Christmas Stollen: Spices, Turnip Oil and the Protestant Reformation
Jacob Schor ND FABNO
December 22, 2013

The fruit and nut stollen sweet breads traditionally associated with Christmas morning are supposedly reminiscent of a baby swaddled in blankets, the original incunabulum. The tradition of making sweet stollen for Christmas morning dates back nearly 700 years. The bakers’ guild of Naumburg an der Saale, Germany, claims they were baking something similar to a modern stollen back in 1330. Other claims assert that the first stollen was baked for the Saxon Royal Court on Christmas 1427. This is an old recipe. 

If you read the old recipes, something stands out; only royalty could have afforded these breads. The candied citrus rinds fundamental to making stolen were imported from the Mediterranean. The cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and other spices came from far further away. Mace and nutmeg in particular come from the other side of the world, the Banda Islands in Indonesia. Given the price of these spices, you might as well have used gold leaf. Today’s practice of transporting fresh produce halfway around the world in jet planes is indulgent, but it is nothing compared to the effort it must have taken to acquire these spices. 

As richly spiced as these breads were, early stollen were made with water and oil rather than milk and butter. Germany was Catholic and the Church of Rome prohibited baking with butter or milk during Advent, the period of fasting preceding Christmas. Instead of butter, the bakers suffered making their bread with turnip seed oil (Brassica rapa L.). Finland is the only country where turnip seed oil is considered edible. Turnip oil is a close relative to oilseed rape (Brassica napus L.) from which canola oil is made; the only modern interest in turnip oil is in its potential as bio-diesel. It’s not particularly tasty.

Prince Elector Ernst (1441-1486) and his brother Duke Albrecht (1443-1500) petitioned the Pope in Rome in 1647, hoping to bring an easement to these butter restrictions, arguing that turnip oil was unhealthy to eat. Pope Nicholas V (1397-1455) denied their first appeal in 1450. Part of this story obviously eludes me. If these dates are correct, the Prince would have been 6 and the Duke 4 years old when they first initiated their petition. Five popes were elected and died before, Pope Innocent VIII relented and responded favorably to their petition in the "Butter-Letter” of 1490 and finally allowed use of butter in stollen. There was a catch though; the Pope only allowed the Prince-Elector, his family and household to bake with butter; everyone else had to pay a fine to help in church construction if they wanted to use butter.

This butter ban was discarded for good after the Protestant Reformation and Rome no longer held sway over German eating habits. In reading this history, one must wonder how much of the impetus for religious reformation was about religion and how much was about food. Given the choice most people prefer butter rich pastries.

August the Powerful is credited with creating the largest Stollen ever baked. In 1730 on his orders, the bakers of Dresden used a team of horses to pull a stolen that weighed 1.8 tons out from a specially constructed oven and divided it up among 24,000 holiday guests. This record weight stood for two hundred years but was topped in 2000 when Dresden bakers baked a stolen weighing 4.2 tons making it into the Guinness Book of Records. For more information on the baking of giant stollen see:

Our regular readers expect some reference to the peer reviewed scientific journals arguing in favor of consuming some of the key ingredients in stollen. The naive might think there was little in the way of redeeming value in a Christmas stollen aside for upholding tradition. Least I disappoint anyone, let us see what PubMed reveals.

Citrus rind is an excellent source of d-limonene; in fact essential oils extracted form certain lemons are nearly 98% d limonene. [1] This chemical has become popular in the treatment of gastrointestinal reflux disease.[2] 

Back in the September 19, 2009 issue of Food Chemistry and Toxicology, Guimarães et al. tell us that citrus rinds have a powerful antioxidant effect protecting the brain from free radical damage. [3] 

Another paper published the same day but in the journal Inflammopharmacology tells us that extracts of citrus decumana, what we commonly call pomelo fruit, has both antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic potential.[4] Jayaprakasha told us in a 2008 paper that citrus extracts might be protective against free radical damage in the blood.[5] Gorinstein et al. in 2004 told us the antioxidant effect of orange and grapefruit juice might protect against blood lipid oxidation. [6] 

Mace, the spice that lends stollen its other key flavor has similar action providing protection against free radical damage. [7] The raisins that make up the bulk of the fruit in the recipes are made from grapes and so contain resveratrol, a phytonutrient so highly acclaimed we won’t attempt to detail its benefits here. Actually the reseveratrol in grapes may be lost by the time the grapes are dried and turned to raisins. 

We could go on with this but what we are looking at when we look at stollen is a yeasted, less sweet than normal, fruitcake. We have already made our arguments in favor of eating fruitcake. See our past fruitcake newsletters.

What is most interesting about this stollen history is the allure that foreign ingredients have had over the Germans, a people that, if it was politically correct to make generalizations, one might say lean toward rationality. A well made stolen in its day must have cost a fortune. Why go to such expense?

How much different was this need to bake with exotic ingredients from our modern fixation with exotic fruits? The benefits of grape juice will never compare to mangosteen, graviola or acai juices in the minds of our modern, educated populace. Marketers may promote the later claiming miraculous health benefits for these exotics with rare mention of the benefits of common grape juice. The National Library of Medicine’s search engine ( currently lists just over a dozen scientific papers on acai berry juice, only two of which are human clinical trials. In contrast there are 768 papers on grape juice, including 57 clinical trials in humans. People have always placed unjustified value on that which is more difficult to obtain. The novelty and expense of these juices appears to trigger an irrational desire to consume them. 

When it comes to stollen, these once priceless ingredients are now easy to obtain so we might as well avail ourselves. Eaten once a year stollen is probably good for us, or at least not that bad for us. 

Our online version of this article includes a picture of Martin Luther looking as if he appreciates his bread baked with butter.

A Simple Stollen Recipe:

Fruit Mixture:

½ cup candied orange and lemon rind cup mixed candied fruit
½ cup dried fruit: apricots, dates, cherries or prunes
1 cup raisins
3 tablespoons dark rum 
Mix fruit together, toss with rum, cover and let sit while dough rises. Shake or stir the mixture every so often to coat the fruit with the rum. 

For the Sponge:

1 scant tablespoon or 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
2/3 cup milk 
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Heat the milk to 110 degrees F and add it to the yeast along with the honey and 1 cup flour. Mix. Cover the sponge with plastic wrap and let rise until light and full of bubbles, about 30 minutes. 

For the Dough:
1/3 cup honey
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
A pinch of ground cardamom 
1/2 cup chopped almonds, toasted
3 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Oil, for coating bowl

Add the fruit mixture, honey, egg, butter, zest, salt, mace, almonds, and 2 cups of the flour to the sponge. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead, adding flour a little at a time, until the dough is smooth and elastic. 

For the Topping:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar


First rise: 

Put the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. 
Shape and Fill: Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. For 1 large loaf, roll the dough into a 9 by 13-inch oval. Brush with 2 Tablespoons of melted butter over the top of the oval. Combine 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 3 tesaspoons of granulated sugar and sprinkle over one lengthwise half of the oval(s). Fold the dough in half lengthwise and carefully lift the bread onto a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet. Press lightly on the folded side to help the loaf keep its shape during rising and baking. 
Second rise: Cover with a towel and or plastic wrap let rise for until about doubled in size. 

Preheat oven: About 10 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 
Bake and cool: Bake for 25 minutes until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees F. Immediately remove from the baking sheet and place on a rack to cool. 
To serve: Sprinkle heavily with confectioners' sugar just before serving


1. Hamdan D, El-Readi MZ, Nibret E, Sporer F, Farrag N, El-Shazly A, Wink M. Chemical composition of the essential oils of two Citrus species and their biological activities. Pharmazie. 2010 Feb;65(2):141-7.
2. Sun J. D-Limonene: safety and clinical applications.
Altern Med Rev. 2007 Sep;12(3):259-64.
3. Guimarães R, Barros L, Barreira JC, Sousa MJ, Carvalho AM, Ferreira IC. Targeting excessive free radicals with peels and juices of citrus fruits: Grapefruit, lemon, lime and orange.Food Chem Toxicol. 2009 Sep 19. [Epub ahead of print]
4. Sood S, Arora B, Bansal S, Muthuraman A, Gill NS, Arora R, Bali M, Sharma PD. Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic potential of the Citrus decumana L. peel extract. Inflammopharmacology. 2009 Sep 19. [Epub ahead of print]
5. Jayaprakasha GK, Girennavar B, Patil BS. Radical scavenging activities of Rio Red grapefruits and Sour orange fruit extracts in different in vitro model systems. Bioresour Technol. 2008 Jul;99(10):4484-94. Epub 2007 Nov 1.
6. Gorinstein S, Leontowicz H, Leontowicz M, Krzeminski R, Gralak M, Martin-Belloso O, Delgado-Licon E, Haruenkit R, Katrich E, Park YS, Jung ST, Trakhtenberg S. Fresh Israeli Jaffa blond (Shamouti) orange and Israeli Jaffa red Star Ruby (Sunrise) grapefruit juices affect plasma lipid metabolism and antioxidant capacity in rats fed added cholesterol. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Jul 28;52(15):4853-9.
7. Yadav AS, Bhatnagar D. Free radical scavenging activity, metal chelation and antioxidant power of some of the Indian spices. Biofactors. 2007;31(3-4):219-27.
8. Nicholson SK, Tucker GA, Brameld JM. Physiological concentrations of dietary polyphenols regulate vascular endothelial cell expression of genes important in cardiovascular health. Br J Nutr. 2009 Dec 21:1-6. [Epub ahead of print]