At first glance, the slender wedge appears to be a uniform hunk of dark chocolate. A few swift taps from a fork are sufficient to shatter the exterior coating, revealing dozens of wafer-thin golden layers. German Baumkuchen, or “tree cake,” derives its name from these interior rings, which look much like the cross-section of a tree. The oldest known recipes date back to 1450, when this towering confection was served as a showstopper at wedding feasts. Like Lithuanian sakotis, Romanian kürtőskalács, and French gâteaux à la broche, it belongs to an extensive family of European spit-roasted cakes.
To make Baumkuchen, bakers brush a thin layer of buttery batter onto a rotating spit over a live fire. As soon as the layer caramelizes, the baker must immediately brush on the next to prevent burning. Each layer adds an additional depth of flavor, courtesy of the Maillard reaction.
Given that the process, which may be repeated as many as 30 times, requires considerable skill, time, and special equipment, it’s understandable that Baumkuchen is generally reserved for special occasions—it’s seldom seen in Germany except around Christmas. Yet at Konditorei Buchwald, Berlin’s oldest continually running confectionery, this labor-intensive treat is on the menu all year long, available either in glazed rounds to take away or whole slices enrobed in chocolate.
Kaffee und Kuchen, or an afternoon pause for coffee and cake, is still a borderline sacred ritual for many Germans. Since 1852, Kondotorei Buchwald’s canal-side, sun-drenched patio has been one of the best places in town for it. And while their Baumkuchen is certainly a scene-stealer, it’s far from the only draw. From a Florentine apple cake covered in sugary, sliced almonds to a voluminously fluffy honey cake topped with a marzipan bumblebee, there are plenty of other tempting treats in the pastry case.
Know Before You Go
The café and bakery are open daily from 11am to 6pm. Especially on sunny afternoons and weekends, arrive early before they sell out of the best slices.