Tour de Gateau, Torte and Kugelhopf

Greeting customers above entrance of a bakery cafe, "patisserie". Strasbourg, France June 2010. Photo by J.Chong
Greeting customers above entrance of a bakery cafe, “patisserie”. Strasbourg, France June 2010. On tray, is a roundish, tall little yeast cake –kugelhopf, typical of Alsatian French baking. A German influenced cake. Photo by J.Chong

I never thought I would be doing some food blogging as part of my European trip stories. But after my earlier tour de foodie blog posts on  spargel (white asparagus) and dumplings, a European Tour de Gateau (cake) seemed appropos.

During my discovery and devouring of delightful cake slices, I did not jot down any cake names or flavours that I tasted. I am only left with photos and visceral memories of café locations, flavour sensations and street ambience when we lounged in our chairs and watched the world drift by

Cakes and tartes. Strasbourg, France June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Cakes and tartes. Strasbourg, France June 2010. These cake presentations were more natural. Use of several whole fresh cherries with stems is a distinctly European touch. Photo by J. Chong

a few cobblestoned feet away. Unlike many places in North America, to enjoy a delicate cake in an European outdoor yet smoke-free café, was challenging at times. There, the unholy trinity of smoking, coffee and cake, was harder to break.

We had reached our dessert cafes by bike.  Good thing we did. Good thing I had off-set the decadent cake samples with spargel, dumpling or goulash earlier in meals.

Southern Germany and France: With Style and Influence 

A patisserie specializing in kugelkopf. Strasbourg, France June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Patisserie-cafe specializing in kugelhopf. See top left row in cake window display. Strasbourg, France June 2010. There were soft, laugen style pretzels (laugenbredezeln) too. Photo by J. Chong

Selection of cake slices and tortes in southern German cities, was common yet diverse  in choice and quality. There were cross-influences in cake style and even cake-naming, in southern Germany and the French Alsatian region which  flip-flopped politically between France and Germany in the past. We saw kugelholpf in Strasbourg, France and the same kugelholpf ceramic baking molds in both countries.

Ordinary tasting cakes. Karlsruhe, Germany June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Ordinary tasting cakes but still with some distinct layers of taste and presentation style. Karlsruhe, Germany June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Most definitely, cake  presentation and taste quality was overall, higher than cakes sold in many bakery cafes in major North American cities that I have visited.  My  biased opinion means that even mediocre  cake in southern Germany still has a better taste profile than a mediocre cake in a typical North American bakery cafe. I use the bakery café as a reference point, rather than full-service gourmet restaurant which can afford to focus on just a few desserts instead of whipping out day after day, year after year, many different cakes and pastries, en masse.

Cake display. Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Cake display. Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

After all, we were travelling in a region of Europe that spawned and perfected  centuries-old techniques used by some celebrity chefs on Food Network tv channel for their pastry-making theatrics.  Once you become familiar with cakes and pastries crafted by a pastry chef trained on classic techniques, which includes making puff pastry from scratch, suddenly many other pastries and cakes are too sugary, flat in taste, unnecessarily gummy or too heavy in texture.

European Patisserie: Defining Stars for Quality

Simplified tortes in Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Simplified tortes in Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by J. Chong.

More taste pointers for finely crafted, tasty cake, tortes and pasteries:  (Aided by memory of Jack’s mother’s fine cakes. She was trained in pastry-making in Germany and part of a familial line of pastry chefs and bakers for several generations.)

  • Use of fresh ingredients with a light-handed taste result.
  • No use of preservatives.
  • More use of fresh plums, fresh whole cherries, hazelnut flour and other ground nuts.
  • Icing if used at all, is very light-handed and never too sugary.
  • Cake crumb is not gluey, but light and flavourful with any spices, fine nut flours.
  • Deep fried pastries are not the norm. Exceptions would be beignets – a type of jelly-filled donut found in France and Germany.
  • Common use of clear or fruit gelatins to finish off some cakes for dewy, jewel-like sparkle.
  • Crème spreads between multiple cake layers are thin, and can vary throughout 1 cake.
  • Multi-layered cakes are thin layers –as in a fine torte. 4-5 layered tortes are the norm.
  • Light use of wine or liquor to sweeten whipping cream, pastry layer fillings. Occasionally for cake crumb itself.
Cycling by ceramic dishware. Strasbourg, France June 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Cycling by ceramic dishware. Kugelholpf decorative moulds were everywhere here and in southern Germany. Strasbourg, France June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

We found in the Czech Republic and Denmark, fewer places that served fine cakes and pastries. Often dessert menu did not venture too far beyond strudel.  No matter. By then, our stomachs needed to be tamed away from desserts for more goulash or alas, boiled over-salted spinach.


Other Related Articles:
Cycling for Spargel, Kirsch and Blue Painted Bikes: Black Forest Region, Germany. June 3-10, 2010.

Come and Get Your Dumplings: Some West-East Comparisons.

Culinary Specials of Baden.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Chatty says:

    My grandmother use to make those dancing girl cakes with the flared dresses. I haven’t seen one like them in years. I think I gained three pounds just reading this delicious blog…


  2. Jean says:

    Those cake dresses must have taken abit of time for her to finish..before it was eaten up a few hrs. later!


  3. Frances says:

    O.M.G., what lovely cakes. Just when I thought I was becoming more of a pie person, I’m tempted to give cakes another chance.


  4. Nuje says:

    Yeah. And I say, thanks for this very yummy post. Can’t help out of my cravings to this insightful pastries 🙂


  5. ava says:

    I don’t have a sweet-tooth but these pictures are just mouth watering.


    1. Jean says:

      Maybe it’s a good thing you don’t have a sweet tooth. Natural weight control! Ever since I’ve known my partner, I’ve developed a more discriminating sweet tooth for well-executed desserts. He comes from a family line of pastry chefs and bakers!


  6. spajzgirl says:

    Awesome! Thanks for sending the blog


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