It may be the coming of German Oktoberfest season, but for some reason I’ve had visions of German pastries dancing in my head lately. It’s probably the restriction of sweets from my 40 day diet that I’m currently on. We long for what we can’t have. One interesting German pastry that was available at Germania Society’s Oktoberfest this year was the Bienenstich or Bee Sting Cake. The Rathskeller or basement of the Germania Clubhouse hosts the most authentic German dinners of any Oktoberfest in Greater Cincinnati, with a huge dessert table of German-American tortes, strudel, cream puffs, and the bee sting cake. They’re made by Servatti’s, a more Italian sounding bakery, but they’re fairly authentic to German origins.
Bienenstich is a layered German dessert made of two cakes of a sweet yeast dough, think of a dense brioche, filled with a vanilla custard, buttercream or another type of pastry cream like Bavarian cream or Diplomat Cream. The latter is a type of pastry cream with heavy ratio of whipped cream to custard, gelatin, and sometimes a dash of liquer. The top layer has a baked-on topping of caramelized slivered almonds. It might have earned its name just from its honey topping. According to one story the baker who invented the cake was stung by a bee. Another story is that 15 century German bakers pummelled invaders with beehives, to fend them off. They later celebrated by baking a cake named after their violent efforts. I like the second story better, so that’s the one I’m sticking to!
Servatii’s Bienenstick Coffee Cake
The bee sting cake is not one of those German-American dishes you can’t find in Germany. Although it’s origin is attributed to Bavaria, where most of the German pastries come from that we’re familiar with in America, one can find it as north as Berlin in Germany at places like Rogacki restaurant in the Charlottenburg neighborhood.
One of the last family bakeries in Cincinnati that has such a cake is Little Dutch Bakery on Hamilton Avenue in the Mt. Healthy Business District. It’s third generation German-American owned by Chris Girmann, and has won a Best of the City award CityBeat in 2008 for its bee hive cake. Chris’ grandfather Frank W. Girmann, started the bakery in 1929 after immingrating from Germany and carried the bee hive cake recipe with him. The bakery moved to its present location in 1954. He married Margaret Habig, who’s family owned Habig’s German restaurant on the West Side of Cincinnati, famous for their German recipe concord grape pie.
Little Dutch’s beehive cake is a little different from the bee sting cake in that it doesn’t have the cream filling and uses pecans instead of almonds for the top crunch. It’s similar to another Cincinnati baked delicacy, the schnecken, made by Virginia Bakery, except that it’s lighter and not as rich.
Girmann sprinkles dough with cinnamon and sugar, rolls it into a log shape and then cuts the dough crosswise into chunks, similar to prep for a schnecken. The dough is placed into honey-and brown sugar-glazed pans and gets another dose of honey and brown sugar, along with a sprinkle of pecans. After the beehive cooked, Girmann adds caramel, white, or another type of icing. He’s even iced them in chocolate or cherry at customer requests.
Whatever your preference – cream or no cream, the bee sting cake is still available in Cincinnati and can bring you ‘viele Gemutlichkeit’ or lots of happiness during Oktoberfest season.