The early Stollen was a different pastry, the ingredients were very different – flour, oats and water.
As a Christmas pastry, Stollen was baked for the first time at the Council of Trent in 1545, and was made with flour, yeast, oil and water.
The Advent season was a time of fasting, and bakers were not allowed to use butter, only oil, and the cake was tasteless and hard.
In the 15th century, in medieval Saxony (in central Germany, north of Bavaria and south of Brandenburg), the Prince ElectorErnst (1441 – 1486) and his brother DukeAlbrecht (1443–1500) decided to remedy this by writing to the Pope in Rome. The Saxon bakers needed to use butter, as oil in Saxony was expensive, hard to come by, and had to be made from turnips, although we now know this was a healthy option.
Pope Nicholas V (1397–1455), in 1450 denied the first appeal. Five popes died before finally, Pope Innocent VIII, (1432–1492)in 1490 sent a letter to the Prince, known as the “Butter-Letter” which granted the use of butter (without having to pay a fine) – but only for the Prince-Elector and his family and household.
Others were also permitted to use butter, but with the condition of having to pay annually 1/20th of a gold Gulden to support the building of the Freiberg Minster. The ban on butter was removed when Saxony became Protestant.
Over the centuries, the cake changed from being a simple, fairly tasteless “bread” to a sweeter cake with richer ingredients, such as marzipan, although the traditional Stollen is not as sweet, light and airy as the copies made around the world.