Herrenkonfekt from Dresden, Germany, featured in Birthplace of Milk Chocolate – No, It’s Not Switzerland! on Family Travel with Colleen Kelly

The majestic city of Dresden, capital of Saxony, Germany, sits on the banks of the Elbe River and is known for its incredible architecture and art; baroque palaces with lush gardens; vast vineyards and charming wine villages; musical culture and festivals; and tradition-steeped Christmas market. But did you know that it also brought the wonderful gift of milk chocolate into our lives? Be forever grateful to Dresden as you bite into your next milky bar.

When cocoa arrived in Europe from areas that are now Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala, it was primarily consumed in the form of dark drinking chocolate. Courtly society ladies in large, airy parlors adjusted their fine gowns and gathered on ornately upholstered sofas and high-backed chairs, delicately sipping foaming chocolate from porcelain cups. Groups also assembled in chocolate lounge bars to enjoy this delicacy. During the baroque period, demand for the luxury chocolate drink increased—especially at the European courts—along with the need for fine porcelain to drink it from. This led to the 1710 founding of Europe’s first porcelain factory, in Saxony, near Dresden. Augustus II of Saxony (also known as Augustus the Strong), who was mighty enough to break metal horseshoes by hand, also used his strong pull to commission the now world-renowned Meissen porcelain, in which drinking chocolate was often served.

Proof of Augustus the Strong’s bare-handed horseshoe-breaking ability is displayed at the Royal Palace in Dresden.
Jean-Étienne Liotard’s Das Schokoladenmädchen (“The Chocolate Girl”) featured in Birthplace of Milk Chocolate – No, It’s Not Switzerland! on Family Travel with Colleen Kelly
Jean-Étienne Liotard’s Das Schokoladenmädchen (“The Chocolate Girl”) features a chambermaid serving hot drinking chocolate. 1744, Pastell auf Pergament, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister © SKD, Photo: Herbert Boswank.

The famous 1744 pastel painting Das Schokoladenmädchen (“The Chocolate Girl”) by Jean-Étienne Liotard features a rosy-cheeked chambermaid carrying a breakfast tray of drinking chocolate in a “chocolate cup.” This style of porcelain cup features two handles for greater security against spills while drinking in bed, and it sits on a silver saucer called a trembleuse, whose deep-set rim in which the cup sits provides extra security for those still in bed or for those with trembling hands, as the name suggests. In the painting, the chocolate is served alongside sweet cookies, to offset the drink’s bitterness, as well as a glass of water, to help wash down the thick beverage. Art dealer Count Francesco Algarotti purchased this painting directly from Liotard for the Dresden Pastellkabinett in 1745, and it now resides in Dresden’s Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) in the Zwinger. The silhouette of “The Chocolate Girl” was registered as a U.S. trademark in 1883 and since then has been featured on the packaging and individual chocolate squares of Baker’s baking chocolate, one of the largest national chocolate brands in the United States.

Dresden, the true birthplace of milk chocolate, is where chocolate was first blended with milk—specifically, donkey milk. Dresden entrepreneurs Jordan & Timaeus initially advertised their donkey milk chocolate in 1839, about 30 years before Swiss Daniel Peter first introduced his milk chocolate recipe using condensed milk. Jordan & Timaeus’ recipe consisted of 60% cocoa, 30% sugar, and 10% donkey milk, and was the first non-drinkable form of cocoa offered. Susanne Engler, founder of Adoratio Schokoladenkunst, the first certified-organic sweets manufacturer in Saxony, appeared on the German television show Einfach Genial (“Simply Brilliant”) to explain Jordan & Timaeus’ secret to keeping the milk from separating from the cocoa during production. Engler described that the key was to thicken the milk by cooking it with sugar before adding it to the mix. This sugar-thickened milk transformed the mixture into a creamy consistency more conducive to melting in mouths.

Donkey milk was initially used because it was much more common than cow’s milk. During that era, fresh cow’s milk was brought in open containers into the city center from neighboring farms, allowing opportunity for the milk to spoil or become contaminated during transport. After delivery, these same milk containers were then used to bring garbage out of the city. Donkeys were used in the city as work animals and their milk was easier and quicker to obtain, while also posing less risk for contamination.

Paul Pfund of Pfunds Molkerei (“milk shop”) in Dresden eventually solved the cow’s milk contamination problem by developing a dairy milk sanitation system, which helped keep up with the growth of industrialization and the demand for hygienic agricultural products. This milk production proved so successful that production exceeded consumption, resulting in Pfund producing Germany’s first “condensed milk” and leading to further success in milk sales abroad. In 1892, Pfunds dairy shop was opened on the ground floor of the main building, with special décor created by Villeroy & Boch’s ceramic artists. The shop was declared in the November 1977 Guinness Book of World Records to be the “Most Beautiful Milk Shop in the World,” due to the colorful hand-painted tiles covering the walls, floors, and ceilings, featuring animals, landscapes, and children playing. For a 360-degree view of the shop’s interior, you can visit the online 3D tour.

Pfunds Molkerei (“milk shop”) in Dresden, Germany. Photo courtesy of Pfunds Molkerei Dresden.
hand-painted tile in Pfunds Molkerei in Dresden, Germany, featured in Birthplace of Milk Chocolate – No, It’s Not Switzerland! on Family Travel with Colleen Kelly
Hand-painted tile in Pfunds Molkerei in Dresden, Germany. Photo courtesy of Pfunds Molkerei Dresden.

No longer a functioning milk production location, the current Pfunds milk shop serves cheeses, snack items, and varieties of milk within its exquisitely tiled walls, while the specialty shop next door sells other high-quality items like milk soap made from the original recipe, milk grappa, caramel cream spread made from fresh whole milk, the butter-rich Original Dresdner Christstollen (“Dresden Christmas stollen”), chocolate-covered wafer cookies, and other giftable products from neighboring regions.

In the 1920’s, Dresden housed more than 30 chocolate factories and was considered the chocolate capital of Germany in the 19th century. Before World War II, Dresden’s chocolate industry employed approximately 7,000 people and accounted for one-fifth of Germany’s total chocolate production. The packaging industry in Dresden was thriving as well, with machinery able to create molds for various shapes, allowing for the company Anton Reiche to form highly detailed chocolate figures.

Prepare to sample chocolates at the CAMONDAS Chocolate Museum. Photo by Wolfgang Gaertner, Saxony Tourism.
A jellied, flavorful take on gingerbread, Dr. Quendt Herrenkonfekt treats are a variety of Dominostein.

The main CAMONDAS chocolatier shop in Dresden, opposite the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace), contains the Chocolate Museum, which displays a collection of the highly detailed tinplate molds Anton Reiche created to shape chocolate into motifs for every holiday and occasion—Easter chicks and Santa Clauses, animal shapes, devils, chimney sweeps, household objects, political figures, cars and trains, ammunition, and many other figures and objects. Of special interest is a giant bunny, which when covered in chocolate would be 31 inches tall and weigh 44 pounds. Part of the museum tour includes sampling the sweets and learning to distinguish high-quality gourmet chocolate from industrial mass-produced chocolate. The museum is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.

At CAMONDAS shop, you can buy chocolate bars and chocolate ice cream on a stick, sample warm molten nougat and gourmet drinking chocolates, or try another Dresden invention—the Dominostein (“domino tile”), which was created in 1936 by Dresden chocolatier Herbert Wendler as a less expensive alternative to his pricy, luxury chocolate pralines. Wendler referred to these wartime food shortage treats as “emergency pralines” or “war pralines,” and they gained popularity during World War II, when they became an affordable and regular part of the German Reich’s army rations.

This bakery specialty from Dresden is a three-layer gingerbread cookie candy consisting of a bottom layer of lebkuchen—a spiced gingerbread cookie, which is dry and chewy—followed by a middle layer of thick fruit jelly such as apricot, orange, or sour cherry. The top layer is a soft marzipan (almond confectionary) or, for a less expensive version, persipan, a confection made from peach or apricot kernels. This tri-layer cube of cake-candy is then covered with a thin coating of white or dark chocolate and its flavor is a combination of nutty, fruity, spicy, and tart. In 1999, Dr. Quendt GmbH & Co. KG used Wendler’s original recipe and focused on marketing the treats as a Christmas season staple. Now hardly sold outside of the winter holiday, December is prime time for finding Dominosteine in German stores and markets. The “Herrenkonfekt” variety contains cherry juice and rum and is titled as suitable “for gentlemen.” For those who consider lebkuchen too dry for their liking, this variation adds a jammy zing of tart, refreshing fruit flavor.

Dresden brought cocoa from bitter beverage to smooth, sweet snack, with a little help from milk-producing livestock. This town, so rich in history, now also has a wealth of rich chocolate creations to experience. Sample your way through the city as you tread the same ground as 19th century chocolatiers.     

Suggested Side Trip:

A 30-minute drive from Dresden brings you to the Meissen Manufactory, where you can take an audio guided tour, visit the Meissen Porcelain Foundation Museum, and enjoy coffee and delicacies at the Café & Restaurant Meissen, where your snacks are served on fine porcelain. Register for a porcelain casting class or creative workshop and make your own Meissen masterpiece—available for adults and kids alike—or personalize a Meissen coffee/hot chocolate mug and have your unique creation safely shipped directly to your home. You can sign up your kids for an etiquette class to learn the art of fine dining or join a themed specialty meal (brunch with organ recital, Advent dinner, Christmas dinner, or Ladies Crime Night dinner). The “Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate” event is offered monthly, teaches participants about the three “pleasure drinks” that were popular luxury goods during the baroque period, and explains how Meissen porcelain played a role in providing many varieties of elegant drinkware.

Meissen Porcelain Table Setting featured in Birthplace of Milk Chocolate – No, It’s Not Switzerland! on Family Travel with Colleen Kelly
Meissen porcelain table setting

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