It seems that our son has finally succumbed to German chocolate. In the past he had rarely asked me to bring anything back from my trips to Germany but last time he requested a few bars of the iconic square-shaped German chocolate. In an ingenious move, Clara Ritter, the wife of the manufacturer, had suggested the square shape in 1932 so that it would fit in any men’s sports coat pocket without breaking. It became one of Germany’s favorite chocolates.
And now our son’s, too. Those chocolate bars vanished faster than anyone could even think of putting them into any pocket. When I remarked that over dinner, my husband dryly quoted a recent article from The Economist that said Germans spend nine billion euros every year on chocolate, about the same amount that the Supporting Syria Conference in London in early February tried to raise for humanitarian support.
Politics aside – because I don’t think one country should be singled out for this type of comparisons, and you might as well cite consumer spending of 65 billion dollars every year for soda in the United States – I was stunned by the 9-billion euro figure so I checked some statistics.
And in fact, chocolate consumption in Germany is high compared to other nations. With twelve kilograms of chocolate in any form (bars, candy, drinking chocolate etc.), Germany has the highest per-capita consumption in Europe, closely followed by the Switzerland with eleven kilograms. When I broke down the 9-billion figure, however, it really did not amount to that much. Divided by 80 million people, and averaging the price of a 100-gram chocolate bar at 1 euro, that is 112 bars per year. A little over two bars per week – frankly, most people I know in Germany easily eat that amount.
And this week especially! Because Easter is prime chocolate time in Germany, more so than Christmas. The German chocolate industry produces 190 million chocolate bunnies, 50 million more than chocolate Santa Claus’. And, by the way, 44 percent of the chocolate Easter bunnies travel abroad for export.
With all that chocolate on my mind, I simply had to make a chocolate cake for Easter. Not a “German Chocolate Cake” of course, as most of you might know by now, that rich chocolate cake has nothing to do with Germany, it is an American cake recipe from the 1950s that simply got the German in its name because the developer of the chocolate baking bar was Samuel German.
Interestingly, despite Germans’ obvious love for chocolate, in the classic German baking repertoire there are not many ultra-rich chocolate cakes and fudgy dense baked goods like brownies. Black Forest Cake, the uncontested queen of all German cakes, for example, has some dark chocolate in its dough, that’s all.
When I made Black Forest Cake a short while ago, I used extra-dark chocolate from Germany instead of the semi-sweet baking bars I usually use. A German friend noticed that the consistency of the dough was rather firm, and first I could not quite figure out why but then I found the answer in the chocolate content: the American semi-sweet baking bar has 56 percent cocoa, whereas the extra-dark chocolate from Germany has 73 percent cocoa.
I should not have made the Black Forest Cake with super-dark chocolate. My grandmother, whose recipe I always make (and which is in my book), would have certainly disapproved using “fancy eating chocolate” for baking.
Chocolate Hedgehog Cake (Rehrücken)
Rehrücken, which means „Saddle of venison“, actually looks like a fawn in the spring. It is, other than Black Forest Cake, my favorite cake with chocolate. To be absolutely correct, the cake originated in Austria but is part of the classic German baking repertoire.
I didn’t have this cake for many years, and never made it myself, one of the reasons being that I do not own a special Rehrücken mold, which is a semi-circe loaf pan with a corrugated pattern.
It turns out you don’t really need the mold. I used a large disposable aluminum pan, which I molded into a rounded log shape. If you do not mind that the cake has a rectangular rather than a rounded look, a regular loaf pan works just fine too.
Recipes usually do not call for the almonds to be toasted but think they taste better that way. And after being out and around, which fawn still has a pure white pattern on its back?
1 stick + 4½ tablespoons (180 g) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 + ¼ cup (180 g) sugar
1¼ cups (6 ¼ ounces/180 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons (20 g) unsweetened unprocessed cocoa
4 large eggs, separated
3 ounces (80 g) finely ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons coffee extract (optional)
A pinch of salt
Glaze and garnish:
1 package (4 ounces/115 g) slivered blanched almonds
4 ounces (115 g) semi-sweet baking chocolate (56% cocoa)
1½ tablespoons (20 g) unsalted butter
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease a large loaf pan (9×5 inches/23×10 cm or slightly larger) and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. Beat the butter with the sugar with an electric mixer until light. Mix the flour with the baking powder and the cocoa. Gradually add it to the dough alternating with the egg yolks, and mix well after each addition. Add the almonds and coffee extract and mix well.
3. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they stand in stiff peaks. Gradually fold them into the dough. Put the dough into the prepared pan and even it out with a spatula.
4. Bake for 50 to 60, minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely in the pan. Unmold it onto a rectangular plate.
5. Lightly toast the almonds in an ungreased pan. Set aside to cool.
6. Melt the chocolate and the butter in a double boiler, or in a metal bowl set over a pot with simmering water. Stir constantly until smooth. Cool slightly. Brush any crumbs off the cake and spread the glaze thinly and evenly over the entire cake.
7. While the glaze is still soft, gently run a dinner fork in straight lines across the cake to give it texture. Then insert the almond slivers into the cake in a dense pattern. Let the glaze harden for several hours. The cake is best if it sits in a cool place for 24 hours before slicing.
Makes 12 servings