When I was a child and Germany a divided country, my family was happy enough that our East German relatives sent us parcels with "Salzwedeler Baumkuchen" cake as a special treat for Christmas every year.
Salzwedeler Baumkuchen is a round layered cake with individual irregular layers and a ring formation. The baked layers give the cut surface of the cake the appearance of the annual rings of a tree – the German word “Baum” means tree, “Kuchen” is the German word for cake.
The production method is very special indeed: using a ladle, thin layers of dough are applied onto a wooden spit rotating above an open fire.
A Salzwedeler Baumkuchen can be up to 90cm high with a diameter of up to 40cm. As it is “built” around a wooden spit which is then removed, it has a hole in the middle which can have a diameter of up to 20cm.
The unit weight ranges from 2kg to 5kg. Salzwedeler Baumkuchen is sold in pieces of 5cm to 50cm with a weight between 200g and 4000g.
The dough solely consists of butter, flour, starch, eggs and sugar. Apart from these ingredients, only apricot jam or natural aromas may be added. On the outside, a shiny, clean icing or chocolate coating is applied. Preservatives, baking powder, and baking agents are not allowed.
The entire production process must take place in the town of Salzwedel.
The main quality criteria are:
- External appearance: appealing form, slightly jagged, even, well-spread, shiny, clean icing or coating;
- Form (of the whole Baumkuchen): Length of 60cm to 90cm, outer diameter 12cm to 40cm, inner diameter 6cm to 20cm;
- Coating: sugar icing (fondant), dark chocolate, milk chocolate or white chocolate;
- Consistency: even fluffy texture, light juicy crumbs;
- Inner appearance: golden-brown layers, evenly sized and coloured.
The unique baking method involves a good deal of handicraft and craftsmanship and so Salzwedeler Baumkuchen is quite a costly delicacy.
Salzwedeler Baumkuchen has been produced in the geographical area since the early 19th Century. When, in the second half of the 19th Century the wealthy bourgeoisie grew, manufacturers of Salzwedeler Baumkuchen increasingly produced cakes for shipment not only in Germany, but also to Vienna and St Petersburg. By the end of the century, almost 90% of the cakes were produced for consumption outside Salzwedel. After the Second World War the production of Salzwedeler Baumkuchen expanded further in spite of the nationalisation of the biggest producer in 1958. Even during GDR times, tens of thousands of cakes were exported to West Germany and other (western) countries.
Serving tip: Salzwedeler Baumkuchen turns your coffee party into a special feast. Put your entire piece of Salzwedeler Baumkuchen as a whole on the table, and cut horizontal thin slices from its top. Highly recommended irrespective of happy childhood reminiscences!
Ortrun Günzel is a partner of Taylor Wessing in Munich and a member of the GI Team