My husband Sam and I recently moved back to Switzerland after a couple of years away, and we're staying with his parents in the Entlebuch. I am trying to acclimatize myself as best I can. Grilled cervelat (national sausage) on 1 August (national holiday) and watching Jass (national card game) on SRF 1 (national broadcaster) with my in-laws.
Jass is a traditional Swiss card game, similar to bridge. I am not a successful Jass player. My cousins have tried to teach me a few times, but I barely get as far as remembering all the suits of the German cards. (There is a surprisingly detailed English Wikipedia page on the game, if you are inclined to find out more.)
The game is usually played in fours, which means my husband’s family can play amongst themselves, and I can sit back, relax and eat my fill of paprika chips (national snack).
On Thursday nights SRF 1 broadcasts a four-round match of the game, hosted each week by a different Swiss town. Recently it was held in Bremgarten, in the canton of Aargau. This particular broadcast was the 200th episode of the show and the people of Bremgarten were invited to help mark the anniversary. Aargau is famed for its carrots (Rüebli in Swiss German) and for its excellent carrot cake or Rüeblitorte. The challenge was to bring in 200 carrot cakes and they ended up bringing 482, all covered in marzipan Jass cards, chocolate score sheets, little marzipan carrots…
This inspired me to make my favourite carrot cakes. In Canada, carrot cake is dense and tender, taking much of its moisture from the addition of applesauce or tinned, crushed pineapple. Occasionally nuts (walnuts or pecans) or raisins are added. The spicing is usually cinnamon and ginger, and there is almost always a thick layer of cream cheese icing on top, which is a nice counterpoint to the spicy sweetness of the cake.
The Swiss Rüeblitorte is lighter and has a base of ground nuts, rather than flour. Here, you whip egg whites to create an airy batter and the final baked product has a nutty, earthy flavour. There is occasionally an icing, usually lemon, but I prefer either a dusting of icing sugar or nothing at all.
Carrot cake is the best kind of cake because it feels wholesome and nourishing (carrots!)
but it's still cake.
I remember my mum's Rüeblitorte fondly. She never iced it, so I always felt like I could eat it for breakfast. I asked her to send me her recipe, and she ended up sending both hers (right) and my grandmother's (left):
It's nice to see some Swiss precision when it calls for 1 Eischale Wasser + Butter, which translates to 1 eggshell water + butter. Or langsam backen, bake slowly...
The paniermehl or breadcrumbs are an unusual addition. I found some in the cupboard and added them, but as per my grandmother's parentheses, I think they can be omitted. She seems to have forgotten the kirsch as well...
Rather than decide between the two recipes, I diplomatically amalgamated them and came up with the following:
250 g carrots, grated
300 g ground nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, or a mixture of both), toasted
75 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp breadcrumbs (optional)
4 eggs, separated
275 g sugar
1 shot kirsch (or spirit of choice)
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / gas mark 4.
Paper a 9 inch / 24 cm springform pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the toasted ground nuts, flour, baking powder and breadcrumbs (if using).
In a large bowl, whisk together the 4 egg yolks and sugar until you get a pale, yellow paste. Add the shot of kirsch and whisk well.
In another large bowl, whisk the 4 egg whites into stiff peaks.
Mix the carrots into the yolk and sugar paste, then fold in the the dry ingredients. Finally, gently fold in the beaten egg whites and spread into the pan.
Bake for 55-60 minutes.
- Although it works just as well with ground almonds, hazelnut and carrot is a classic flavour combination.
- Be sure to line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper, this cake can be rather sticky.
- If you like a spicier cake, add an additional teaspoon (or two) of cinnamon and nutmeg. Two or three teaspoons of British mixed spice is also quite lovely.
- Whisk the egg yolks as soon as the sugar is added, as this will prevent the sugar from hardening the yolks.
- For more information on whisking the egg whites, see here.
- Baking time will depends on the heat of your oven. The cake is done when you can see it coming away at the sides of the pan, and when you press on the top and it springs back completely. If the top does become too dark, simply cover it with tin foil and allow it to continue baking.
Halfway along, I had to ask my mother-in-law for help sourcing one of the ingredients. She promptly disappeared into the liquor cabinet and returned with this slightly suspicious looking bottle...
If you are inclined to glaze the cake, it's best to first brush it with some warmed apricot jam, and when that has cooled, use a simple lemon glaze (icing sugar and lemon juice). Otherwise dust with icing sugar, add some marzipan carrots, or leave as is.