It was the photo of a wedding cake in the shape of a Louis Vuitton suitcase that had my cousin’s girlfriend in Germany in stitches a few years ago. I had emailed her the link to show her how outrageous some American wedding cakes are. Back then I decided that when she and my cousin got married I would make them a wedding cake. They did get married last winter, and when they announced they would visit us in August, it was finally time to get to work.
I knew all along which cake I wanted to make – the Brauttorte (Bridal Cake) from the 19th-century German cookbook, Henriette Davidis’ Practical Cook Book. Davidis, the daughter of a pastor, was not only hugely popular in Germany, an English edition of her book for German-Americans was also published in Wisconsin in 1879.
The cake recipe, in a slimmed down version, was in the first edition of my book Spoonfuls of Germany. This time I tweaked it further. I wanted to make it look like a real wedding cake, yet by no means did I want to use fondant. Instead I covered it with marzipan made from scratch.
It was quite a project so I had plenty of time to let my mind wander – naturally about baking and pastry. It is funny that in Germany, American pastries have taken hold despite the country’s rich and mostly fabulous repertoire of baked goods.
Fifteen years ago, hardly anyone in Germany knew what a muffin was, let alone had muffin molds to bake them. Today magazines, cookbooks and websites are populated with recipes for muffins, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, frosting and icing. A book about cake pops is among the top-selling baking books on Amazon Germany. American Cheesecake, which in Germany is often called Philadelphia Torte, lives alongside its German equivalent, Käsekuchen, which is made with quark and has a wholly different taste and texture.
Whoopie pies are not quite as popular in Germany yet but I am sure they will be eventually. The ingredients are certainly available in Germany today. Every supermarket carries peanut butter, and I have even seen marshmallow fluff on the shelves. It seems that anything goes for the mere reason that it’s new and coming from across the big pond.
Along with the food the words travel, too. German language, especially marketing lingo, loves to help itself generously to English. The results are often hilarious. My most memorable find so far in the food realm is the headline of an article about cake decorating in the online edition of Essen & Trinken, one of the leading German fine food magazines that has been around since 1972. The headline read, “Pimp up your cake”.
If I could meet Henriette Davidis I would proudly show her the wedding cake though I would certainly use different words to tell her that I embellished it.
Wedding Cake with Almond Sponge, Lemon Curd Filling and Marzipan Decoration
Adapted from Henriette Davidis, Illustrirtes praktisches Kochbuch für die bürgerliche und feine Küche, 1906
Decorating the cake with marzipan was a challenge. I am neither an experienced cake decorator nor do I own any special tools. Within minutes of taking the marzipan out of the fridge, it becomes too soft to roll it out. I had to abandon all my ambitious design ideas and ended up with a patchwork, improvising every step along the way. Luckily the marzipan’s softness is also forgiving and I was able to even out small imperfections.
To make the marzipan stick to the cake I used homemade Apricot Lavender Jam, a recipe I included in a recent article in Plum Deluxe on canning summer produce. The tartness of the jam is a nice contrast to the sweet marzipan. The only drawback was that when I messed up a piece and had to remove it, the jam stuck to the marzipan so well that it could not be recycled (quite a bit of marzipan ended up in my mouth).
The cake should sit for a couple of days after assembling. I stretched the production over three days: Baking the sponge on day 1, filling the cake and marzipan preparation on day 2, decorating on day 3. Note that the marzipan decoration needs to rest for 24 hours before rolling it out.
The recipe yields more marzipan that is needed for the cake. The extra can be refrigerated or frozen and used for other purposes – usually not a problem for me, as I love marzipan.
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1¾ cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground mace
Finely grated zest of 1 organic orange or lemon
8 eggs, separated
2½ cups blanched whole almonds
3½ (12 ounces) cake flour
Lemon curd filling and apricot glaze:
1 stick unsalted butter
1¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
Juice of 4 lemons
Finely grated zest of organic 1 lemon
1 (½-pint) jar Apricot-Lavender Jam, or regular apricot jam
4 egg yolks
3 cups blanched whole almonds, divided
3 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
2 very fresh large egg whites, divided
1 pound marzipan, prepared as described below
7 cups (1 pound 7 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons water
A few drops of red food coloring
Canola oil for greasing
1. For the sponge cake, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually add the sugar. Stir in the mace, lemon zest, and egg yolks.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper and grease the rim well.
3. Grind the almonds very finely in a food processor and add them to the dough. Add the flour and mix well. Beat the egg whites until they stand in stiff peaks and fold them into the dough.
4. Divide the dough into 4 equal batches, or better, weigh the total, then weigh every batch. Spread the first batch evenly in the prepared pan and bake for about 15 minutes, or until light golden. Let cool for a couple of minutes, then turn it over onto a cake rack. Carefully removed the parchment paper.
5. Bake the remaining layers the same way. Clean the springform pan after each layer, use a new piece of parchment paper, and grease the rim well. Place each layer on a cake rack to cool.
6. Stack the four sponge layers on top of each other, with a sheet of wax paper or parchment between each layer. Cover with a cake dome and let rest for at least 24 hours.
7. For the filling, melt the butter in a double boiler, or in a metal bowl placed over a saucepan with boiling water. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and egg yolks. Cook over low to medium heat while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens. Remove from the heat immediately and continue stirring. Let cool and refrigerate.
8. Divide the custard into 3 equal portions and evenly spread it on the first 3 layers. Reassemble the cake. The top layer stays plain.
9. Place a plate slightly smaller than the cake on the cake and straighten out the edges with a very sharp long knife, holding it in a straight angle and slowly cutting all around the cake.
10. Warm the apricot jam in a small saucepan. Strain it through a fine sieve. Brush any crumbs off the cake and generously and evenly spread jam over the entire cake. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
11. For the marzipan, place half of the almonds and ½ cup of the sugar in a large food processor. Process to a fine meal, scarping down the sides as needed. Add 1 cup confectioners’ sugar and process until you obtain a thick paste. Add 1 egg white and process to a smooth paste. Process the second batch of almonds, confectioners’ sugar, and egg white the same way.
12. For the decoration, measure out 1 pound marzipan and refrigerate or freeze the rest. Place it in the food processor and add the confectioners’ sugar and the corn syrup. Process to mix evenly. The mixture is very stiff; at that point, the food processor was starting to overheat so I moved the entire mixture to the countertop greased with oil.
13. Knead with lightly oiled hands until smooth. Add food coloring as desired. Remember a tiny amount of food coloring goes a long way! I divided the mixture in two equal batches and added a different amount of red food coloring for a light and a darker pink. Tightly wrap into plastic wrap, or store in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate for 24 hours before rolling it out.
14. Roll small portions of the marzipan decoration out on a lightly greased work surface. Have a small boil with oil stand by. Always leave the rest of the decoration in the refrigerator to prevent it from softening. If that happens, you need to wait a few hours until it hardens again in the refrigerator, or speed it up and place it in the freezer. Decorate the cake as desired.
15. Refrigerate the cake for 48 hours before cutting, and keep refigerated.
August 19, 2013 at 7:37 am
Congratulations on such culinary perfection. I’m sure it tasted just as delicious as it looks. I did get a good chuckle about your mention of whoopie pies. Here in New England woopies pies go way back and are available in many stores. My grandmother made hers from scratch and wrapped each one in waxed paper. If you ever want a recipe, I’ll be glad to share. 🙂
August 20, 2013 at 5:46 pm
Thank you, Judy. And yes, I would very much like to see your grandmother’s whoopie pie recipe. Would you email it to me at email@example.com?
August 21, 2013 at 8:09 am
Yes, I’ll get it out and copy for you. 🙂
August 19, 2013 at 10:32 am
I enjoy sponge cakes and marzipan. I have no problems with marzipan, maybe because, have dry summers here in California. Could you use almond meal instead of grinding almonds for the cake?
My friend in Üttingen (early 1970’s) loved brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Sons loved the “Wonder” type doughy white bread I gave them from the commissary—yuk. O for a decent rye .
August 20, 2013 at 5:51 pm
Donna, I would not use almond meal/flour, I think it would be too dry and you would not get the desired smooth texture of marzipan. I even start with unpeeled almonds, pour boiling water over them in a heat-proof bowl and let them sit for a few minutes. Then I drain them and place them in a bowl with lukewarm water, and slip off the skins. The almonds are just moister than when you buy them peeled.
August 19, 2013 at 12:07 pm
It is beautiful! I am sure the bride and groom were impressed too. Congratulations on a perfectly beautiful wedding cake. Congratulations to the bride and groom too!
August 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm
I should have a look at my “Henriette Davidis” just to find out how many eggs and how many hektokilos of butter were used in the original recipe ;-))
August 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm
Actually the original recipe is not that different. I reduced all the ingredients for the sponge cake (butter, almonds, sugar, flour and eggs) by one-third, and for the lemon curd I stuck with the original amounts.
August 24, 2013 at 11:44 am
When I studied the book for the first time, I really was surprised by the huge amount of butter or eggs…not very rarw to see more than 12 eggs per cake… Gosh!
August 31, 2013 at 7:31 pm
Yes in the old days it seems the quality of a cake was often measured by the amount of eggs and butter it contained.
August 19, 2013 at 5:49 pm
Omg!! This looks great !! I going to try this !
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August 22, 2013 at 2:50 pm
This cake looks amazing. I’m normally not a marzipan fan, but I’d make an exception in this case. 🙂
February 17, 2016 at 1:30 am
Hi there! It’s funny you say American pastries have taken hold in Germany; I’m an American trying to find more information on traditional German wedding cakes! My fiancé (also American) also thinks traditional American cakes are a bit outrageous so I’ve been trying to find an alternative. My family is of German and Austrian decent, so I thought this might be a nice way to pay tribute to my heritage. Do you have any suggestions? Would this cake be appropriate, but decorated differently? Any information would be greatly appreciated! 🙂
February 18, 2016 at 8:20 am
Stephanie, There really is not such thing as a typically German wedding cake, they mostly look like the ones in the US nowadays. The only suggestion I could make is a multi-tier Black Forest Cake (but an authentic one with sour cherries, not the knock-off that is often sold as Black Forest Cake, I have my grandmother’s recipe in my book). And yes, a wedding cake covered in marzipan like the one in my blog post would certainly be more “German”, it might just be difficult to find a pastry chef who is ready to work with marzipan instead of fondant, which is much easier to handle but in my view completely inedible. Or, depending on the amount of guests at your wedding, you could make it yourself or recruit friends and family with baking experience who are willing to spend a bunch of time in the kitchen because this cake is time-consuming, not so much the cake itself but the decoration. The other thing you could do is have a Hope that helps.
February 22, 2016 at 4:06 am
Thank you for the reply; I appreciate the information! I suppose this is why I was having trouble finding my answer. Maybe we will try this recipe or the Black Forest Cake you mentioned. Thanks again!
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