Who doesn’t like to imagine the effortlessly elegant Audrey Hepburn up on the Bürgenstock where she lived in the 1960s, wrapped in cashmere and surrounded by pine. Perhaps there’s a Treichler box on the table with a Zuger Kirschtorte inside, and she opens the box, cuts a slice, and takes a big bite.
I imagine that Winston Churchill took a slightly less elegant bite, but perhaps enjoyed it with a similar level of gusto.
Charlie Chaplin was a fan, and there is a famous story of the chef sending him the cake twice (it was ordered for his birthday but delivered too early), and (some) popes have been known to eat a slice or two.
We made the Zuger Kirschtorte in pastry school, as one of the classic European cakes (like the Black Forest, Dobos, St. Honoré, or Opéra). It’s a showcase of the pastry chef’s arsenal, requiring a crispy meringue base, light sponge, and buttercream.
The original cake was invented in Zug in 1915 by Heiri Höhn, who eventually gave it over to Jacques Treichler, and whose bakery in Zug still makes the cake today. They even have a large permanent exhibition about the history of their famous Torte.
After a century of popularity the cake remains beloved, both as a treat from the original bakery (and many others throughout the country), and sometimes made by the home baker. Sam’s Aunt Rösi brings her version to big family parties where everyone waits, mouths watering, to get their slice.
Although it takes a bit of time, I love making this cake. It looks impressive and tastes wonderful, especially if you aren’t shy with the kirsch that features throughout (more on kirsch, here). The decoration is also quite forgiving, toasted almonds can hide uneven sides, and a dusting of icing sugar covers a not so smooth top.
My version is heavily based on the oldest known recipe, published in 1933 in the Kochbuch Salesianum.
In 1898, it was acquired by The Sisters of the Holy Cross Menzingen, who named it in honour of their former Mother Superior who died that year, Mother Salesia Strickler. The nuns used the Salesianum as a domestic school to educate young women, and from there the cookbook was published.
The history of the estate continued, and it was later used as a school for girls with learning disabilities, an international school, and a home for refugees and asylum seekers. Earlier this year it was purchased by Danish Bitcoin magnate Niklas Nikolajsen, who plans to renovate the estate and use it as a home and workplace, as well as turn the historic chapel into a museum.)
3 egg whites
100 g sugar
100 g ground almonds
20 g flour
Preheat the oven to 150 C / 300 F / gas mark 2.
Line two baking sheets with parchment. Draw a 24 cm circle (using the base of a springform pan) on each.
Using a large bowl and an electric mixer, start whipping the egg whites. Once they are frothy, begin to add about half of the sugar a tablespoon at a time. Keep beating until the mixture is stiff and glossy.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the other half of the sugar, almonds, and flour. Fold this gently into the beaten whites.
Scoop into a piping bag with a large nozzle and pipe two 24 cm meringue discs onto the parchment, following the template.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the meringue looks dry.
4 eggs, separated
100 g sugar
zest from one lemon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
100 g flour
20 g cornstarch
Preheat oven to 200 C / 350 F / gas mark 6.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, zest, salt, and vanilla.
Sift in the flour and cornstarch, then mix in gently, using a spatula.
Using a large bowl and an electric mixer, whip the egg whites until they are stiff and glossy. Fold these gently into the batter.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cake has started to pull away from the sides.
Let cool completely, remove from pan and set aside.
30 g cornstarch
250 ml milk
75 g sugar
200 g butter, softened
1 shot kirsch
drop of red food colouring
In a medium pot, whisk the cornstarch into the cold milk. Then whisk in the sugar.
Start heating over medium, then bring to a boil and let cook for a couple of minutes, or until thickened.
Remove from heat and let cool to at least room temperature.
In a large bowl, beat the butter until soft and fluffy. Add the cooled milk mixture a spoonful at a time and beat in well.
Stir in a shot of kirsch and a drop of red food colouring.
125 ml water
100 g sugar
1 shot kirsch
In a small pot, whisk the sugar into the water. Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes.
Take off the heat and add a shot (or two) of kirsch.
slivered almonds, toasted
Put a few strips of parchment or wax paper along the border of your serving plate, and a small blob of buttercream in the centre (this will hold the first layer in place).
Place a meringue layer on the bottom, bottom (flat) side down, then spread with buttercream.
Slice a very thin layer off the top of the sponge (this will help it absorb more kirsch syrup), then place it on top of the buttercream. Using a pastry brush, blot the top with kirsch syrup. Cover with buttercream.
Place a meringue on top, with the bottom (flat) side up. Cover with the rest of the buttercream and make sure it is spread around the sides as well.
Press the toasted slivered almonds in to the sides of the cake and along the top.
Sprinkle with an even layer of icing sugar, then use a large offset spatula, or the back of a long knife, to press a diagonal pattern into the top.
Carefully remove the paper strips, then serve.
Depending on your preference, the buttercream can be anywhere from a barely there pink to a rosy salmon colour—add more red food drops at your discretion (or none at all).
A serrated (bread) knife works well for cutting through the delicate meringue.