When it comes to baking our humble island has a rich cake-making history. We’re the proud inventors of the classic Victoria sponge, as well as the Dundee and Madeira cakes. But there’s sweet-tasting treasure to be found elsewhere too. Consider a spicy and enticing Stollen with its gooey marzipan layer; a rich, cherry-centred Black Forest Gateau; or the world famous Sachertorte. Yes, we have to admit there may be some contenders to the throne…
This world-famous bread-like cake with its distinctive coat of icing sugar has been made in Germany, especially at Christmas, since the fourteenth century. There are many different varieties but the Dresden stollen is probably the most famous.
The History of Stollen
The shape of the cake was originally supposed to represent the baby Jesus wrapped in his swaddling clothes. In the seventeenth century, Advent was a time of fasting in the Catholic Church and the use of butter was not permitted. Two brothers, disliking the tasteless bread made with turnip oil, wrote to the Pope and asked for special permission to use butter for stollen. Their reasons must have been convincing – or possibly they included a sample for the Pope to enjoy – but he agreed on the condition that they paid a small tax.
How To Make It
As stollen is a bread-like cake it needs time to rise so it’s not something you can knock up in an instant. However, its flavour improves on keeping, so it can be made two weeks before Christmas and kept, wrapped in foil, in a cool, dry place.
- 110g (4oz) fresh yeast (or if you’re using dried fast action yeast, follow the proportions on the packet.)
- 530ml (18fl oz) of milk, warmed to blood-heat (it should feel just warm when tested with your finger)
- 385g (14oz) unsalted butter
- 1kg (2lb 4oz) plain flour
- Pinch of ground nutmeg
- A pinch of ground cloves
- 200g (7oz) sugar
- Vanilla essence
- Almond essence
- 110g (4oz) finely chopped almonds
- 385g (14oz) raisins
- 200g (7oz) currants
- 250g (9oz) mixed peel
- 450g (1lb) marzipan
- Extra melted butter and icing sugar to finish
- Break the yeast up into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and the milk and leave to rise.
- Melt the butter and leave to cool a little.
- Sieve the spices in with the flour. Add the sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla essence and a few drops of almond essence. Stir it all together then add the melted butter, yeast and milk. (Or milk and dried yeast.)
- Knead the mixture well to make a smooth dough.
- Add the almonds, raisins, currants and peel.
- When all of that is thoroughly incorporated, put the dough in a bowl, cover with oiled clingfilm or a t-towel and leave in a warm place for 1- 2 hours until about doubled in size.
- When well-risen, knead the dough again, divide it into two and roll out. For each piece you will need 8 oz marzipan rolled out to fit on the dough, which is then folded over to enclose the marzipan completely. Press down the edges to seal.
- Place both stollen on greased baking trays and leave again, covered, in a warm place, to rise.
- Bake in a pre-heated oven 190oC gas mark 5 for about an hour.
- When cooked, allow to cool slightly then brush with melted butter and coat in icing sugar.
- Allow to cool completely before storing. Dust again with icing sugar before serving.
Possibly the most famous cake in the world, the Sachertorte originates in Austria.
It was created in 1832, for Klemens Wensel von Metternich who demanded a dessert that wouldn’t make him “look a fool,” in front of some high-ranking guests. Unfortunately, or fortunately for history and cake-lovers, the head chef was sick in bed, and the order was passed on to a 16-year-old apprentice. His name was Franz Sacher.
His recipe is a closely-guarded secret known only to a few people at the Hotel Sacher, in Vienna, but there are plenty of recipes that come close to the original.
- 125g (4½ oz) butter
- 125g (4½ oz) dark chocolate
- 6 eggs, separated
- 75g (3oz) caster sugar
- 85g (3½ oz) icing sugar
- 125g (4½ oz) flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- Apricot jam
- 175g (6oz) dark chocolate
- 150g (5oz) double cream
- 2 teaspoons glycerine
- Melt the butter and dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water or very gently at low power in a microwave. (For the best Sachertorte, use chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa.)
- When the butter and chocolate have melted together, allow to cool a little.
- Mix the egg yolks with the icing sugar. Stir this, little by little, into the chocolate mixture.
- Beat the egg whites until fluffy and then stir in the caster sugar.
- Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Then fold in the flour, sifted with the baking powder.
- Tip the mixture into a greased and base-lined 8” springform tin and bake in the oven 165ºC gas mark 3 for 50-60 minutes.
- Now opinions differ as to whether the jam goes in the middle, to coat the outside or both. If you want to fill it with jam, allow the cooked cake to cool before cutting it into two layers. Coating the outside helps the icing adhere. You can choose. As long as the apricot jam is included somewhere!
- Melt the chocolate with the double cream. Stir in the glycerine (it helps the consistency), then pour the icing over the cake so that it covers the top and sides. Leave it to set.
- Austrians wouldn’t dream of eating Sachertorte without a dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream. Accompanied, of course, by a cup of coffee made with the same cream.
In Part II we’ll look at another Chocolate Cake, this time originating in Germany, as well as an unusual cake popular in the Deep South of America.