Feuerwehrkuchen is a special German cake – buttery base, luscious sour cherry filling, nutty crumble, topped with fluffy whipped cream. What a grand way to celebrate an important occasion or just coffee with friends. (Skip to recipe)
Life is short. Celebrate with cake.
Those big moments of huge accomplishment, those little moments of quiet success; those are all worth celebrating. They’re what make this epic journey worthwhile, the milestones to mark our progress. It’s all too easy to let difficulties, disappointments, and failures define ourselves, to get swallowed up by them and forget about the joys in life.
We can just be trudging along, getting through the days, and the weeks, and suddenly it’s the years, if we don’t make an effort to punctuate the passing time with markers – events and experiences that wave their arms and shout out, ‘This is important! This is special! This happened now!” We need to be more deliberate in finding joy in our lives.
So, I vote for celebrating everything and anything, great or small. Set the table with your best dishes, put on your favourite music, and light a candle while you eat your grilled cheese sandwich by yourself, or pour a glass of nice wine and clink glasses with a loved one on a Tuesday night, or a pull out all the stops and make a fancy schmancy dinner to toast an accomplishment or milestone. Invite over your friends.
And for that you’ll need cake.
A simple cake, or maybe a special one.
Like this Feuerwehr cake. I’ve made it four times in the last six months: to celebrate a birthday, to share with friends, to celebrate our daughter’s completion of her Master’s degree, and just last night again to celebrate her boyfriend’s completion of his PhD – some huge accomplishments for sure. This German cake has become the favourite, oft-requested cake around here.
The rather unromantic name has little to do with the actual bliss-inducing powers of this delicious confection. Feuerwehrkuchen (pronounced foy’-er-vare-koo’-hen, with the ‘h‘ in ‘hen’ being forced up from the throat in that guttural German way) means ‘Fire Brigade Cake’, and nobody, not even the internet, seems to know where that name originates from. Was it first baked by firemen in a fire station kitchen (well-known for their fantastic cooking)? Is it because of the red, flame-coloured cherries hidden under mounds of whipped cream? Or maybe because of the layer of crumbles, resembling burnt rubble? Is it the dusting of cocoa on top, like a misting of fine ash? If you know the origin of the name, I’d love to hear it in the comments below.
I was given the recipe by my German friend and co-worker (and fantastic cake-baker), Ruth, at the German Language School where I teach. She got it from her sister in Germany, also a cake-baker extraordinaire (Germans know cakes!) and her sister got it from one of those little community cookbooks comprised of tried-and-true recipes collected from fantastic home cooks. Feuerwehrkuchen looks labour-intensive but it’s really not, if you break it down into smaller parts.
There’s the firm but tender, buttery, cakey/biscuit-like bottom layer holding up a filling of silky, sweet-tart sour cherries. That’s topped with a nutty, crunchy hazelnut crumble. After baking and cooling, the whole top of the cake is slathered with billows of barely-sweetened, Kirsch-kissed chantilly cream. Finally, it’s powdered with a whisper of cocoa dust.
Such a delicious explosion of contrasting tastes and textures – not too sweet, but rich and tangy and perfect with a cup of coffee or a glass of champagne.
Celebrations deserve a little bit of effort and love. Putting in the time to make a lovely centerpiece like this beautiful cake is a gift given from your heart. It’s the gift of you. It says You’re special to your guests.
Take a look at your life. Find something to celebrate – even if it’s just the fact that you are alive and you can eat cake.
C E L E B R A T E
Kitchen Frau Notes: I’ve adapted the recipe for ingredients we have here in Canada (the cake is also wonderful with frozen raspberries if you don’t have frozen sour cherries or can’t find canned ones). I’ve played with the base ingredients to make this cake gluten free, and it is every bit as good as the regular version. If you need to make it dairy-free, use coconut oil or non-dairy margarine instead of butter in the base and crumble layer, and omit the final layer of whipped cream and serve slices of the cake with whipped coconut cream or your favourite non-dairy whipped topping to dollop on top.
Feuerwehrkuchen is traditionally made with sour cherries, but frozen raspberries make a very delicious substitute. Just use 4 cups (50ogms) of individually frozen, unsweetened raspberries instead of the frozen cherries.
I have not tried the cake with any other gluten-free flour except my own g.f. flour mix, so cannot speak to how it turns out if you use anything else.
I prefer to use organic cornstarch (found in health food stores) to avoid using genetically modified corn, which most regular cornstarch is made from.
Cake Base Layer:
- ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon (180gms) butter
- 6 tablespoons (70gms) sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2½ cups (350 grams) flour (or for gluten free – use 2 cups/280gms of my gluten-free flour mix + 2/3 cup/75gms almond flour)
- 2 jars (about 540ml each) pitted sour cherries – or use 4 cups (500gms) frozen, pitted Evans sour cherries or raspberries, defrosted + ½ cup sugar
- 4 tablespoons (40gms) cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons Kirsch (clear, distilled sour cherry brandy)
- ½ cup (70gms) flour (for gluten free use my gluten-free flour)
- 6 tablespoons (70gms) sugar
- 5 tablespoons (70gms) butter
- ¾ cup (70gms) ground hazelnuts
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Whipped Cream Layer:
- 1½ cups (360ml) heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoons Kirsch
- unsweetened cocoa powder (¼-½ teaspoon)
Make the cherry layer first so it can cool:
*If using sour cherries from a jar: Drain the cherries, reserving the juice. Measure the juice and use 1 cup (save the rest for another use). If there’s less than 1 cup, add water to make 1 cup and place the juice in a saucepan.
*If using frozen sour cherries or raspberries: Defrost the cherries, reserving their juice. Strain the defrosted cherries and measure the juice. Add enough water to make 1 cup. Pour the juice into a saucepan and add the half cup of sugar.
Whisk the cornstarch into the cherry juice until no lumps remain. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the juice thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the cherries and the Kirsch. Set aside to cool.
Make the streusel next: In a small bowl combine all the streusel ingredients. Rub with your fingers until the butter is well-incorporated and the mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Make the base layer: In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and salt. Add the egg and vanilla. Beat well, scraping down the bowl to incorporate all the butter. Add the baking powder and the flour (or gluten-free flour mixture) and mix until smooth.
Grease a 9-inch (24cm) springform pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Grease the paper, too. (I like to use a cooking oil spray.)
Assemble the cake: Scrape the base layer dough into the pan. Use your fingers to press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan and about 2/3 of the way up the sides of the pan (until it’s about an inch from the top of the pan). Use the bottom of a small measuring cup or glass to push into the dough against the sides all the way around to ensure your side-crust and corner aren’t too thick. Push down against the top of the side-crust of dough with your fingertips to make it even all the way around.
Pour the partially cooled cherry filling over the base. Sprinkle the streusel crumbs evenly over the cherry filling.
Bake it: Bake the Feuerwehrkuchen for 45 to 50 minutes, until the streusel is golden brown on top.
Let the cake cool in the pan until completely cold. You can even make the cake up until this point the day ahead, and let it sit on the counter, uncovered and in the pan, until serving it the next day.
Top it: Whip the cream with the cornstarch and sugar until of spreading consistency. Add the vanilla and Kirsch and whip for a few seconds more to incorporate.
Remove the sides of the springform pan and set the cake onto a cake platter (you can leave the base layer underneath if you wish, or carefully use two spatulas to transfer the cake off the pan base and onto a plate).
Spread or pipe the whipped cream over the top of the streusel layer, bringing it as close to the edges as possible. Use a fine-meshed sieve to sprinkle a dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder over the top of the whipped cream.
Makes one 9-inch cake.
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