Some time ago, I had the worst of nightmares. I was in a tram in Zurich, trying to make it to Sprüngli’s to get some Himbeer-Rahm-Torte, their famous raspberry cream cake, my very favourite, it’s so very rich and heavy with raspberries, yet light and fresh like air, but that damn streetcar wouldn’t take me there, for some reason, it was taking the wrong turn, totally wrong direction, I wanted to get out, but it just wouldn’t stop, it just went on and on, still, I had to get out to make it in time before closing hour, missing it was not an option, I had to have that cake, I just had to, I don’t know how I finally managed to take another tram, I think I ran them all down somehow, but the other one wasn’t the right one either, I started panicking, I was way too late now, all of a sudden night had fallen, it was completely dark outside, the time was 6:25 pm – hadn’t I left at noon? – and that streetcar had just passed the Zurich opera house to make it home to Seefeld, like it was mocking me, I just had to get out, but even if I managed to, how should I ever make it to Sprüngli’s in time, with five minutes left at my hand? Any suggestions? Any? Well, neither had I, instead, I woke up screaming. Still without any cake, but at least safe and sound. I made it to the fridge and had noisette yoghurt. No raspberries, but quite yummy.
My grandmother used to travel and bake a lot after retiring, she had all this time on her hands and filled it with some culinary creativity, and as she was fond of red wine and Spain, she ended up baking but one cake only, her masterpiece, her Rioja cake, commonly and less specifically known as her red wine cake, as in the 1970s, Rioja was quite uncommon a beverage in Germany and she didn’t feel the urge to explain her extravagances to just anybody she had over for tea and sympathy, she was a teacher, the most loved one of her village, her funeral was crowded with former students, she must have been a hell of a teacher, anyway, I, being more into France than into Spain, have always replaced Rioja with some Bordeaux when I made that cake, but now, just to cherish her memory, I opened a bottle of Rioja, the batter takes a quarter of a litre, as well as vast amounts of cocoa, chopped dark chocolate, this one is from Venezuela, quite fitting an origin, it’s a Spanish speaking country after all, anyway, the cake‘s obviously soaked with flavonoids from all that red wine and cocoa, kind of an anti-ageing approach to baking. I think, I’ll have another slice just now.
An apple a day is supposed to keep the doctor away, but with the current cases of influenza the news keep talking about, I felt two apples were more reliable to do the trick than just one, or yet even more, trust is good, overdosing is better, and so I pelt, cored and sliced lots of apples, lots, an awful lot, actually, laid them out on some yeast dough, quite fatless a dough, I once read when you feel like having some cake, if you really, really need to have some, you are to have yeast cake as it is much less sinful a cake, much less calories, but we’re talking influenza prevention, not dieting, anyway, with some calvados sprinkled on it and dusted in vast amounts of cinnamon – cinnamon, by the way, is quite healthy, too, I forgot what good it actually does, but you can’t have enough of it, believe you me – it looked and smelled very yummy before I put it in the oven, and even yummier when it came out. As I’ve had several pieces, I think I had enough apples today to declaim in full health (and with kind of a Shakespearian accent): Influenza, where is thy sting?
If I were a raspberry, I would hope to end up on a tiny little cake by Sprüngli. You don’t live long when you’re born a berry, you grow, you get plucked, you get devoured. Hence, it is of the utmost importance to achieve some importance, to make yourself heard, to be recognized as the wonderful individual that you are and make yourself unforgettable. You have to rise from the raspberry fields and seize culinary power in Zurich, if you play it right, you end up on Sprüngli’s Himbeertorte before you get eaten by some self-styled gourmet, just like Napoleon rose through the ranks of the military, seized political power and crowned himself emperor of France before he was devoured by Europe.
When God came up with cocoa beans, he must have been in a very good mood. Cocoa beans are the best beans there are—sorry, Heinz, no offence, but your bean cans were portrayed by Andy Warhol, this is as far as your fifteen minutes of fame go. Anyway, cocoa beans are so very rich in healthy flavonoids, but more importantly, without cocoa beans there was no chocolate, and without chocolate there were no chocolate glazed marzipan cakes, especially the one in my fridge (keeping it in the fridge is important to make the thick chocolate glaze as crunchy as possible), the one I just devoured out of sheer lust. And now I am in such a good mood, the best of moods, actually, just like God himself the day he came up with cocoa beans.
Sprüngli’s truffes cake is a serious matter. It’s heavy duty. It’s heavy weight. It’s nothing but cream and sugar and cocoa and butter and eggs, some flour, more cocoa and cream, and some almonds and hazelnuts. It was obviously made to kill people, to instantly clog their arteries, fatten their hips, and ruining their appetite for days. I know what I am talking about, I am a survivor of endless attacks on my veins’ sobriety, afterwards always claiming in vain I would never lose control again—until the next battered defeat. When I left Zurich and Sprüngli for good, I had to set an end to this cake’s power over me, at least symbolically, and so I made myself its executioner. Inspired by the passing of mostly female English royalty like Mary Stuart and Lady Jane Grey, I put Sprüngli’s truffes cake to death with my cheese cleaver. It took even more attempts to break its neck than poor Anne Boleyn’s.
There are days when nothing goes right. Even though your favourite actress at the moment has won the Oscar for her part in The Favourite, a film that made you smile and laugh and sit in awe at the cinema, but still, that damn coffee machine keeps annoying you in the morning by spilling first water then coffee—never buy a Krups!— and the bus is late again and there’s another grey hair mocking your vanity and, well, you know what I’m getting at, don’t you? One of these days where really nothing bad happens and still you feel like life itself was a bit overrated—until you have dessert, that is. The moment you have some yummy and ever so spongy cake to be washed down with a Sauternes, bottled at a time when grey hairs were not yet an issue, then your day starts to be real’ fine. I mean, really!
Scrolling deep down one’s Instagram gallery makes you discover amazing things you’ve had totally forgotten about (one’s memory is playing dirty tricks on one, believe you me!). Anyway, if it hadn’t been for this sudden interest in my own posts, I could have sworn to never ever have done an apple gugelhupf (now, if you don’t know what a gugelhupf is, just gugel it 😂😂😂 — sorry, I just had to make this stupid joke). The apples for it came directly from our garden, as usual, and I guess, it must have been delicious, it does look delicious, doesn’t it? So why in God’s name had I forgotten all about it??? Please, someone tell me!
Sometimes, when I’m awfully low, when the world is cold, I feel a glow just thinking of Sprüngli’s Himbeertorte and the way it once looked on my balcony’s marble table in Zurich. The raspberries were red and firm and tasted like real raspberries, grown on a real field, not like these wannabe raspberries from God-knows-where, that just look good, but taste like, well, nothing, like chewable air if you do need a reference. The rest of it was sweet and soft, a creamy delight with a hint of almonds, and just to be fair, I’m giving you a similar reference: to me, it tasted like a chewable 1998 Château Yquem.
The recipe sounded like it presented a shortcut to paradise: apricots, honey, rosemary, lemon peel and amaretti, all blended together, quirled and layered, little bits of heaven transformed into a cake. I followed each step as described, religiously. I picked the rosemary in the garden myself, chopped it with the utmost care and precision, quite lovingly one might even say, pelt the lemon, stuffed the apricots with the amaretti, quirled the eggs and the milk, spread the honey, I did not change a single step, and if there were any justice in this world, I would have created the perfect cake for anybody into apricots. If! Instead I got a perfect mess. The morale of the story? Perfection comes in a variety of appearances.