There is no beating around the bush: Rote Grütze, one of the most delicious German summer desserts, has an ugly, unappealing name. Literally, Grütze means “grits” in English. To German ears, Grütze sounds actually worse than that; it evokes associations with something gooey, slimy, convalescent food for when you have gastroenteritis. Certainly the name gives no hint that it is made with fresh, juicy, vibrant red summer fruit.
As a child in Germany I renamed Rote Grütze because I couldn’t stand the name but loved the dessert. I called it Nostalgiepudding (“nostalgic pudding”) because that’s what it was at the time, an old-fashioned dessert from northern Germany. In English I refer to it as Red Berry Pudding or Red Fruit Pudding.
My mother’s family is from the north and Rote Grütze made with fresh berries and cherries from my father’s garden was the summer dessert for us. Although the Dr. Oetker company introduced Rote Grütze powder, to which the berries are added, in 1912, the dessert became only fashionable in all of Germany after 1973 when Dr. Oetker’s first ready-to-eat Rote Grütze appeared in the cooler section of supermarkets. It was soon to be followed by a version with vanilla sauce because Rote Grütze without vanilla sauce is like a banana split without ice cream.
Rote Grütze makes people swoon. I remember at my sixteenth birthday party our high-school class intellectual, always the serious, cool and composed guy, standing at the buffet scraping the last bits of it out of the large glass bowl with the serving spoon.
Today there are oodles of different Rote Grütze recipes and products in Germany. An older variety of the recipe adds tapioca, which I never cared for; I find its pebbly consistency destroys the smoothness of the pudding. Other variations spike it with red wine or port. There is also all types of cakes, Rote Grütze muffins, cupcakes and even Rote Grütze herbal tea with dried berries.
I never tinkered much with the classic formula, which calls for at least one tart fruit, either red currants, or sour cherries, or both. The only exception I make is the addition of a handful of blueberries because they are so abundant here. But not too many, otherwise the Rote Grütze gets a purple hue.
For toppings chilled vanilla sauce from scratch is a must although liquid heavy cream is permissible. I have skipped using Rote Grütze powder a long time ago and make it from scratch thickened with organic cornstarch.
Rote Grütze is one of the reasons why I became a gardener. I could not find the red currants needed for an authentic Rote Grütze, and no locally grown organic raspberries. In the years when my three red currant bushes yield only a meager harvest, I always make sure that I set aside and freeze enough to make Rote Grütze a few times.
This year we are having a bumper crop of raspberries so last weekend I fetched the recipe for a cheesecake with raspberry topping that a friend gave me years ago and I have made many times. I thought, why not make it with a generous Rote Grütze topping for a change?
So here is my “German Rote Grütze Meets American Cheesecake” recipe.
Cheesecake with Rote Grütze Topping
To give the topping a more solid consistency, I am using a bit more cornstarch here than for Rote Grütze dessert, which may be runny depending on personal taste. Stirring vigorously and constantly after adding the cornstarch to the fruit is important, as it lumps very quickly. If that happens the cake is still edible but biting on some rubbery lumps in the topping diminishes the pleasure.
8 ounces (225 g) graham crackers
1 stick (115 g) unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
1 tablepooon vanilla sugar (find my recipe for homemade vanilla sugar here)
5 large eggs
3 8-ounce packages (775 g) low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ cups (300 g) sugar
18 ounces (500 g) mixed berries (sliced strawberries, red raspberries, red currants, pitted fresh sour cherries and a small amount of blueberries)
5 tablespoons (35 g) cornstarch
1. For the crust, place the graham crackers in the bowl of a food processor and process to a fine consistency. Add the butter and vanilla sugar and process mixture until it clumps together. Press the mixture in a 10-inch (25 cm) springform pan and refrigerate.
2. For the filling, beat the eggs with the cream cheese, vanilla extract and sugar with an electric mixer until smooth.
3. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C). Fill a water kettle with water and bring to the boil. Place the springform pan on a double layer of aluminum foil and crimp the edges around the pan to make it waterproof. Place the springform pan in a deep roasting pan and pour the filling over the crust.
4. Place the roasting pan on the medium rack of the preheated oven and carefully pour boiling water into the roasting pan so it comes about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. You might need more than one full kettle of water.
5. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 1 hour 45 minutes. Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven. Let it cool until the springform pan is cool enough to handle, then remove it from the hot water bath and place it on a cake rack. Remove the aluminum foil. Let the cake tool to room temperature, leaving it in the springform pan. Refrigerate for several hours until set.
6. For the topping, put the fruit in a large saucepan with 2 tablespoons water. Add the sugar and bring to a boil. And cook until the berries release their juice. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if desired. Remove the pan from the heat. Dilute the cornstarch in ½ cup (115 ml) cold water and quickly stir it into the fruit. Return the pan to the heat and cook briefly over low to medium heat, stirring constantly and also scraping over the bottom of the pan. When it turns clear and thickens, immediately remove the pan from the heat. Continue stirring for another minute or so, then slowly pour the Rote Grütze over the cheesecake and evenly spread it with a spatula. Let cool, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until the topping is set.
7. To serve, slide a knife around the inside of the springform rim, then remove the rim. Dip the knife in lukewarm water after cutting each piece.
Makes 12 to 16 servings