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Battle of the bakeries as rival cities lay claim to stollen recipe

By Tony Paterson in Berlin

The threat of a vicious and protracted "stollen" war is looming over Germany after one of the country's leading chefs claimed the eastern city of Dresden had spent more than 500 years pretending to be the inventor of the famous "Dresdner stollen" Christmas cake.

The loaf-shaped confection, usually containing almonds, raisins, marzipan and lemon peel and coated with powdered sugar, is a must for most German families over the festive season. It is supposed to represent the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes.

For more than 530 years, Dresden has claimed to have invented the cake, which it subsequently bestowed with the title "Dresdner Christstollen", or Christmas cake. The delicacy survived both world wars and Communism and is now exported around the globe from Dresden bakeries where it is produced.

Last weekend, thousands of tourists flocked to Dresden to watch the world's biggest stollen, some 4.35 metres long, being pulled through the streets in a procession to the city's market. There, it was ritually cut into 7,000 slices with a 17th-century stollen knife the size of a machete.

But an unwelcome element of doubt has clouded the city's traditional pre-Christmas stollen festivities. Reinhard Lämmel, a leading east German chef and author of the recently published Saxony Cookbook, insists that the Dresdner stollen was not invented in Dresden at all – but in the nearby town of Torgau.

He claims there is firm historical evidence that a court baker called Heinrich Drasdow made a stollen at Hartenstein Castle near Torgau by in 1457 – 17 years before the cake was ever mentioned in connection with Dresden. "The Dresdners did not invent the stollen, they merely refined it," Mr Lämmel said.

In a further insult to Dresden, the chef claims that the Saxon dialect spoken by the city's inhabitants mumbles High German to such an extent that the original name for the cake – Drasdower Stollen – became corrupted into Dresdner Stollen. "Drasdow became Dresden over time and the stollen's original baker was forgotten," added Mr Lämmel, whose findings have been backed by historians.

Drasdow was the first to add butter, sugar and raisins to the stollen and his recipe revolutionised the insipid Christmas cakes of the 15th century, which suffered because of a papal ban on the use of butter during Advent.

Predictably, the challenge to the Dresdner stollen's supremacy has been dismissed by the city's bakers. Wolfgang Hesse, the chairman of the venerable Dresden Stollen Protection Association, said: "The real Christmas stollen comes only from Dresden. It does not matter who baked what 500 years ago."

Marlon Gauk, who each year exports 80 per cent of the 7,000 stollens he produces, added: "Dresden is the place that refined the stollen and made it world famous. It sells very well, so I am not surprised that others are trying to get in on the act."

Such remarks have only encouraged Torgau – whose only other big claim to fame is that it was the meeting point for the advancing Russian and US armies at the end of the Second World War – to step up its claim to be the inventor of the cake.

Anja Jerichen, the town's tourism director, said the story of Heinrich Drasdow would in future be a prominent feature of its guided tours. "We are going to start marketing our stollen tradition properly," she said.

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