On this pilgrimage of sorts to the country of my ancestors, the country where I spent the first four years of my life, I made an important self-discovery: the intensity of my weak spot for sweets. Of course ice cream and dark chocolate had always ranked high on my list of favorite foods, but why was I so enamored with Kuchen, the cake of Germany? Well, it all began in the Frankfurt airport.
My plane arrived a couple hours before Caroline’s plane, so I set about to find a credit-card accepting café where I could begin my German food tasting. Marche café, which markets itself as Frisch, Gesund, Schnell (fresh, healthy, fast), caught my eye with its bakery cases of pastries, baskets of fresh fruit and offerings of traditional bratwursts. I chose a pastry that looked like a soft focaccia topped with sliced almonds and apple pieces. A cappuccino was all I needed to complete my meal. I sat in the Treffpunkt (meeting place) next to the café, opened the brown paper bag holding the warm pastry and immediately the inviting smell of yeast wafted towards me. Warm, sweet, slightly sticky and utterly comfort food.
After Caroline arrived, we drove two hours across the countryside to visit friends in Meckenheim, the town where we used to live. Though we arrived past lunchtime, our hostess had a traditional German lunch waiting for us: Zwiebelkuchen and a savory broccoli tart. Zwiebelkuchen is an onion tart served in autumn with Federweisser, a half-fermented wine available during the grape harvest season. Because it is still fermenting, the sugars, which are turning into alcohol, release carbon dioxide and make the beverage carbonated. After having spent many sleepless hours in the plane and braving the autobahn in our rental car, the home-cooked tarts not only satisfied our hunger but between the tender crust and mellow, earthy flavors of the onions and broccoli schmeckt sehr gut!
Four o’clock rolled around and what luck!–that wonderful smell of baked yeast goods filled the house. I peeked in the kitchen to see our hostess pulling an almond-covered Kuchen out of the oven. Soon the electric mixer was whirring –freshly whipped cream. Our hostess had made also made an Apfelkuchen (apple cake) for our afternoon repast. The sun broke through the cloudy sky and streamed in the windows of the living room where we sat–the type of sun where I would curl up and take a nap if I were a cat. With Apfelkuchen, the almond kuchen, coffee and bowl of Schlagsahne (whipped cream), we were treated royally. And the Kuchen was so delicious! The Apfelkuchen was moist and had a fine crumb, a fitting cake for Autumn. The crisp almonds on top of the almond Kuchen provided a lovely contrast with the buttery, sweet, soft Brioche-like Kuchen. A bike ride through Meckenheim ensured we got some exercise in the midst of our feasting.
The next afternoon Caroline and I hugged our friends goodbye, exchanged good wishes and called Tschus! Next stop: Einselthum further south in the Pfalz wine region. Einselthum is a charming town tucked amid fields of grass and low, rolling hills covered with grape vines. Einselthum was also home to Weingut Stutzmann, and this was our destination. We were greeted by three very friendly Stutzmanns, who graciously gave us a tour of their winery. As it was late-afternoon, we were also invited to stay for Kaffee und Kuchen. Die Frau had baked a Käsekuchen (cheesecake). Sehr Lecker!
The last three days of our trip found us further south in the town of Wiesloch visiting the Winzerkeller Wiesloch (winery of Wiesloch). At breakfast in our hotel I tried Marmorkuchen, sometimes called Tiger Cake because its chocolate and vanilla marbling resembles a tiger’s fur. Another lunch of Zwiebelkuchen and Federweisser had me wondering how hard it would be to get a bottle of Federweisser in the States. On our last day we spent an afternoon in Heidelberg, half an hour to the north. With the Schloss (castle) to tour and the town to see, we needed sustenance. A small café with home-baked Kuchen was the perfect place for lunch. Cake for lunch? Yep. The theme of Kuchen on this trip had already made itself apparent to me, so in the name of research I had Kuchen for lunch. I had a slice of almond cake with apricots on top, while Caroline had a slice of Apfelstreusel with whipped cream. This was the last day of our trip, but not our last Kuchen. That evening we ate dinner at a farm restaurant, open only 6-8 weeks of the year during harvest time. For dessert: Apfelkuchen and Zwetschgenkuchen (plum cake).
I’ve been Kuchen-less since I’ve come back to the States, but that will soon change. No, I’m not going back to Germany. And I’m not having Kuchen shipped here from Germany. I’m going to put the 6″ springform pan and Kleine Kuchen cookbook I bought in Germany to work. Looks like that chocolate bar will have to sit in the cupboard a little longer while I enjoy my Kaffee und Kuchen.