Germany has many different dialects, probably due to the fact that the country as such used to be a whole bunch of kingdoms, duchies and whatever else they could come up with, including free cities. Only with the formation of a German empire in 1871 did Germany, or Deutschland, as such come into existence, and the local rulers gradually lost their power until they were completely demolished after WWI. The Swabian dialect is closely linked to the historic Germanic tribe of the Swabians, and then with the former kingdom of Württemberg, with Stuttgart as the capital.
The difference between an accent and a dialect, apparently, is in the vocabulary and grammar: a local accent is usually recognised by the way certain words or sounds are pronounced, but once a region has its own words for different things, and even a different way of forming a tense, we talk of a dialect rather than just an accent. The vocabulary difference are often most pronounced in the words people use for local fruit and vegetables, as they would have been in use for centuries. Thus Germany is divided – linguistically – by the Appel/Apfel- or Speyer line, a vertical line roughly through the center above which people call apples either Appel (north) or Apfel (south of the line). This line coincides with the so-called Weißwurstäquator, or white-sausage-equator, which (humorously) describes the cultural split between the North and the South: only South of that line, white sausages (a metaphor for proper food) are consumed. Unsurprisingly, unlike the Speyer line, there is no scientific evidence for this one…
In Swabian, anything can – and will – be shrunk by adding the suffix -le to the noun. Thus a car – Auto – becomes an Autole, a little car, and a house – Haus – a Häusle, a small house. Red currants look a little bit like small grapes, which are Trauben, hence in our dialect they are called Träuble, or small grapes. We used to have lots of these when I grew up, to the point that each year we had to emotionally blackmail family, friends and neighbours into coming round to pick some for themselves. As kids we didn’t particularly see a point in picking them as you would not really eat them straight from the bush; instead, my mum turned them into delicious jams, jellies, juices and into this cake, where the tartness of the berries is balanced out with a sweet almondy meringue. The recipe is based on the one in my standard Swabian cookery book, with slight alterations.
A word of warning, if you are ever in Germany: before asking for this cake, check your map: outside the Swabian-speaking parts, red currants are called Johannisbeeren, St John’s berries, and nobody will have a clue as to what you mean by a ‘small grape cake’. Trust me. It has happened to me more than once …
Red Currant Meringue Cake – Träubleskuchen (for a 27cm springform)
For the shortcrust pastry/pâte sucrée:
- 180g plain flour
- 120g butter, not too soft
- 60g caster sugar
- 1 egg
For the topping:
- 1.5kg red currants, washed
- a handful of breadcrumbs (sorry – it’s just to soak up excess juices so it’s hard to judge!)
- 5 egg whites
- 180g caster sugar
- 50g ground almonds
- peel of 1/2 lemon
Begin mixing the ingredients for your shortcrust pastry on a cool surface, ideally with a spatula or similar to prevent the pastry to get too warm:
I use a scraper that I have for making traditional Swabian pasta, but more of that later. Cutting up the butter and mixing it with the other ingredients is the aim here, until you have it all nicely crumbled up:
With cool hands, quickly work the crumbs into a soft dough; if necessary add a little bit of flour but don’t overdo it as it takes away from the lovely taste and texture of this pastry! Wrap it up and put it into the fridge for at least 1 hour.
When you’re ready – or rather when the pastry is, having cooled down enough to be handled, Grease your springform (ideally sprinkle some semolina onto the butter, to ensure the pastry comes off; it’s optional, though: with that much butter there shouldn’t be a problem…). Preheat the oven to 175C.
Carefully roll out the pastry on a slightly floured surface and fit it into your tin: again, avoid handling it too much; if it breaks, just worry about the rim as that’s the only bit of it that will be visible in the finished cake ;-). One way of doing this is to roll the dough back onto the rolling pin, then gently roll it out over your tin; alternatively fold it twice, lift it into the tin and unfold. Personally I find this easier. Press the dough into the tin, then cut off the excess. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the surface and put the whole lot into the fridge until you’re ready.
Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then add the sugar and give it another good beating. For a perfect finish, put 1/4 of it away to cover the finished cake. I always forget, getting carried away by the sheer beauty of the red currants in white snow …
Carefully fold in the berries, sugar, ground almonds and the lemon peel into the rest before filling your cake tin. Cover with the rest of the meringue mix and bake it for around 45 minutes on the bottom shelf: you might have to cover it with a bit of tin foil after a while to prevent it from getting too dark!
Serve with coffee and more cakes for a traditional Kaffee & Kuchen afternoon!