Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sweet Cotton Bread for Saint Joseph's Day - Baumwollbrot zum Josefstag am 19. März

The feast day of Saint Joseph falls on March 19, right in the middle of Lenten fasting. To allow the many Josephs and Josephines to celebrate their name day on St Joseph’s Day, certain special festive foods can be served but, traditionally, none will contain any meat.

Saint Joseph is believed by Christians to have been the husband of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus. Although the veneration of Joseph seems to have begun in Egypt, the earliest Western devotion to him dates from the early 14th century, when the Servites (Ordo Servorum Mariae) an order of mendicant friars (Bettelorden), observed his feast on March 19, the traditional day of his death. Among the subsequent promoters of the devotion were Pope Sixtus IV, who introduced it at Rome about 1479, and the celebrated 16th-century mystic St. Teresa of Ávila. Already patron of Mexico, Canada, and Belgium, Joseph was declared patron of the universal church in Roman Catholicism by Pope Pius IX in 1870. In 1955 Pope Pius XII established the Feast of St Joseph the Worker (Fest des hl. Josef des Arbeiters) on May 1, meant to honor all workers and as a counter-celebration to the communists’ May Day.

In some countries including Canada, Poland, Peru and the Philippines, St Joseph Day is a Patronal Feast Day, while in some Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain, it is Father's Day. St Joseph is also the Patron Saint for the Archdiocese of my hometown, Cologne (Erzbistum Köln). In Switzerland, it is a public holiday in some of the cantons, banks and schools are usually closed but many businesses may still be open. While this holiday was traditionally popular in many countries, it has begun to lose some of its popularity over the last several years. Saint Joseph's Day is not only the Patronal Feast Day for religious institutes, schools and parishes bearing his name, and for all workers, especially carpenters, but allso for all couples, adolescents, children, families and orphans, to name but a few.

The following recipe for Sweet Cotton Bread (Baumwollbrot) was created way back for St Joseph's Day celebrations. It was traditionally baked in the Berchtesgardener Land (a district in Bavaria, Germany, bounded by the district of Traunstein and by the state of Austria). Carpenters (of course, St Joseph was said to have been a carpenter) used to bring it to church on St Joseph's Day to have it blessed during Mass and happily consumed the loafs after church service. Why it disappeared for years from the food map is not entirely clear but, thankfully, it was re-discovered about five years ago by a local historian and a cooking instructor who then proceeded to re-create the recipe for the forgotten St Joseph Day festive bake. The origin of the name is not entirely clear either but it is said that it hails from the fact that the shape of the bread resembles a cotton capsule.

Sweet Cotton Bread for St Joseph Day -  Baumwollbrot zum Josefstag


For the Dough
  • 500g strong (bread) flour (around here I use ‚Weizenmehl Type 550‘)
  • 5g fine salt (I like to use fine sea salt)
  • 60g superfine (baking) sugar
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar
  • 75g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 200ml milk (I like to use 3.5%)
  • 30g fresh yeast
  • 1 egg (L), free-range or organic
  • zest from am untreated/organic lemon
  • 100g raisins that have been soaked in rum, tea or water

For the Egg Wash
  • 1 egg (L), free-range or organic
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp cream or full-fat milk

For the Glaze
  • 500g powdered sugar
  • a bit of lemon juice

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, mix together the flour, salt, sugar and vanilla sugar.
  2. Create a well in the center of the mix.
  3. Melt the butter, then add the milk, yeast and egg.
  4. Stir well and add to the well in your dry mix.
  5. Knead on low for about 5 minutes (stand mixer about 5 minutes; by hand for abour 8 to 10 minutes).
  6. Place dough in a large bowl and cover with a warm damp cloth. Leave it to rise in a warm and draft-free place for about 45 minutes OR until it doubles in size. 
  7. Turn the dough out onto your work surface, scatter the raisins over, knead briefly, just until the raisins are distributed throughout the dough. Then cover the dough again and let rise for an additional 15 minutes.
  8. Turn the dough out onto your work surface and divide the dough into four, form large balls.
  9. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and place the four dough balls close to each other (so they almost touch). Remember to leave some room between the rounds. The dough will rise some more and join together. Cover the dough again with a damp cloth and leave to rise for another 15 minutes.
  10. Mix the egg with the salt and the cream or milk and glaze the bread.
  11. Preheat your oven to 180°C (356° F).
  12. Bake on the middle rack for about 20 to 25 minutes. 
  13. When the bread is golden, transfer to a cooling rack. When it has cooled completely, mix the ingredients for the glaze and brush liberally over the bread.
  14. Enjoy freshly baked with butter and local honey or as is.

St Joseph's Day proverbs usually allude to the fact that this particular feast day was always associated with the end of winter and the beginning of spring (March 20), new life and renewed hope:
  • 'St Joseph shakes his beard, and see, winter has disappeared!'
  • 'It's on St Joseph's Day clear, so follows a fertile year.'

Please note that this blog post is part of my series for a 'local' radio station, where, throughout the years, I present different baked goods that are closely tied to various holidays and seasons. If you are interested, have a LOOK & LISTEN (in German)HERE

The various recipes of my series can be found here:

  • in January, for Three Kings Day (Dreikönigstag) two kinds of Galette des Rois (Dreikönigskuchen) (HERE)
  • for Lent (Fastenzeit) Lenten Soup with Lenten Beugel (Fastenbeugel) (HERE)
  • for Good Friday (Karfreitag) the delicious Hot Cross Buns (HERE)
  • for Pentecost /Whitsun (Pfingsten) the fun Allgäu Bread Birds (Allgäuer Brotvögel) (HERE)
  • for the beginning of the summer vacation, the lovely Sacristains (Almond & Sugar Puff Pastry Sticks) (HERE)
  • for St Christopher's Day (St Christophorus), the energy-packed Müsli Power Bars (Müsli Energieriegel) (HERE)
  • for Mary's Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt) my Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) (HERE)
  • for Mary’s Birthday (Mariä Geburt) some very pretty Mary’s Sweet Rolls (Süße Marienküchlein) (HERE)
  • for Thanksgiving (Erntedankfest) a delicious and seasonal Thanksgiving Apple Tart with Frangipane (Erntedank Apfeltarte mit Mandelcreme) (HERE)
  • for Halloween a Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake (Kürbis-Gewürzkuchen)
  • for St Martin's Day (Martinsfest) the cheerful Sweet Dough Men (Weckmänner) (HERE)
  • for St Andrew's Day (Andreastag) a classic Petticoat Tails Shortbread (HERE)
  • for Christmas Day (Weihnachten) these Traditional German Gingerbread (Elisenlebkuchen) (HERE
  • for New Year's Eve New Year's Eve Pretzel (Neujahrsbretzel)
  • for Candelmas Day (Mariä Lichtmess) some delightful Navettes de Saint Victor (HERE)
  • for Carnival Season (Karneval) these lovely Carnival Doughnuts (Karnevals-Krapfen) (HERE
  • for St Patrick's Day a traditional Irish Brown Soda Bread (Irisches Sodabrot)(HERE
  • for St Joseph's Day a long-forgotten but thankfully re-discovered Sweet Cotton Bread (Baumwollbrot)(HERE
  • for Palm Sunday (Palmsonntag) these very pretty Palm Pretzels (Palmbrezel) (HERE)
  • for Easter Sunday (Ostersonntag) an Easter Brunch at Home with Tarte Flambée (Flammkuchen) (HERE)
  • for the Month of May (Marienmonat Mai) these elegant Visitandines de Nancy (HERE
  • for Pentecost/Whitsun these festive Beignets (Heiliggeistkrapfen) (HERE) - more delicious treats to come very soon.


  1. Delicious and I love Saint Joseph !! take care

    1. Dear Gloria, special days call for special festive bakes - and I took a particular liking to the taste and especially the shape of this lovely 'Baumwollbrot'.
      All the very best to you and your family during this time! xo

  2. Those rolls look very good , wishing you the very best in this trying times.

    1. Liebe Gerlinde, das Baumwollbrot ist ein absolut wunderbares Rezept zum Gedenktag des hl. Josef und hätte nicht nur meinem Vater (der auch Josef hieß) ziemlich gut gefallen - was für ein schöner Festtag.
      Liebe Grüße nach Santa Cruz und wie Jamie Oliver sagen würde #keepcookingandcarryon
      In diesem Sinne - alles Gute

  3. These rolls look gorgeous - I would happily devour one. And yes, they do resemble cotton bolls. My Mum's friends used to grow cotton, years ago, so I have seen cotton growing in the fields.

    1. Dear Gaye, that is amazing - if you knew how many flower shops I had to visit in order to find branches with cotton capsules ;) Quite a few! I ordered them online,they did not arrive in time for the pics either. But I finally found one in a store in Cologne - I cannot imagine how nice it must be to see them actually growing in the fields. I would love to see that one day!
      Stay safe and sound, my friend!

  4. These are beautiful, and I love that you had some actually cotton to show with them! They remind me a of of hot cross buns that we at Easter time - they are different, but I think I like yours better!. Ganz liebe Grüße, David