8.02.2014

Golden Days in Heidelberg

After 34 years, I still have clear and vivid memories of my café life in Heidelberg, Germany. As the song in Romberg's The Student Prince goes, "Golden days, in the sunshine of my happy youth. Golden days, filled with gaiety and full of truth..."

I was there for the summer, playing bass in the inaugural Schloß-Spiele Heidelberg, a festival of opera and classical music staged in the ancient castle that loomed on the hill above the historic city and Neckar River.

Me, in 18th-century costume. photo credit: The Stars and Stripes, August 1980
I credit my college for the good fortune of this summer job. Someone at the Eastman School of Music negotiated a deal so the festival orchestra was comprised of Eastman students. There were 42 of us there that first summer, and I think I can say we all had a phenomenal time.

For many, it was the first time abroad; it was an incomparable adventure. Whenever possible, each of us took advantage of the opportunity to travel further.

Even then, my extracurricular travels were all about food. Paris, of course, for my 22nd birthday to visit Poilâne's renowned bread ovens. An overnight train to Vienna for just a few hours so I could have a pastry (okay, several pastries) at the world-famous café, Demel. And Strasbourg for a traditional choucroute garnie at Ami Fritz, a restaurant I remembered from my visit there as a 14-year old.

When I stayed put in Heidelberg, though, I could be found gabbing with students from Heidelberg University, or other international travelers, at one of five cafés near the center of the Altstadt: Café Knösel, Café Markt 7, Café Villa, Café Schafhautle, or - my favorite - Konditerei Scheu.

Of the five, only Café Markt 7 seems to have closed. Each of these cafés offered something special for me. At Café Markt 7, it was the Linzertorte. At Café Villa, it was their ice cream - apple cinnamon was my favorite. I was fond of Café Knösel’s marzipan rolled in cocoa powder, and it was at Café Schafheutle that I had my first of many Mozartkugeln (Mozart candies).

But Konditerei Scheu was extra special to me. It was there, standing in front of the glass case of pastries, that I realized I wanted to learn to speak German, because I needed a piece of cake. And, if I wanted to order that slice of cake, I had better learn how to do it politely, and in the native tongue. Pointing and speaking louder would not be my method.

Honestly, it was for that specific slice of cake that I learned to order in German. It was a Stachelbeerkuchen - a gooseberry cake - which combined the irrepressibly tart gooseberries with an almond-flavored topping. It was pure heaven. I couldn't get enough of it.

Yes, 34 years later, I am still thinking about it.

When I was last in IKEA, I found jars of gooseberry jam for sale. As actual gooseberries are difficult to find for sale here in the United States *, I thought, "I'll just make a tart using jam."

And that is what I did. No, it is nothing like the cake I had in Heidelberg. But it is really good and has a similar flavor combination.

We plan to go to Heidelberg next summer, and I plan to find that gooseberry cake and a recipe while I am there.

Me, without costume, on top of the Zugspitze, August 1980
For now, this tart will do just fine.

~ David

Stachelbeeretorte mit Mandel-streusel

1 cup flour (125 grams)
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 egg yolk (from 1 large egg)
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup gooseberry jam
1/2 cup flour
3 1/2 ounces almond paste
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Start by making the tart pastry. Place the cup of flour, sugar and pinch of salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse a couple of times to blend. Add the 6 tablespoons butter in 12 pieces. Pulse 10 times to make coarse crumbs. Add egg yolk and cold water and pulse 5 times, then process until it forms a ball. The dough will be very soft.

Press dough into a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom; it is easiest to do this by taking chunks of dough and doing a section at a time. Chill pastry in tart pan for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Without cleaning the food processor, add the almond paste, crumbled, and the 1/2 cup flour. Pulse 5-10 times until you have coarse crumbs. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in 8 pieces. Pulse 5 times and look to see if the crumbs are about the size of large peas. Set aside.

Take pastry from the fridge and spread the gooseberry jam evenly on the bottom. Top with crumbs. Bake for 35 minutes, or until top is golden brown.

Note: if you cannot find gooseberry jam, or do not like it, this tart would also work well with peach, apricot, raspberry, cherry, and blueberry jams.

* Gooseberry plants are host to a tree virus called the White Pine Blister. It is illegal to grow gooseberries (or currants) in many of the United States because of this disease.

41 comments:

  1. Oh David! Amazing story and photos! You are so talented. A friend is actually at the Wagner festival right now - will share this post with him - and maybe make the tart for myself :)

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    1. Thanks, Ahu - it was fun for me to revisit this very special time. And fun to look back when I was thin and had hair (in addition to the powdered wig!). I envy your friend - how wonderful to be in Bayreuth! Hope you like the tart.

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  2. Magic times, beautifully recalled. GREG

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  3. Wonderful post, David. What an incredible opportunity to have been given at that age. Talk about memories for a lifetime.

    It's a pity that gooseberries can be so hard to come by. It's the same here, and the closest we have are the ones in jam jars at IKEA down the highway. Still, a very nice looking tart.

    Thanks for a fab story!

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    1. Thanks, John - it was a great time. Makes me wish I were 21 again! (Not really...) Glad to know you can make this tart using IKEA's gooseberry jam. Nice knowing some things are international!

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  4. David, lovely post. I have never had gooseberries. Your tart looks absolutely delectable, and must be, if you are still having fond memories 34 years later! I am waiting with anticipation of your guest post on the CCC. Good luck to you in finding the cake, and hopefully the recipe as well, on your next visit.

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    1. I have already been researching the recipe, Cathleen - and I plan to take the ones I find to the bakery and ask them which I should use! I might have to use canned/jarred gooseberries, though...

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  5. David what a wonderful story and great memories you have shared here. I do hope you will find that recipe and make the tart... loved this!

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    1. Liz - I can assure you that I am not coming back until I get the recipe! :) Thanks for your kind comment!

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  6. oh wow, I love this post David! I too remember Heidelberg well, though I didn't stay there much. But I spent all of last week booking trains and hotels there since my boss is going to a meeting next week with some german guys - and his last name is Villa so I should tell him to go to the cafe you mention and have ice cream!. Though it's hard to replicate great food we have while travelling, this tart sounds sensational! And there's the excuse to go back to try to find the original one again...

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    1. Thanks, Paula - don't you wish you could go with your boss? We plan to stay a week - I hope there will be enough there to do to keep us busy! I guess we can always seek new bakeries, eh?

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  7. My Oma used to make gooseberry jam (she grew up not far from to Strasbourg...and I have family in Heidelberg and Freiberg too!) She grew the berries in her backyard in Queens, I can only guess from seeds or saplings sent from Germany by her sisters. Thanks for posting this recipe and giving me another thing to bake with Oma in my kitchen! xoxo Karin

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    1. Karin - was your Oma from Kehl? I am so glad that tis post reminds you of her. xox, d

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  8. This looks delicious, David! Thank you for the recipe.

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  9. Oh, by the way....LOVE the Don Giovanni drag!

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    1. It was rather amusing, Karin. The funny thing is that I have no recollection of the pains of dressing in 18c drag. I can't even imagine how uncomfortable it was playing in the silly wig every night...

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  10. HI David, love post like this, what a great memory and experience, also the costume is amazing!

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    1. Thanks, Cheri - I knew the costume would get a few good comments!

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  11. Simply gorgeous. This is my kind of pastry!
    D, you look so cute with blond hair! Your face hasn't changed.
    xo

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    1. Well, thanks to tarts like this, the face is a wee bit wider... :) Thanks for your sweet comment, Colette! xo

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  12. We can't get gooseberries here either I will have to check Ikea and see if they stock the jam in Australia. What wonderful memories you have of your travels and I bet you can't wait to go back - I hope you can find that gooseberry cake again - in the mean time this tart is the perfect substitute :)

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    1. Karen - my friend John, from He Needs Food, said he has seen it at IKEA in Australia. Hope they still have it!

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  13. I never knew that about gooseberries. They are pretty rare to come across in Italy too but they always remind me of my holidays with my German grandmother. I just got back from a trip to Austria, Germany and South Tyrol and am missing those places and my family there... so it was nice to read this post. I never knew about your musical past, love the picture in costume!

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    1. Thanks, Fiona - the costume was definitely fun but the funny thing is that I have no memory of putting it on every night for several weeks. You would think I would remember that, as it was probably quite the pain...

      So, is this a good time of year to be visiting that region? I would think so....

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    2. Normally yes, but this has been a very strange summer: very hot in Scandinavia, UK etc. but cool and very stormy/rainy more down south. Great for those of us in the city (without AC), but not great for people on vacation. We had a lot of showers, but there was some sun too and being with all our loved ones, it didn't make much of a difference.

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    3. I guess we will just have to cope with the weather whatever it will be! It is a shame that trip insurance doesn't cover bad weather! :)

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  14. wow, your taste buds really got a great capability in memorizing what you've eat,
    it's a basic skills of a good cooks,
    i once spot canned gooseberries in a supermarkey and it goes with my fruit cake, i guess i'm gonna try this recipe if i lucky enought to find nother ones

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    1. Thanks, Dedy! Yes, I think I can Pretty much remember every special meal I have eaten! Hope you like the tart!

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  15. What wonderful memories - and what a great memory you have! Thanks for sharing your life-long passions with us!

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  16. This is one of my favorite posts...I will look for gooseberries when I am out and about as this looks great!

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    1. I once found fresh gooseberries at The Golden Harvest, then borrowed Ellen Patton's copper pot to make jam. Hope you can find some!

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  17. Ah, David, I should write this comment in German, of course...I am running a bit late with comments on my favorite blogs but it is the last week of holidays for the kids and we are trying to get organized, somehow it does not seem to work though... But I am already keeping my eyes peeled for the best cakes there are in Köln, goodnees how nice that would be to meet you two while you pay a visit to your favorite places in Germany!
    Ganz liebe Grüsse - I am not going to tell you that goosebeeries are rather easy to find around here...
    Andrea

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    1. Maybe I will find some gooseberries while we are there and I can make the cake with them in the kitchen of the home/apartment we rent! I really look forward to meeting you, too!

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  18. Oh David, I just found your blog and this recipe. Stachelbeertorte is my absolute favor and will eat a lot of it when . My favorite is Gooseberry Meringue cake. I have a picture of it on my blog . If you ever need help with the German language let me know. I'm happy to help.

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    1. I have problems correcting my mistakes because the computer will only let me do paste and copy, oh well. I mean when I'm in Germany.

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    2. Thank you so much Gerlinde! I can't wait to check out the cake on your blog! (Hard to do when traveling with limited wifi!) And I really appreciate your offer of language assistance. All the German I know is from hearing and trying to write - I never studied it formally at all!

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  19. What a good memory you have and what a wonderful post, too! 1980 doesn't seem so very long ago.
    We planted several gooseberry bushes about 5 years ago. We have not had many berries, though. I remember picking gooseberries with my dear aunt Berglot many years ago. (Not in Germany, though) My hubby and I would make jam if we ever got enough berries to do so. We live at 7,150 feet elevation and I know that is part of the problem. This year we got only two apricots and one Honeycrisp apple so don't expect many gooseberries, either. There was a late frost this year, darn!

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    1. Caterina - at times 1980 feels like yesterday!! I hope that you get a good crop of gooseberries next year!!

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