The Christmas Zelten is one of those traditional cakes that cannot be missed on the Christmas table in South Tyrol. It has a long history that has been handed down through the centuries, a tradition that is still renewed today to celebrate the Christmas holidays. A recipe rich in ingredients explained here step by step.

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The Christmas Zelten is one of those traditional sweets that cannot be missed on the Christmas table in South Tyrol.

A bread that smells of festivity and this special time of the year, the Zelten is a recipe that has been handed down from family to family time. In this article you will find its history, but also the secrets of its preparation.

History of Christmas Zelten

The Christmas Zelten is a dessert of Central European origin based on dried fruit and candied fruit that is usually prepared during Advent throughout Trentino Alto Adige.

Its name is reminiscent of the German word "selten" which sometimes means precisely because Zelten is not prepared in all seasons of the year, but at Christmas time. 

There is evidence of this cake in a manuscript of the 18th century preserved in the library of Rovereto. This is how the recipe of "celteno" a fruit bread with medieval origins is described: 

"Take some Candia grapes, raisins, pine nuts, peeled almonds cut long, minutely cut lemon peel, aniseed seeds, candied citron, cinnamon powder, a little sugar and a little flour and mix everything together. Take a small piece of brewer's yeast, the size of a walnut..."

Widespread in a region rich in similar but different traditions, the Zelten is not the same everywhere in Trentino Alto Adige.

From valley to valley some ingredients are different, and even in every family there can be variations. 

However, there are some basic ingredients in the dough that everyone uses as flour (which was once strictly rye), eggs, butter, sugar, yeast, walnuts, dried figs, almonds, pine nuts and raisins. 

The Christmas Zelten that is prepared in South Tyrol has a special feature: its shape. There is no such thing as a unique shape. You can therefore find the Zelten in the shape of a heart, oval or rectangular, depending on the imagination of the person who makes it. 

According to a tradition dating back to '700 this cake was prepared on December 13 and then offered during the Christmas holidays. According to another tradition, Zelten was prepared on the day of the winter solstice and all the members of the family were involved in the preparation, especially the young women who participated with special dedication. The Zelten was in fact donated to her fiancé or future husband.

Therefore, a large one was made for the whole family and smaller ones to donate

According to tradition, the Zelten prepared on December 21, the eve of St. Thomas, the girls invoked the saint to bring love into their lives during the preparation of the cake. Before baking the cake, the mother marked the center of the cake with a cross and blessed it. Once it was ready, the Zelten was again blessed and placed in the cupboard to be eaten according to one tradition with the family at Christmas, on the return from midnight mass, according to another, the cake was eaten on the Twelfth Night. 

How to prepare Zelten in South Tyrol

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Here is the Christmas Zelten recipe for four people, according to a tradition of South Tyrol.

Preparation time: 2 hours. 


The list is very long, but to prepare such a rich and special cake could not be otherwise!

Water 20 g of yeast 2 tablespoons of sugar 150 g of flour 100 g rye flour 15 g of salt 1 tablespoon of oil 1 teaspoon of aniseed 1 teaspoon of cumin 500 g of dried figs, diced or striped 250 g of raisins 120 g of sultana 120 g of dried fruit (hazelnuts, nuts, peanuts) comminuted 120 g pine nuts 50 g candied lemon peel 50 g of candied orange peel 50 ml white wine 3 tablespoons of rum 70 g of honey ½ grated lemon rind ½ grated orange peel ½ teaspoon of cinnamon 1 pinch of clove powder 1 allspice thumbtack 1 nutmeg thumbtack walnuts, hazelnuts, peeled almonds and candied cherries to decorate honey or sugar syrup to brush.


Mix the yeast and sugar with the hot water and leave to rise for 10 minutes

Add the flour, rye flour, salt, oil, aniseed and cumin and work the mass with a kneading machine. 

Leave to rise at 35 degrees (covering the dough) for 30 minutes. 

Marinate for at least 1 hour in rum and honey figs, raisins, sultanas, walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, cedar, candied orange peel in white wine, so that the Zelten takes a good aroma. 

Add lemon and orange peel, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg. 

Mix well with the kneading machine the bread dough with the marinated fruits and nuts.

Form round Zelten with a heart-shaped or elongated shape and decorate them with walnuts and almonds.

Place them on a baking tray and let them rest for another 20 minutes

Cook at 170 degrees for 40 minutes in the preheated oven, often brushing them with honey or sugar in syrup until they take on a deep brown color. 

Let them cool, decorate with candied cherries and then wrap them in a transparent film.

A tradition that has been renewed every year for centuries. The Zelten unites the valleys and families with the same spirit that animates the Christmas holidays, a time when it's nice to spend time with your loved ones. 

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