Close your eyes, open your mouth… mmmhhhhh! The half-frozen cream melts on your tongue… Delicious! Vanilla, Chocolate and brittle combine… a dream of cream and meringue – the Grillagetorte.
For rather more than 10 years I’ve been living in Berlin as a Lower Rhinelander in exile. Something that I knew from my childhood and that connected me to the Lower Rhineland is the Grillagetorte. She belongs to the Lower Rhineland as much as black-and-white cows and topped willows.
As soon as you mention this cake outside the Lower Rhineland, you encounter blank faces because nobody seems to have heard of it. But for decades the Grillagetorte was the centre of many traditional coffee parties and the focus of family get togethers and festive days.
What is really hidden behind this secret delicacy, which is only known in the Lower Rhineland? The Rheinische Post describes the Grillagetorte as a product of high level pastry making, a pastry composition made from halffrozen cream and meringue. The common spelling in the Lower Rhineland is „Grillage“, but it is pronounced „Grillasch“ everywhere. The Grillage which is used to garnish the cake gave the Grillagetorte its name and Grillage is quite simply an Austrian term for brittle. How this Austrian term moved to the Lower Rhineland is anyone’s guess as is why the pastry is only known in a small, sharply defined lower-rhenish enclave. However! She is definitly a part of the Lower Rhineland.
Anyone who is concerned with the history of this lower-rhenish mystery will soon encounter the name of Heinrich Wilms. This pastry chef from Krefeld is supposed to have invented the cake in 1908. At that time everybody was interested in the new recipe. Some people even tried to persuade bakers who were in on the secret to reveal the recipe, and even today pastry chefs guard their home-made recipes, as if they were treasures.
The linguist and member of the Institute for Applied Geography and Regional History (LVR), Peter Honnen, went in search of the borders of the historic range of this delicacy in 1997. And he came to the surprising conclusion that the Grillagetorte divides the Rhineland: south of a line which goes aproximately from Aachen to Solingen and Remscheid across the rhenish lowlands, the cake is completely unknown. North of this border she is regarded as the ultimate among the confectionery and pastry specialties and as the culmination of a festive coffee table.
However, some time ago researchers identified the gradual disappearance of the Grillagetorte. Heinz Lamers, a baker in Kranenburg and an original Low Rhinelander dedicated himself to the preservation of the Grillagetorte and founded the initiative: www.rettet-die-grillagetorte.de
In case you also want to save the Grillagetorte you can find my traditional family recipe below:
for the meringue layers:
125 g egg white
125 g fine castor sugar
125 g icing sugar
15 g ground almonds
for the filling:
600 ml cream
800 g chocolate shavings
4 tbsp rum or brandy
vanilla sugar to taste
In addition to that 100 g sugar, 100 g ground almonds or hazelnuts and 20 g chocolate shavings as well as 200 ml cream to garnish the cake.
Toast the ground almonds lightly in a pan. Whisk the egg white with the castor sugar until it looks like snow and fold the icing sugar and the almonds carefully into the mousse.
Spread three 1 inch thick layers with a diameter of 23 cm on a sheet of baking paper. Place the baking paper onto a preheated baking tray and let it dry in the oven for at least six hours at 100 °C (or overnight at 80°C). Break or crumble one of the layers into small to medium-sized pieces and set them aside.
In a pan at a low temperature, melt the sugar until it has browned and started to caramelize. Add 100g ground almonds and gently but continuously move the almonds from side to side until they are golden yellow. Place the caramelized almonds on baking paper and leave to cool. Then crush them with a rolling pin.
Whisk 600 ml of vanilla sugar-sweetened cream and carefully add the chocolate shavings, the rum and finally the meringue crumbs.
To build your cake, place one of the remaining meringue layers in a cake ring and spread half of the filling over the layer. Keep doing this with the second meringue layer and the remaining filling and freeze the cake when its done.
Remove the cake ring, spread the cake on all sides with white cream and sprinkle the almond brittle and the chocolate shavings over the top.
Finally put the cake back into the freezer. Remove it from the freezer approximately half an hour before serving to soften slightly. Cut it with a long serrated knife. Warm the knife by placing the blade in a glass of hot water. Dry off any excess water before cutting the cake. You may need to re-dip the knife to rewarm it after cutting several slices.
This text was written by Miriam Schneider, a member of Com Berlin’s English class. Check back soon to see more texts from members of the class.