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Stollen or Zelten? That's the question!


Slices of Stollen

With this article we would like to illustrate two very popular Christmas desserts that have very different backgrounds. Stollen, a typical cake originated in Germany and Zelten originally from Trentino, Italy. The good news? If you find yourself in the Dolomites region and in South Tyrol, you will have the chance to taste them both! Thanks to its geographical position at the border with the German speaking countries and with Northern Italy, South Tyrolean gastronomy gets the best of both worlds!

Let’s find out a little bit more about these two tasteful desserts:

Zelten cake

Zelten from Trentino - Photo credit: Trentino Marketing S.r.L


The origin of the names goes back to the 1700, when a cake Celteno was mentioned in a manuscript, together with a recipe that can be found at the Public Library of Rovereto, a small town close to the famous Lake Garda. The origin is also credited to the German word, Selten (that means rarely) since originally the sweet was only prepared during the Christmas season. Zelten is a traditional cake from the alpine cuisine that is based on ingredients that were easy to find and conserved. Although it can comes in variations depending on the valleys, the main ingredients for the dough are: flour, eggs, sugar, yeast and dried fruits such as walnuts, figs, almonds, pines and raisins. In South Tyrol it also comes in difference shapes: oval, round or heart shapes.

The tradition tells that Zelten was prepared for the Winter Solstice with the help of everyone in the household. A big one was prepared to be consumed by the whole family, while small ones where prepared for the daughters so that they could give it as a present to their future husbands.

As Zelten was dedicated to San Tommaso, the Saint of Love, the dough was infused with prayers and rituals related to the Saint. These rituals were different from valleys to valleys, but the all had something in common: help the search for love.

Once the sweet was ready, it was blessed and stored until the Epiphany, when it was shared between all the family members.

Zelten from South Tyrol

Zelten from South Tyrol - Photo credit: IDM Suedtirol


Stollen or Weihnachtstollen it’s a typical Christmas fruit-cake originally from Germany and dated back to the XIV century. The city where it comes from is Dresden and although the recipe could have some variations depending on where in Germany is baked, it is basically a sweet dough with yest, enriched with butter, dried fruits, candied orange peel, cardamom, zest, covered with powdered sugar.

The first written testimony is actually a document referring to the Striezelmarkt, the Christmas market of Dresden. At the beginning it was baked without eggs and butter as these ingredients were forbidden by the Catholic Church. We have to wait until 1490, when Pope Innocence VIII revoked this rule through a document that became famous as the “Butter Letter”. With time Stollen gained popularity also between aristocrats, and in 1730 the Duke August the Strong liked it so much that ordered the Baker’s guild a 1.7 ton of Stollen for his 24000 guests. They would have probably entered the Guinness book if it would have existed at that time! Nowadays Stollen is worldwide famous and the quality of the product has remained true to the original, thanks to its PGI denomination that guarantee its quality and standard.

If you are in Dresden in December you could attend at the Stollen Festival that takes place in town every year.

If you are traveling to South Tyrol during the Christmas season, make sure to visit one of the many Christmas markets, where you will have the chance to taste both delicatessen perhaps paring them with a hot cup of mulled wine or Gluehwein!

cute stand at Bolzano Christmas Market

Christmas decorations at the Bolzano Christmas Market

Now the question that remains is: is it better Stollen or Zelten? We will leave it up to you, unfortunately you will need to try them both and let us know!

Interested in cooking yourself both these yummy desserts? Here are the links to their recipes:

If you are interested in discover more of beautiful South Tyrol, its culture, history and tradition or need help to plan your accommodation and activities, please contact us at

We'd love to share our experience and knowledge of the territory with you!

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