by Kate Heyhoe
Kate's Virtual Journey: A Progressive Feast
11th Stop: Luebeck, Germany
"When you get to the end of Klaasbuur Strasse, pay attention," explains the elderly concierge, Herr Suenderhauf. "The Christmas Bakery is not well marked, so you'll have to follow your nose."
And so I do. Bundled in my sub-zero REI goose-down parka and gloves, I trudge to the end of Klaasbuur Strasse. In the bitter cold, the near tactile aroma of baking cookies, cinnamon, and roasted nuts grabs me like a cartoon hand and pulls me down a narrow alley. An enormous, solid green door stands before me, and on the wall sits a tiny brass plate reading Weihnachten Konditorei—The Christmas Bakery. I ring the doorbell, which plays the first refrain from O Tannenbaum. "Cute," I think. "How appropriate. I'll probably be greeted by elves as well."
Luckily, I remind myself to check my cynicism at the door, for when the mighty green portal opens up, I almost drop my jaw. The spitting image of a miniature Martin Short, dressed in lederhosen and a green Tyrolean hat speaks as if he's just sucked helium from a balloon. "Velkommen, Frau Heyhoe! We've been expecting you." Pause. I can't help it. I burst into uncontrollable laughter, to which the happy, perky creature in front of me squeekily joins in.
Once inside, Martin the Elf skips along, pulling me to a counter with stacks of cardboard donkeys on it. "You must have some Thomasplitzchen!" He points to trays of plump, iced current buns inside the glass case. "St. Thomas Day is coming up—December 21st. It's the longest night of the year. Anyone who sleeps too late gets a cardboard cut-out and becomes a Thomas Donkey. When the joking is done everyone eats Thomasplitzchen, to make things sweet again." OK, I nod. I understand. Every culture has its own whacky traditions.
Next, my frisky little guide takes me behind the scenes to the back of the bakery. From the street, the building looks tiny, but this space makes a Toys-R-Us look like a Japanese sleeping pod. Hundreds of little Martin Shorts control this operation, punching buttons, stacking baker's trays, and boxing up the goods. "This is our export division. From here, we ship Stollen, Gingerbread, and Springerle to all parts of the world: Harrod's in London, Dean and Deluca in New York, department stores in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney. Everywhere."
We pass through another door, and at first, I think we're looking at snow. A huge machine vibrates back and forth, shaking fine white confectioner's sugar over racks of Pfeffernusse cookies. "Pfeffernusse means 'peppernuts,' because they're spiced with black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cardamom." I admit these are one of my personal Christmas favorites, and Martin grabs a box for me to take home. "Gut! Gut!" he chirps.
We continue on our tour, exploring more of Germany's traditional holiday specialties. "Lebkuchen is also very spicy. It's a cake-like gingerbread. Here we're pressing it into molds to make gingerbread houses," he points out. "Over there, in those glazed Lebkuchen cookies, we use the Nuremberg style of dough, replacing the flour with finely ground nuts."
"Now here's something you don't see everyday," squeeks my guide as we approach a large grill with a horizontal rod turning above it. "Baumkuchen is a cake that's made by actually broiling the cake batter. We brush the rod with batter, let it turn over the grill until the batter sets, then add another layer, and so on. Finally, we have a cake, with an interior that looks like the rings of a tree truck. We comb the sides at the end, so the design looks like the threads of a screw, then glaze it with apricot and chocolate. It's a very rare specialty."
Eventually, Martin leads me back to the front of the shop, but out of the corner of my eye, I think I see a white bearded, red suited Santa Claus darting in back one of the many ovens. I start to say something, but realize I'm probably just letting my imagination loose. As I bundle up again for the biting cold, Martin packs boxes and bags of cookies and cakes. "These on the top are the Zimsterne, the cinnamon stars. They will keep for three months and have no fat in them. Santa's on a low-fat diet after the holidays, so these are the treats he likes to eat. Leave some under the tree for him, please."
"Ah... right," I say, thinking maybe I should ask him about the white-bearded fat man. But the sky's getting dark and I need to head back to the hotel. I thank the giddy little elf for the treats and the tour, and head out into a heavy snowstorm. But a few feet down the alley, the snow stops and I follow the main street to the hotel.
Back in the lobby, I stop by the concierge desk to drop off a Black Forest Torte for Herr Suenderhauf. The young man at the desk scowls at me. "Frau Heyhoe. You must be mistaken. Herr Suenderhauf was my father, and he's not been alive for nearly twenty years." Of course, I think to myself, fits right in with the rest of the day. "I'm sorry," I say, not skipping a beat. "The kind Herr Suenderhauf told me about some very magical places, and I'd be pleased then if you and your family would accept this cake for him. I bought it at the Christmas Bakery."
"Ahhh!" the young man exhaled with a smile and a knowing look. "That explains why the snow on your shoulders isn't melting. Taste it." I dab my finger in the snow and touch it to my tongue. It's confectioner's sugar. I start to stammer out a what, why, or how, but the young man merely puts a finger to his lips and winks. "Shhh," he says, handing me a marzipan elf, dressed in lederhosen with a green cap. "Have a very merry Christmas, yourself."
...from all of us
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Other Holiday Desserts
December Itinerary... Kate's Virtual Journey: A Progressive Feast
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created 1999 and modified November 2006.
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