery stores like Galloway’s Specialty Foods in Richmond, BC. Marzipan stollen in a box $11.49, Marzipan stollen not in a box$7.49.
- KuchenMeister – Imported from Germany. 750g for$10.99 online.
- This is a very popular store bought brand of stollen in Germany.
- It had lots of raisins, cranberries, candied orange and lemon peel which were a bit fake.
- The marzipan was moist, but off centered and it didn’t have much ground almonds.
- The coating of icing sugar was overwhelming and it was really sweet overall and bready and it had a perfume like aftertaste.
- It’s servable, or good for bread pudding.
- Available packaged at specialty grocery stores. Bahlsen – Imported from Germany. 500g for $9.39 online.
- This is another popular store bought stollen in Germany.
- It wasn’t as sweet as the KuchenMeister Stollen and I’d rather serve this one if I’m serving something in a package.
- The marzipan was in a swirl rather than in the middle so it was almost like a Marzipan Stollen roll.
- It was soft and bready and the crust separated from the cake.
- The raisins were quite dry and it was good for bread pudding and not bad for being mass produced and packaged.
- Available packaged at specialty grocery stores. Oebel – Imported from Germany. 500g for $7.59 online.
- This is made in Köln in Germany and it was another packaged stollen.
- The icing sugar was too heavy and the bread tasted stale which was obvious in flavour.
- The marzipan was chewy and there were a lot of raisins, but it tasted like dry raisin bread.
- $15 $20
- Available at Swiss Bakery.
- I tried this one at The One of A Kind Show in Vancouver and I liked it so much I bought it.
- However now that I’ve tried so many, I’m actually not sure where this one would stand anymore so that’s why I rated it “n/a”.
- This one had just the powdered sugar coating with no granulated sugar or icing sugar which is what I prefer, and it’s not thick so I liked it.
- The marzipan is pretty big, but since the stollen is so large overall, the marzipan looks a bit small and the ratio is a bit off.
- There were a ton of moist plump dark raisins, lots of cranberries and whole almonds.
- It had no orange or lemon candied fruit or flavour or golden raisins. I do like the golden raisins better.
- I actually liked the flavour of the marzipan better than the Thomas Haas one, but it was small relative to how much bread there was.
- The marzipan was softer, creamier, a bit sweeter with a tad more almond extract, but it didn’t have as many ground almonds as the Thomas Haas one either.
- It was a bit more on the bready than cakey side and it was moist with a decent amount of stollen spices, but not a lot.
- This one is made with natural and artificial rum flavours.
- Available at Fol Epi Organic Bread & Pastry in Victoria, BC.
- This was pretty much the star of the show, which isn’t even fair because it’s comparing apples to oranges, but it was hands down the best panettone I’ve had to date!
- Do you hear what I hear?… Do you see what I see?” Perhaps a Follow Me Foodie to the Pannettone Playoffs in 2012!? 😉