BAKING IS PART OF HELGA RUDOLF’S DNA
Plum Kuchen — Germany
Everyone we’ve interviewed so far for The Secret is in the Sauce! agrees that at least when it comes to baking, they follow recipes.
Not Helga Rudolf. “I never follow recipes – not even for baking,” she told us. “I know that for one egg, I’ll need fifty grams of sugar and fifty grams of flour.”
For many years, Rudolf taught German at Marianopolis College, where I teach English. She was also renowned for her cakes. “I always baked birthday cakes for my friends,” she said. But when I asked her to share her plum kuchen recipe, Rudolf wasn’t sure which dessert I meant. Luckily, I had managed to get her to write out the recipe for me years ago – and I still had my copy.
Rudolf, who is 80 and lives on Nuns’ Island with her partner Alex, was born in Stuttgart. The couple met there in 1970 and moved to Montreal in 1972. “I grew up with German post-war food – that meant it was inexpensive. There was lots of potatoes and sauerkraut,” Rudolf recalled.
Baking was part of Rudolf’s childhood. Her maternal grandmother, who lived 150 kilometers away in the Schwäbische Alb region, had a bakehouse – a little house with an enormous oven – behind her home. “Many people in her village had that,” Rudolf explained.
Grossmutter (the German word for grandmother) baked her own bread. “We children knew that after the last bread was baked, the last bit of dough was sprinkled with sugar. We called that zuckerkuchen,” Rudolf recalled.
Baking seems to be in Rudolf’s DNA. “Whenever there was a festivity, like Christmas or a birthday, there would be baking going on. At Christmas, there’d be ten kinds of cookies,” Rudolf said. When one of her aunts turned eighty, she made seven torten or layer cakes. “Each one was different,” said Rudolf.
When it comes to meals, Rudolf seldom plans too far ahead. “Whatever appeals to me at the store, I buy,” she explained. For Rudolf, a typical German meal would be Sunday lunch – a meal hearty enough to ensure that dinner will be light. “In the south of Germany where I’m from, cooking is farmers’ style. There would be a roast with lots of gravy, potato salad and spaetzle, which is a noodle,” she said.
These days, Rudolf bakes less than she used to. “My friends are all watching their weight,” she explained. “Cooking has become less important in my life,” Rudolf added. What, I asked her, has become more important? “Reading,” Rudolf answered. Her German roots aren’t only apparent in her cooking; they influence her taste in literature, too. “I’m reading the Swiss author Martin Suter – in German of course,” she said.
Fresh Plum Cake
Cooking time: 90 minutes
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 ¼ pounds (550 grams) Italian plums, pitted and quartered
- 1 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/8 tablespoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-inch springform pan.
Cream together butter and 1 cup sugar. Beat in the eggs, followed by the flour and baking powder. Beat to mix well, then turn into the prepared pan.
Place plum quarters on top of the batter. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Mix cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar, and sprinkle over top.
Bake for one hour until the top is golden brown. Serve warm or cold. Goes well with unsweetened whipped cream.
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The Secret is in the Sauce! is sponsored by Canadian Heritage’s Official Languages Program.