Having you cake and eating it too
Growing up in California I never fully appreciated summer. Our summer stretches languidly from early April to late October. Spring time blossoms first appear in early February and by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around winter is a distant memory. That experience gave me absolutely no preparation to live anywhere else in the world where summer is often fleeting, sporadic and at other times damn near nonexistent.
But I can’t believe I’m saying it, summer has come to Germany! For the last two weeks I’ve woken up to bright sunshine filtering through the curtains and day time highs hover around 28 degrees. I’ve never taken such delight in throwing on a sundress and let me tell you, I will never take summer for granted again.
Bearing that in mind my kitchen has undergone its own kind of revelation. In California no home is equipped without a hefty air conditioner (where I come from summer temperatures hit well over 40 degrees) or if you’re lucky a swimming pool, but here in Germany they are rare and I certainly don’t have one. So on hot days I open all the windows to tempt the fresh air, tie up my hair and avoid the oven at all costs.
That being said salads have been my go-to meal. Something light, bright and refreshing is all I’ve been craving. Until I stumbled across this cake.
Germans and cake are like two peas in a pod. You never really see one without the other. In summer though the weekend tradition of coffee and cake is normally traded in for the other great German past time, ice cream. I can say wholeheartedly that I have never eaten as much ice cream in my entire life as I have this last year in Germany. It doesn’t help that I live on the same street from the most famous ice cream dealer in the whole city. More about that later.
Anyways I haven’t been feeling cake lately. Couple that with the hot weather and my ever present desire to maintain the state of my thighs I’ve only been eating it when we visit my boyfriend’s parents, where cake on the weekend happens hell or high water.
This cake has something special going for it though. Full to bursting with tart little Johannisbeeren, (red currants) they are gently folded into stiff egg whites, ground almonds, sugar and corn starch making it light and satisfying simultaneously. The filling comes out puffed and crisp and when you first cut into the cake, prepare to be dazzled. Hot pink berries beckon invitingly and all this cake needs is a little whisper of whipped cream. Or of course a cup of hot coffee if we’re doing as the Germans do.
This recipe comes from the “German Baking Anthology” as I like to refer to it, my copy of Dr. Oetker’s Backen Macht Freude. It’s a staple for any German housewife or anyone wanting to bake like one. I’ve provided a translation here and have adapted it slightly from the original to better suit American kitchens.
Red Currant Meringue Torte
Preparation Time: 45 minutes, Baking Time: around 72 minutes
Equipment: Standard spring form pan, Standing mixer (or very strong triceps)
250 g / 2 cups all purpose flour plus 1 T
65 g / 1/3 cup granulated sugar plus 175 g / 3/4 cup + 2 T
1 packet vanilla sugar / 1 T vanilla sugar
1 pinch salt
1 medium egg plus 5 egg whites
125 g / 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
500 g / 3 1/4 cups fresh red currants
100 g / 1 cup ground almonds
60 g / 1/2 c cornstarch
Begin by greasing the springform pan and preheating your oven to 200 degrees Celsius/ 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Start with the crust. Mix the 250 g flour, 65 g sugar, vanilla sugar, salt, egg and butter together in a standing mixer. Start with the speed on low and gradually increase the speed as the ingredients become incorporated. Do not over mix. The mixture should resemble small pebbles. At this stage using your hands, bring the dough together and form a large ball.
Divide the ball into three parts. Set aside one third of the mixture. With the other 2/3 roll into a disc about 6 inches in diameter. Then press into your springform pan to fit. Once you have the bottom crust finished it’s time for the sides. Take your reserved 1/3 of the dough and dust it with the 1 T flour. Roll the dough with your hands into a long log, as long as you can make it. Don’t be worried if it breaks, just piece it back together. Once you have a long enough log transfer it to the sides of your spring form pan and mold it to the pan with your fingers.
Prick your crust with a fork and pop it in the preheated oven for exactly 12 minutes. While it’s baking begin with the filling.
Remove the currants from their branches. (It took me almost the whole 12 minutes while the crust was baking but once I got over the monotony of it I began to enjoy myself) Then either with a standing mixer or if you’re like me and mixer-less, whip out a nice big whisk and start whipping those egg whites. I like to add just a pinch of salt at this stage to help stabilize the whites. Once you’ve reached a nice firm peak begin folding in the 175 g sugar, 100 g almonds and 60 g cornstarch. Then add the currants.
Pour the filling into your still warm crust. Lower the heat on the oven by 20 degrees and slip in the oven for 1 hour. The cake should be nicely browned.
Once you take the cake out the the oven find something to do for an hour or two. Go for a run, paint your nails or get the laundry out of the way. I know you’ll be tempted to slide off the spring form ring (I’m a sucker for the dramatic) but this cake really just needs to rest for at least one hour, two is better.
After that point it’s up to you. I think this cake is best served the day it was made so save it for an occasion when you have people over to admire it and it’s not just you and your significant other standing at the counter munching on the cake in the kitchen. Not like I have any experience with that or anything.