The Germans are well known for their kafee and kuchen indulgence at te time. Coffee and cake tempt passersby at the smallest of coffee shops and a visit to Germany is incomplete without treating yourself at least once. It makes me feel quite to the manor born to have a wedge of sumptuous confectionery with a big cup of aromatic cappuccino. Quite different to the Indian way of having spicy savouries with hot tea ,nevertheless it grows on you.
The most famous of German pastries is undoubtedly the black forest cake. It has gained immense popularity in India and is often featured in it’s traditional cherry loaded with cream avatar as well as many other variations.
Another cake that has it’s roots in Germany but has not quite received as much publicity is the Baum Kuchen. The first time I was introduced to this was several years ago at a cookery show hosted by Rachel Allen. She was visiting a German baker who specialized in making this unique Baum kuchen. It was such a fascinating show that I never forgot the process. It was and still is firmly etched in my mind.
The specialty of this cake is that it is not baked in an oven ,neither is the batter required to be poured into a cake pan. It is instead, cooked on a spit . The story of the cake goes back several hundred years when it was originally cooked on logs over an open fire. The principle followed today is much the same, except for the cooking apparatus. A large steel casing holds a steel sort of rotisserie with heat emanating from the sides and below. The batter comprises of a thin mixture of flour , butter , eggs ,sugar and vanilla bean extract . This is poured carefully over the spit. The thin batter gets cooked very quickly , any drippings are caught in the tray below. As the first layer turns golden , another layer is poured on top to bake.This process is repeated several times over until the batter runs out. It takes the chef a few hours of constant working time to make , bake and cool at least 15 layers. The Baum kuchen can very easily go upto 25 layers and skilled pastry chefs have been known to make some very large ones. These layers are what sets it apart in looks and taste from any other sweet treat.
Once the last layer is baking , the chef has a wide prong like instrument that is the same length as the spit. He gently runs it over the cake and at this helps in forming distinct rings at regular intervals. This gives that sort of stacked tier effect that is typical of a Baum Kuchen. Once it is cooled it is coated with a glaze. This can vary from a caramel or dark chocolate to a icing sugar or white chocolate glaze for the festive season.
The flavourings also vary. A spiced Baum Kuchen with nutmeg , cinnamon and cloves is again quite popular during the winter months. Eating it in Germany is one thing but what surprised me the most was when some friends visiting from Japan gifted us this very cake beautifully packed in individual slices. It was most amazing to learn how popular this is with the Japanese. Not only do they have it for tea but it’s just as favoured as a dessert.
It was first introduced to Japan by the German Karl Joseph Wilhelm Juchheim. Juchheim started making and selling the Baum Kuchen at a German exhibition in Hiroshima in 1919. The cake turned out to be a huge hit with the people of Japan. They saw it as the perfect gift for guests invited for a wedding because of the ring like shape. This led to Juchheim opening a string of bakeries across the country and it is the very same brand that continues to sell this Baum Kuchen ,today in many parts of Asia.
During Christmas , they make small festive sizes en-robed in milky white chocolate and is sold as kinderbahn. The best way to slice this cake is in thin horizontal slivers. It tastes delicious as opposed to eating it in wedges. There is no baking powder or soda added to this cake . The fact that it is cooked on a spit also accounts for the texture being more dry than any other cake. Therefore a bite from a tall wedge tends to feel dry in the mouth. The Japanese have added their own touch to this German cake . The green tea flavoured Baum Kuchen is just as easily available as the traditional vanilla version.
I was delighted to pick up these small cakes from the Juchheim counter ,as they make great gifts to carry back home for friends and family. On your travels to Japan and other parts of Asia , do peep in at the confectioners for a taste of the Baum Kuchen. Trust me , it’s one you won’t want to miss out on.