christmas dominostein gingerbread candy

Close your eyes and think for a minute: what would the ideal Christmas candy look like for you? Not your favorite (though I’m sure your favorite Christmas candy is excellent and everything), but the ideal one. The type of candy that manages to combine multiple flavors, traditions, and historical importance from various countries all at once.

Well, Dominostein, a German candy from the early-mid 20th century, is basically that: candy combining multiple Christmas specialties that have long become seasonal staples into one specific treat. Too bad, it’s not all that well known outside Germany. In fact, even in its native country, if you were to ask a random person what the perfect Christmas candy is, they’re more likely to name chocolate or marzipan instead of Dominostein.

Truly a shame. Especially considering you’d be getting a 2-for-1 deal with Dominostein.

So let’s break down what Dominostein is, where it comes from, why it’s so ideally suited for the Christmas celebrations, and, most importantly, why you should give it a try and add it to your festive spread this upcoming holidays.

What is Dominostein?

Dominostein (ger. “domino tiles” or “domino stones) are small multi-layered gingerbread cookie candy

Dominostein traditionally consists of three layers. The first one is a classic lebkuchen cookie, dense, somewhat dry, and chewy. How intensely they’re spiced depends on the manufacturer (or bakery, if the Dominostein is hand-crafted), but most large-scale producers avoid heavy spices and stick to classic, moderate levels.

The middle layer consists of thick and chewy fruit jelly. Sour cherry and apricot flavors are the ones used most often and considered the most traditional, but it’s becoming more and more common for smaller artisans to experiment with flavors, swapping sour cherry and apricot for fruits like quince and citrus.

The top layer is traditionally a soft and chewy marzipan. Marzipan is sometimes swapped for persipan (a marzipan-like soft and chewy confectionery made with apricot or peach kernels instead of almonds) to cut down on the costs. Interestingly, Dominostein isn’t the only confection where German regulations allow swapping marzipan for a cheaper alternative. Marzipanstollen, for example, can trade marzipan for persipan and still be labeled Marzipanstollen. 

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find some alterations to the original Dominostein recipe, be it more layers, or swapping one ingredient for another. But the traditional three-layered combination of lebkuchen, fruit jelly, and marzipan is still the most famous (as far as Dominosten’s fame goes).

Their closest relatives would be chocolate bonbons. Similar to bonbons, with Dominostein, the chocolate shell covers a softer, often non-chocolate center. But unlike bonbons, the outer chocolate shell is thin, and instead of being molded for the candy, the thin shell is formed with the candy being covered with liquid chocolate coverture.

What Does Dominostein Taste Like?

Dominostein’s flavor profile is rather complex, though not overwhelming. When properly balancing all the flavors, it’s supposed to be fruity and slightly tart (from the jam) and nutty (from the marzipan), with a rich and robust aroma from all the spices in the lebkuchen.

The original Doministein recipe aims to keep the gingerbread cookie candy moderately sweet without overwhelming the palate, but certain variations can veer towards the sweeter side. It all depends on the ingredients used (dark chocolate-covered candy is less sweet than white-chocolate covered, for example) and the proportions. While the three candy layers are supposed to be roughly the same size, it’s not uncommon for the lebkuchen layer to be thicker or the marzipan layer to be thin. The level of candy’s sweetness will change accordingly: the one with a more prominent lebkuchen flavor will be less sweet and more spice-forward, while the one with a thicker marzipan layer will be sweeter.

Which is Correct: Dominosteine or Dominostein?

Both are! Dominosteine is simply the plural form of Dominostein in German. But it can be hard to grasp that on the go if you don’t know the language. Whether your candy is labeled Dominostein or Dominosteine, it’s both correct for authentic German products. Don’t assume mislabeling or label falsification. 

Who Invented Dominostein Candy?

Unlike most staple German Christmas food, we actually know where, when, and who invented this delicious gingerbread cookie candy! It’s because, as staple foods go, Dominostein is still relatively young; not even an entire century has passed since its invention.

Dominostein candy was created in 1936 by Dresden-based chocolatier Herbert Wendler (1912–1998). 

The 30s were a rough time in Germany (then again, they were a turbulent time almost everywhere in the world), with rampant food shortages and rampant money shortages to buy the stuff that was yet available. 

Understandably, chocolate sales started to suffer significantly during the time because no matter how hard-loved the candy was, it wasn’t an absolute necessity.

Herbert Wendler, who established his praline factory in 1933 at just 21 years old, found himself somewhat in a bind. He did have the necessity to earn money to live, but the market sensibilities were shifting first, not without the heavy-handed influence of the Reich.

Due to chocolate shortages and hiked prices, Wendler had trouble manufacturing and selling his staple product: high-end chocolate pralines. German Reich controlled the raw material quotas and had strict guidelines for producing mandatory quantities. It goes without saying that the raw material quotas and mandatory quantities weren’t very well-aligned if one wanted to make a higher-end product.

Wendler came up with a cheaper alternative - Dominostein. People still loved sweets; they just couldn’t afford the high-end ones. Manufacturers couldn’t afford to produce high-end ones if they wished to meet the mandatory production quota. 

So Wendler created something that was a combination of several confections people already loved, and he would be able to both manufacture and sell at a lower cost: gingerbread cookie candy.

Interestingly, the initial Dominostein recipe used persipan made with crushed peach kernels instead of marzipan. Again, Wendler was more focused on cutting costs at this stage. 

How Dominostein Became a German Christmas Staple:

Initially, Dominostein wasn’t German Christmas food. It wasn’t even all that well-known in Germany outside Dresden. But when World War II hit, it quickly gained fame across the country. The main reason? Soldier provisions.

Inexpensive but tasty Dominostein was an easy concession on the part of the German Reich to keep the soldiers relatively happy with their rations without spending a lot of money. So Dresden Domino Tiles became a regular addition to army rations. Up until the end of World War II in 1945, the candies were called “emergency praline” or “war praline” almost more often than they were called their name.

While the sales of Dominostein tended to see a regular spike during the Christmas season, it wasn’t until all the way to 1999 that they were aggressively advertised as a seasonal staple.

Let’s rewind: Wendler continued steadily running his confectionary company, likely seeing good returns on Dominostein, as the candy wasn’t discontinued during his decades in charge. But when the wave of nationalization hit Germany in 1972, Wendler’s company was nationalized as well and was merged with the bakery factory “Berger & Böhme “(BERBÖ). 

Wendler stayed in charge of running the confectionary line, but h wasn’t supplying Dominostein to just native consumers anymore; he was supposed to focus on exports. Indeed, as GDR exports went, Dominostein was among the most popular. In the 70s, alongside increased export, its profile started to rise in Germany as well. 

In the 80s, Wendler met Dr. Hartmut Quendt and worked with him to develop a permanent baking system for VEB Rubro (the rebranded BERBÖ) to increase bread manufacturing to industrial quantities. While Dr. Quendt went on his way to establish his own company, it seems that he remained well aware of Wendler over the years. Because when the “Herbert Wendler Company” went bankrupt in 1996, Quendt was the one to snap it up.

In 1999, Dr. Quendt GmbH & Co. KG took over what remained of the company and, by 2000, decided to focus on manufacturing and advertising Dominostein candy aggressively for the Christmas season.

Quendt’s strategy worked. He already had quite a fruitful soil to work with: Dominostein combined in itself sweets that were already strongly associated with the Christmas season in Germany: lebkuchen gingerbread cookies and marzipan. It was ideally suited for the season.

But while it was indeed wise to advertise Dominostein as a tailor-made Christmas treat, it can be argued that such a campaign damaged the candy’s overall popularity and recognition. 

Today Dominostein is hardly sold outside the winter holiday season: the sales numbers rapidly rise when December rolls around (December 3 has even been declared Dominosteintag or Dominostein Day) and just as rapidly fall after the holidays are over. This had even led to a predicament when Quendt had trouble pre-financing ingredients for Dominostein production before the Christmas season in 2014 and initiated a takeover by Aachen Lambertz Group to avoid the crisis.

Types of Dominostein Candy:

Dominostein candy is roughly divided into two categories:

  • Feine Dominosteine (ger. “Fine Dominos”) must contain at least two layers of filling, one made with fruit jelly and one made with marzipan or persipan, with the latter being more common. It’s sometimes called Dessert-Dominosteine (ger. “Dessert Dominos”).
  • Feinste Dominosteine (ger. “Finest Dominos”) has a stricter composition guideline than Feine Dominostein. It consists of three standard layers and is only allowed to use marzipan, with no substitution for persipan or other alternatives.

It’s also not uncommon nowadays to encounter Dominostein candy that doesn’t abide by the standard three-layer rule. Some candies contain four or more layers, usually with more lebkuchen layers between other fillings (i.e., lebkuchen layer followed by jelly layer followed by another lebkuchen layer followed by marzipan layer). Some candies contain three layers, but two of them are made with lebkuchen with either marzipan or fruit jelly in the middle.

Chocolate coverture is another matter. Original Dominostein candies were covered with dark chocolate coverture. These days milk chocolate and white chocolate coverture are just as standard.

Is There Any Specific Way the Germans Eat Dominostein Candy?

No, there aren’t any specific rules attached to serving and consuming Dominostein candy. They’re eaten just like any other candy would be: as a quick snack or as a dessert at any given time of day. There are no traditional flavor combinations to pair them with, but hot tea and coffee are typical, simply because the candy itself is most common during the coldest months of the year.

How Long Does Doministein Candy Last?

As with many other staple Christmas sweets, the shelf life of Dominostein candy largely depends on whether it’s commercially packaged or hand-crafted. Hand-crafted Dominostein, while quite sturdy, shouldn’t be kept around for more than a couple of weeks. And they’re only going to last that long if they’re correctly stored - in an airtight container at a cool and dark place so that the gingerbread cookie filling doesn’t get stale.

Commercially packaged Dominostein is another matter entirely. As long as it’s vacuum-sealed, it can be good for up to a year (check the label for the expiration date or the best-by date). But once the seal is broken, it should be treated just like hand-crafted Dominostein candy: kept in an airtight container to maintain freshness.

Dominostein candy doesn’t need to be refrigerated. As long as you’re not dealing with high humidity and extreme heat, they can survive perfectly well at room temperature.

Explore Yummy Bazaar’s Holiday Assortment for More Traditional Christmas Treats:

Yummy Bazaar hosts one of the largest online selections of gourmet holiday treats, with a wide variety of items from across the globe. Explore the Italian section for a wide assortment of gourmet panettone or pandoro, go to the Spanish section for authentic Christmas turron nougat candy or check out the German collection for high-quality marzipan, far too often overlooked during the Christmas celebrations. Or maybe you’d like to go a little original with your choice of Christmas gingerbread cookies? You’ll find an assortment from all over the world, from German lebkuchen to Swedish Pepperkakkor to French Nonnettes. All it takes on your part is sparing a few minutes to stock the cart with all your favorites, and we’ll take it from there, ensuring the goodies get delivered to your doorstep ASAP.

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