Compared to what? I suppose would be the counter-question. Is it dry compared to a tiramisu? Yes. Is it dry compared to a chocolate lava cake? Yes. What about a caramel sticky bun? A chocolate-covered bûche de Noël? A white chocolate-iced red velvet cake? Yes, yes and yes. However when considering the relative dryness of a classic bit of bakery like a stollen, it’s important to take into account how our collective sweet tooths have evolved of late — especially the last 10-20 years, during which time the sweet, crisp and delicate has been edged out in favor of the drippy, gooey, über-chocolate fat attack. Nowadays it seems if the words “sinful”, “decadent” or “suicide” aren’t anywhere in the name of a dessert, it’s hardly worth the time to eat it. Strange, isn’t it, how the recent rise of Epicurianism has more and more of us teasing out the subtleties of a crisp pinot grigio and plate of olive oil-poached sunchokes, yet when it comes to dessert we want a good, hard butter and sugar ass-kicking.
I’m not here to pass judgment of course. I like my chocolate goo as well as anybody. Yet in the rush to douse our sundaes in fudge and cover our finger cakes in quarter-inch layers of caramel, I wonder if we’ve forgotten how to actually taste a sweetmeat as fine and elegantly balanced as a good piece of stollen. To savor the butter in the crumb, linger over the chewy medley of candied fruit, and delight in the faint notes of rum and lemon peel. When’s the last time any of us really did that?
Sure, it’s impossible to appreciate stollen in the way it once was — by humble Euro-folk who only tasted sugar and good butter a few times a year (we’re far too rich and spoiled for that). And I’m not saying that stollen shouldn’t be judged by modern standards, for if history has taught us anything it’s that you can’t shame a person into liking your dessert. What I am saying is: give stollen (or really any classic fruitcake) a chance this year. Find a good old serviceable recipe, prepare it carefully and attentively, and then one day (maybe some weekend morning while the household is still sleeping off the Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk) get up and have a slice with a good cup of coffee. Dunk it if you like (those Europeans are big dunkers). I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at how relevant a little taste of days-gone-by can actually be.