Tag Archives: baumkuchen

a very baumkuchen holiday

we arrived in berlin on a gloomy grey afternoon.  soon after checking into our hotel, hubs and i walked over to gendarmenmarkt to see its famous christmas fair.  we wandered around the many nostalgic stalls selling everything from pizza to christmas ornaments to cookie cutters, when lo and behold, after rounding a corner, we came upon a rustic wooden sign with the words “BAUMKUCHEN” painted onto it.  OMG OMG OMG! i felt my heart race as i leaped around the corner to get my hands on some authentic german baumkuchen, the root etymology, the grand-daddy of all the japanese baumkuchen versions i’ve been obsessing about for years.

the baumkuchen stall we came across at the fair bore the signage: baumkuchen backstüberl.  i’m not sure if it was a famous brand of baumkuchen in germany or not?  i have a rather limited knowledge base when it comes to germany baumkuchens, unfortunately.  when i entered the word into google, it took me to the website of some traditional pastry shop in wien, austria.

unlike the slick japanese baumkuchen enterprises i visited that were manned by an army of white clad pastry chefs and salesgirls, baumkuchen backstüberl is a one woman show.  the proprietor made a single baumkuchen cake log at a time (the japanese machines will make several logs at once) on her rickety gas powered machine.

she sells her baumkuchen by weight.  there are two varieties:  fresh baumkuchen and baumkuchen coated in dark chocolate.  you can buy a segment of the log intact.  or she can slice it up for you into little cubes, which she then places in a paper cone.  it reminded me of eating popcorn out of cone.  now imagine if movie theaters in the US started to sell buckets of baumkuchen when you went to the movies instead!

in terms of taste, the german baumkuchen i tried is a bit different.   it is less dense, a bit more spongy in flavor, a tad sweeter, more vanilla-ey, and less nutty.  if i had to guess, it probably contains a lot less almond paste in its batter than the japanese baumkuchens.  i’m not complaining though.  i popped that baumkuchen cone in mouth in about 30 seconds flat.  happy christmas to me!

and just, when i thought i was done with new baumkuchen finds for the season, when i got back stateside, my friend G, who had spent his vacation in tokyo, presented me with a matcha flavored baumkuchen from kyoto based sweet shop sho-ayana (匠、彩菜).

Oo la la! what a way to end 2010 and kick off 2011! thank you G!

nenrinya (ねんりん家) baum kuchen

tokyo is in the throes of a full-fledge baumkuchen explosion.  i swear, in the last six years in which i’ve traveled there, the baumkuchen craze seems to have reached the same frenzied crescendo as cupcakes in nyc.  fortunately, i happen to ADORE baumkuchen (more on my baumkuchen ravings here).  walking around the pastry aisles inside tokyo department stores, i felt sheer joy (or was that the adrenalin putting thru my veins?) i witnessed baumkuchens in every permutation.  there was even a baumkuchen that resembled a cupcake of sorts — tiny baumkuchen roll on the bottom, and topped with some sort of frosting or buttercream.

while waltzing down ginza, i came across the nenrinya baum kuchen boutique, nestled in the ground floor of the giant matsuzakaya department store.  i’ve never tasted baumkuchen from this company before, and thought i’d get in line behind the 30 other baumkuchen crazed tokyo-ites.

nenrinya sells baumkuchen in two flavors: original (which is kind of a vanilla/almond) and chocolate.  they also sell two styles of baumkuchen: straight and mount. the former is softer, less sweet, lightly coated with glaze, and is only available in the original flavor.  i purchased a small ring of the straight baum that had been made fresh that day and meant for same day consumption (they also sell a version of the straight baum that is vacuum packed to last longer).  of course, it still tasted delightfully moist about a week after i purchased it, even without the fancy packaging. i’ve learned to ignore japanese expiration dates (basically add a few days and up to a week to any date they’ve got stamped on).

i also picked up a quarter sliver each of both flavors of the mount baum kuchen.  the mount baum kuchen (pictured above) is more heavily coated with glaze, dusted with powdered sugar,  and denser with a ridged exterior.   i prefer the straight baum kuchen, but it’s nice to mix things up every now and then.  plus, the mount baum is just cool looking.

it was a bit hard to take photos inside the jam packed store, and there was  a no photo sign, which i didn’t see until i got up to the counter). that said,  i did pick up a brochure and scanned in some of their lovely photos for your viewing pleasure. . .



baumkuchen (バームクーヘン) @ holländische kakao-stube

i have many sweet obsessions and chief amongst them by a long stretch is the baumkuchen — a golden “tree” cake made with almond paste in the batter, lovingly baked on a spit, which when cut reveals hundreds of thin layers.  i found myself in the isetan shinjuku food halls over the holidays, and upon stepping into it, i immediately proclaimed to hubby that i was in heaven.  for fear of losing sight of me as i ping-ponged around from exquisite gourmet food vendor to vendor, hubby agreed to wait for me in front of the mochi stand.  i spent about 30 minutes surveying the landscape.  i probably saw proper kobe steak, the most perfect fruits and vegetables, creamy tofu and all that, but i only really had eyes for the baumkuchen!  and my, there were a lot of baumkuchen brands at isetan.  (yes, you also can get 100 yen baumkuchen in the local convenience stores and they’re pretty commonly found stateside as well in asian supermarkets for under $5.  it just isn’t the same.  a real, freshly made baumkuchen will probably be around 1,000 yen and up, for what seems like a sliver of a slice). prior to my isetan trip, i had tried the baumkuchen at club harie, madame shinco, karl juccheim, and the variety at minamoto kitchoan (available stateside but goes for double the price in japan). this time around, i saw several more brands of baumkuchen that i had never seen before. there were chocolate flavored baumkuchen, chocolate covered ones, as well as mini-ones stuffed with strawberries, chestnuts, and more.  i was not just in japanese sweets heaven, i was in baumkuchen paradise.

i zeroed in on one particular shop:  holländische kakao-stube.  apparently, isetan shinjuku hosted the only holländische kakao-stube in all of japan. in turn, the tokyo store was some sort of franchise or licensee of the original holländische kakao-stube in hanover germany, one of the oldest sweet shops in all of germany.  (as a side note, when i looked up the hanover mothership online there was no mention of baumkuchen at all on their website.  was this just a clever marketing ploy? did the japanese baumkuchen branch just want to buy instantaneous heritage?)  holländische kakao-stube at isetan attracted a very long line.  75% of the shop’s pastries were some sort of baumkuchen variety.  there were a few cookies and danish-looking things on the side.  among the baumkuchen offerings, were the plain baumkuchen with a sugar glaze, a chocolate glazed one, and one that looked like a flat baumkuchen with a chocolate topping.  that flat version was called baumurinde and had won several prizes.  there were fancy metals displayed next to it in the pastry case. the clerk asked me what i wanted.  i first pointed to the baumurinde, they were out.  then to the sugar glazed baumkuchen.  they were also sold out. bummer!  the only thing they had left was the chocolate glazed baumkuchen. i said that i’d take one.  i gave the clerk i think something like 2000-2500 yen.  she handed over an extremely well packaged cake with a deep bow from the waist — now that’s service!

when i got back to nyc, i unwrapped the cake.  did i say that it was really well packaged?  the cake itself was vacuum sealed, tied with a bow, and then placed in a foam cushioned box.  it even survived the trip from tokyo in my suitcase, completely intact with not a scratch on to it. when i cut into the cake, the chocolate glaze crackled (a sign of well tempered chocolate).  it may not have been my first choice or 2nd choice at the store, but it tasted like heaven — cake, which without the use of cream layers, tasted absolutely creamy, smooth, like a cup of warm tea cupped in my hands on a cold day.

nb: yes, i’ve tried baking baumkuchen at home before, but it really doesn’t come out right without the proper equipment.  you need a baumkuchen machine.  a commercial one from japan goes for about $6K and takes up about as much space as a baby grand piano.