The Germans enjoy, as they say, not just the usual three meals a day, but a luxurious fourth one too: there’s Kaffee und Kuchen – coffee and cake. Walk into a café or Konditorei (cake shop) mid afternoon on any day of the week and you’ll find tables packed with the world and her mother enjoying a hot cup of coffee and a (very) thick slice of cake. And in Germany, there are so very, very many cakes to choose from. A peek into even the smallest of Konditorei curved glass counters reveals a mind boggling range of cakes and sweets, from vast gateaus and Strudels to truffles and petit fours. Everyone has their favourites: what follows here are to my mind, the four greatest German cakes of all…
Apfelkuchen (apple cake)
There are so many variations on the Apfelküchen theme, I’d be hard pushed to list all the possibilities here. Consider, if you will, a tart-shaped pastry base or a more biscuity bottom layer packed with apples either thinly sliced or cut into fat chunks; the addition of marzipan, raisins or almonds; and the finished product sunken on top, glazed with jam or sprinkled with crumble or cinnamon. However it’s embellished, a German apple cake fresh out of the oven looks and smells sweet and comforting – it’s a homely hug of an afternoon treat. And you can throw all the ice cream at it that you want – it’s definitely one of Germany’s lighter coffee accompaniments!
The trouble many non-Germans have when approaching the Käsekuchen, or cheesecake, for the first time, is that they have firm preconceptions of what a cheesecake should be. But a German cheesecake doesn’t have a buttery, biscuity base; it’s not refrigerated; and it’s not fill of buttermilk or heavy cream. Käsekuchen has a tart-like pastry base (and sometimes sides) and in all likelihood a few raisins scattered along the bottom of its fresh cheese and quark filling – or even a couple of stone fruits thrown in for good measure. It may not be a New York Cheesecake. It’s not even a British one. But good grief German cheesecake is good. It’s also very simple to make at home, though you may prefer not to discover just how butter, sugar and fresh cheese is in there!
Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Gateau)
No questions asked: Black Forest Gateau is the ultimate German teatime treat. A decadent yet comforting feast of a cake, it combines layers of chocolate sponge, vast quantities of whipped cream, oozingly soft sour cherries and a generous glug of kirsch on a thin biscuit base. I first discovered it aged six, after a hard day’s snow-ploughing extremely slowly down the lowest possible slopes of the Alps. Almost 30 years later, and now gluten-free, I can only gaze at its luxurious layers behind glass counters in cafés and Konditorein (though I’ve found other ways to satisfy my black forest cravings) but for me, it’ll always be the queen of German cakes.
There are so very many other German cakes that could have made it onto this very short list: so many fresh fruit cakes stacked with strawberries or plums (Erdbeer- and Pflaumkuchen) and jelly or whipped cream; so many crumble cakes (Streuselkuchen); cakes layered with caramel or marzipan or filled with poppy seeds or almonds and honey. So, which of your favourites did I miss out?