My friend Jules spent many years kind of ignoring the fact that she is German. Educated in the UK and a following a career path that took her from St Louis to South Africa, when I first visited her in Hamburg she swore that there were no German restaurants in the city. Then she thought she knew of one and it ended up being Italian! Ten years on she is now better on the German cultural front and the gaps in her knowledge about where to find the best herring or the kitchiest of Easter kitch are filled by her friends Martin and Simone.
Germany, for those of you who don’t know it, may be the food capital of Europe. Yes there are sausages, yes there are potatoes, indeed they do eat cabbage, and yes there is beer. But what sausages! What potatoes! What cabbage! And what beer! More to the point, Germany, rather like Italy, is not one country. Founded either in 1815 or 1871 depending on who you want to believe, Germany is a very young country although its individual nation states are very old indeed, steeped in strong culture and traditions and full of fantastic food. The Germans, you see, just don’t put up with poor quality anything. End. Stop. The North is all about the sea, Bavaria is all about mountains and the divine pig, The West (bordering France) has a cuisine that absolutely rivals the French and in the East you find continental fare – incredible cakes, lots of game, rich sauces. Very modern history has brought Italians and Turks, Vietnamese and Koreans, Central Asians and Sub Continentals – the choice of food in many places rivals London.
What Germans do best, though, in my humble opinion, are cakes.
Cake may be my favourite food. I know I should not say that because I am actually a bread baker, not a cake baker and that is by choice. I am pretty lame at cake: not enough attention to detail. However, I have been playing with Stollen recipes for years, telling myself that it has yeast and so it comes into my official remit. There are about a zillion stollen recipes and the only thing anyone can agree with is that it seems to have originated in Dresden. Some research into stollen explains that the sausage of marzipan in the middle symbolises the Baby Jesus and the dough is his swaddling clothes. That presumes you have a marzipan sausage in the middle; a thing with which I did not grow up. No, I like my stollen commando style and don’t like the idea of cutting up the poor little Baby Jesus and spreading him with butter and eating him with a cup of tea. Don’t get me wrong. I love marzipan, just not in my stollen.
I had never been happy with the recipes I found and so I turned to Simone, the oracle on German traditional cuisine. She has not let me down and her recipe, I am delighted to say, calls for no eggs, no marzipan, and plenty of lard. You can substitute butter for the lard, add in a sausage of marzipan if you must but don’t add any eggs please or else you will throw out the balance of everything else.