Recipes for fancy cakes from Switzerland

Birthday cake made according to a traditional recipeBirthday cake made according to a traditional recipe

In most countries, including Switzerland, a fancy cake is usually made for a special occasion. A birthday, an anniversary and naturally weddings are occasions that are unthinkable without a fancy cake. Fancy cakes are usually associated with a relatively sweet pastry, made from dough, that is encased in a sweet filling and all sorts of tempting adornments. The Linzer torte and the Sacher torte are examples of fancy cakes. The Black Forest gateau is another familiar example. The word ‘torte’ probably derives from the late Latin word ‘tōrta’ and thus originally meant ‘baked bread’.

A recipe for an almond torte was already extremely popular in Basel, Switzerland, at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Apart from almonds, various spices and pumpkin flesh were also used in the recipe. At that time, an apple torte was relished in France. Here, the flat pastry area was shaped into a crown at the edge to prevent the filling from leaking out. The spices added were cinnamon and ginger. ‘Tortenhäfen’ must be thought of as being similar to the pre-baked pastry bases available in supermarkets. These pre-baked pastry bases could be filled with anything and baked thereafter. This is what emerges from recipe books handed down from that time.

Cakes and their recipes with pastry bases

In Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe fruit tortes seem to have enjoyed great popularity during Lent as emerges from cookery books from old monastery kitchens. Apples, quinces and almonds were favourite ingredients for Lent tortes. In Alsacian cuisine, what was referred to as meat tortes made an appearance early on, nowadays known as pasties. Here, once again, pre-baked pastry bases were used. A chopped meat filling was placed on top before being covered with a layer of pastry. Meat pasties continue to be a speciality for tourists to this day.  

Baking with sugar flourished in the seventeenth century and with it cakes also increased in importance. Court confectioners tried to outdo each other with their sweet masterpieces. Cream cakes, in contrast, make a breakthrough not only in Switzerland in the nineteenth century. This is explained above all by the fact that the preparation of whipped cream was extremely laborious. Since the invention of the electric hand whisk, many might find this hard to comprehend unless you take the trouble of using a conventional egg whisk.

Wedding cakes and their importance

Here, veritable marvels made of cream, butter cream and marzipan are very often created. Nowadays, it is possible to immortalise your own photo on a cake. The collection of cake recipes is huge. Wedding cakes are a case apart, simply because they represent an important step in one’s life. It was probably the English who gave rise to this tradition. It is assumed that a cake with raisins soaked in rum was baked. The cake was glazed with a layer of marzipan and sugar to preserve it. This is because traditionally, the cake was not cut for weddings but when a first child saw the light of day.

This is just one theory on the origin of the wedding cake and the associated cake recipes, which today is no longer common. Nowadays in England, wedding cakes are usually consumed precisely on wedding days. There are no rules as regards their shape. Whether they are one-tiered or multi-tiered depends, amongst other things, on the number of wedding guests. After all, everyone wants a piece. Heart-shaped, square-shaped or round, the possibilities are virtually endless. The decoration usually consists of a sugar icing or marzipan. It may be chosen to match the bride’s dress or the table decoration.

Whether traditional or unconventional, this is a matter that is entirely up to the taste of the bride and groom. Wedding cakes naturally have a certain significance. Whoever chooses a traditional version will receive a simple, white cake adorned with sugar roses. White symbolises purity and the roses stand for a life without thorns. If a marzipan version is chosen, this signifies nothing less than the wedding vow: ‘ In good times and in bad times’. Since as we all know, marzipan is made from both sugar and from bitter almonds. The bitter almonds represent less good times whereas the sugar stands for good times.