In recent years, the gluten-free diet wave has swept through Germany like through so many other industrialized countries. It catapulted the book Wheat Belly by US physician William Davis to the bestseller list (its German title, Die Weizenwampe, is even more colorful than the English – “Wampe” means fat belly in German). And, with the gluten-free wave, scores of gluten-free products have been washed onto supermarket shelves.
For a bread and pastry lover like me it is difficult to comprehend how people who do not have celiac disease, or are not gluten-intolerant, can voluntarily forsake gluten. I was glad to see that the German Coeliac Society is straightforward about this. On its website it put an alert by German consumer protection organizations that a gluten-free and lactose-free diet is often just a marketing fad, and that when it is not medically required, can make you pay up to four times more for products but does not have any other benefits.
The gluten-free craze has put buckwheat back into the diet. It was cultivated in Germany already in the Middle Ages, yet for entirely different reasons. Buckwheat, which is botanically not wheat hence does not contain gluten, grows even in poor soils unsuitable for rye, wheat, oats and spelt. The grain derives its German name, “Buchweizen”, from its similarity with beeechnuts (“Bucheckern”).
One of the areas where buckwheat was grown was the Lüneburger Heide in northern Germany, a beautiful area of heathland and bogs. To improve the soil over time, bogs were drained, tilled and burned. Buckwheat was then seeded into the fresh ashes and it grew without further fertilization. The straw was used for animal bedding, and the fruit of the buckwheat found its way into the frugal diet of the bog farmers as buckwheat pancakes or grits. With the widespread adaptation of potatoes, also an acid-loving crop, buckwheat cultivation in Germany fell into oblivion.
Yet buckwheat did not disappear from the culinary heritage of Lüneburger Heide. The area’s signature cake is a buckwheat cake filled with lingonberry compote.
It is a delectable cake but I think it is more than that. Like so many other lesser known or forgotten German regional dishes, it is a time capsule. This one has a nutty delicious shell and a tart, fruity core.
Buckwheat Cake with Lingonberry Filling (Lüneburger Buchweizentorte mit Preiselbeerfüllung)
It is impossible to think of traditional German game dishes or baked camembert without a spoonful of lingonberry preserves. The lingonberry filling in this cake is no coincidence, as the Lüneburger Heide is known for its lingonberries. Most lingonberries (Preiselbeeren) consumed in Germany, however, are imported, mostly from Russia and Scandinavia.
In the United States, you can find lingonberry jam and preserves in well-stocked grocery stores and at IKEA.
I prefer to fill the cake only with lingonberries preserves and serve the slices with a dollop of whipped cream. If you prefer a richer cake, you can also fold the lingonberries into whipped cream, or spread whipped cream over the lingonberries before assembling the cake.
2 sticks (250 g) unsalted butter, softened
1¼ cups (250 g) sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar (to make it yourself, see my recipe)
6 eggs, separated
9 ounces (250 g) whole peeled almonds
9 ounces (250 g) buckwheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 10-ounce jar (300 g) lingonberry jam or preserves
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream, whipped (optional)
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
1. For the dough, beat the butter with the sugar, vanilla sugar and egg yolks, using an electric hand-held mixer.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
3. Grind the almonds very finely in a food processor and combine with the buckwheat flour and baking powder. Add this to the butter mix and stir well to combine.
4. Beat the egg whites until they stand in stiff peaks. Gently but thoroughly fold them into the dough.
5. Grease a 9-inch (22,5 cm) springform pan. Pour in the dough and even it out with a spatula. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Remove the cake from the pan and cool it completely on a cake rack.
6. Cut the cake twice horizontally. A neat and easy way of doing this is to first use a sharp knife to make two ½-inch incisions all around the cake. For each incision, end at the same spot where you started. Then take a piece of dental floss or heavy thread the diameter of the cake plus enough to wrap around your fingers. Pull the thread taut between your fingers and slide it into the incision. Using the thread like a saw, cut slowly through the cake.
7. Reassemble the cake as shown in the slideshow above: Spread half of the lingonberry preserves over the bottom and the rest over the second layer. Place the third layer on top. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Cover and store in the refrigerator until serving.
Makes 12 to 16 servings