Labor of Love . . . in the Form of Currant Cake

Currant Cake (Johannisbeerkuchen) fresh from the oven.

My father was German and as might be considered typical, had strong opinions about many things, including food. He had an excellent palate. He died sixteen years ago when I was 23,  long before I devoted my professional and volunteer life to food. I would love to talk to him about my current adventures and I’m sure he’d endorse some and be critical of others. He did, however, shape my palate and likes (mostly) in many ways. Like him I love apricots, currants, raspberries, whipped cream, dark rye bread, orange marmalade, wine, and many other things. He also really enjoyed food and was therefore usually fun to cook for. My American mother was/is the cook in the family but our many years living in Germany shaped the way she and now I, cook.

My father loved red currants (Johannisbeeren) and they ripen right around his birthday, July 17. This Johannisbeerkuchen, currant cake, was his preferred birthday cake and my mother has made it every year since his death. I’m a few days early, but my neighbors’ currants were ripe, so I made it today. It’s the first time I’ve ever made this cake in fact. It’s a classic German cake in a several ways–not terribly sweet, employs lots of ground nuts, and is encased in a buttery short crust. It is a bit more labor intensive than some but if you like currants or think you might and have been looking for a way to use some, give it a try.

The shortcrust recipe makes more than you’ll need for the 10-inch spring form. You can make a few mini tarts with the remainder or freeze or refrigerate for later use.

You gently fold the ground nuts (hazelnuts or almonds) and grated lemon zest into the meringue before folding in the currants.

Currants have now been folded into the meringue. A bonus of making this cake is she sheer beauty of the process.

Currant Cake (aka Johannisbeerkuchen)

We’ve only ever made this with red currants. If you have pink or white ones I think you can substitute them. I love black currants but they are muskier and just have quite a different flavor. It may well be delicious but it will be a bit different. I’m sure it would be beautiful with a mixture too.

This recipe calls for a lot of ground hazelnuts (or almonds). I grind my own in a little Zyliss grater, see photo below. This creates a very, fluffy light nut flour/meal. You will not get the same consistency if you grind them in a food processor. You’ll get a coarser texture which then easily turns into nut butter. So I would recommend hand grinding them if you have such a grater (many people have them for Parmesan) or buying the nut meal. Bob’s Red Mill carries almond meal that would be fine. It is a bit of work to grind by hand, but as I said, this cake is a labor of love!

You’re going to have six egg yolks left over. I will be making ice cream with mine. . . .

Crust:

2 stick (230 grams) butter, softened at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream the butter with the sugar until well mixed. Add the egg and incorporate well and then add the flour and salt. The dough should come together quite easily. I use my hands to do so. It  may be a bit too sticky to handle so flour your hands a bit and gather it into a ball. You won’t need all of the dough (see photo above) so break off a piece to save. Then press the dough evenly into a 10″ springform pan (or deep dish 12″ pie pan) bringing the dough up the sides about 2 inches. Blind bake the crust for about 15 minutes until it’s partially baked and just turning golden around the edge. I just press a round, buttered piece of aluminum foil onto the bottom of the crust before pre-baking to help hold its shape.

Filling:
Four generous cups of stemmed red currants
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
175 grams, finely ground hazelnuts or almonds (see head note) (about 2 cups of whole, raw almonds turned into 175 grams of ground nuts for me)
6 large egg whites
zest of 1 small lemon

Mix the currants with 3/4 cup sugar in a bowl and let sit while you prepare the meringue. Beet the egg whites until they hold soft peaks and then gradually beat in the sugar.  Then gently fold in the lemon zest and ground nuts until fairly well incorporated. Finally pour in the currants and fold those in as well. Don’t over mix as the currants do not need to be uniformly mixed in.

Fill the pre-baked shell with the meringue. It will be quite full but should hold it just barely.

Turn the oven down to 350 and bake the cake for 45 – 60 minutes until golden brown and pretty much set. You’ll still get a tiny bit of jiggle when you tap the side but it will firm up just a bit as it cools. Let cool completely and then cut into thin slices and enjoy!

 

Ready to go in the oven.

So many German desserts call for ground nuts. I use my little Zyliss grater for this purpose which results in a fluffy, light nut meal. The food processor does not produce the same results so either buy almond meal or grind your own–it’s a bit labor intensive but completely worth it.

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