Donauwelle: German Marble Cake with Cherries

Donauwelle is a marble pound cake, studded with sour cherries, covered in a thick layer of German buttercream and a wavy chocolate topping. Donauwelle is popular in Germany and Austria and means ‘Danube wave’ in German, referring to the wavy marbling of chocolate and vanilla pound cake created by the cherries. The cake sometimes goes by the name Schneewittchenkuchen, or ‘Snow White Cake’ because of the black, white and red colors in the cake.

The base for German Donauwelle is essentially marble pound cake. It’s slightly modified from a traditional pound cake to be able to hold the extra moisture from the sour cherries. The batter is split and half of it is flavored with cocoa powder. The vanilla and chocolate cake batter is layered evenly in the tin and the marbling occurs from pressing the sour cherries into the batter.

Donauwelle uses German buttercream frosting, which is made by whipping butter and pastry cream together. German buttercream isn’t as sweet as other types of buttercream and it’s rich and velvety. It reminds me of the ermine frosting for the chocolate coffee cake with dark chocolate ganache.

Tips for Making German Donauwelle Cake:

Most of my tips for this recipe have to do with temperature. I think when issues arise for homebakers, a lot of times it’s because of temperature. While there are many exceptions, baking generally goes best when ingredients are at the same temperature: room temperature. This cake is no exception. There are many steps that will be made much easier if you let cold ingredients warm up to room temperature and let hot components cool down to room temperature beforehand.

  • To properly cream the butter and sugar and emulsify with the eggs, the ingredients for this cake should all be at room temperature. If the butter is too cold, it won’t effectively trap air when beat with the sugar. And if the eggs are too cold, it’ll shock the butter causing it to seize and break the emulsion.
  • You can either make the pastry cream ahead of time, or make it while the cake is baking. Whatever works for your schedule. What’s absolutely essential for the German buttercream to work is that the pastry cream and the butter are both at room temperature when you start to mix.
  • And now that you’ve made a wonderfully rich and fluffy German buttercream, make sure the cake has cooled before you ice it. If the cake is warm, the beautiful frosting you just made will melt.
  • After frosting the cake, let the Donauwelle and buttercream chill together in the refrigerator for at least an hour before adding the chocolate layer. Let the chocolate cool just for a few minutes after melting before pouring over the buttercream so you don’t melt the frosting. You’ll need to work quickly to spread the chocolate because the cold buttercream will start to set the chocolate.
  • And a note on the cherries: the traditional recipes call for a drained jar of sour cherries. I didn’t include an exact amount, but they seem to range from 300g – 400g (10oz – 14oz) drained weight. The jar I used was 300g drained. I’ll also admit that I didn’t use sour cherries because I couldn’t find any, so I used some Kirsch soaked cherries. You can use whatever your favorite jarred cherries are, but I think sour cherries would work best. The sour cherry flavor would balance the richness of the cake better.

Normally I don’t like recipes with “divided” in the ingredient list. Sometimes it makes the quantities a bit unclear. But this recipe has a few moving parts, so I made an exception. I tried to include a lot of photos of the intermediate steps. If, however, something doesn’t quite make sense, leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you quickly and edit the post.

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Ingredients:

Yields one 9 by 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) cake.

Cake:

MetricCups
250g unsalted butter
250g granulated sugar


5 large eggs


1 teaspoon vanilla extract


330g plain flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt


60g double cream, divided


20g cocoa powder


1 jar sour cherries, drained
1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar

5 large eggs


1 teaspoon vanilla extract


2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt


1/4 cup heavy cream, divided


1/4 cup cocoa powder


1 jar sour cherries, drained

German Buttercream Frosting:

MetricCups
500ml whole milk, divided
100g granulated sugar, divided


45g cornstarch
1 large egg yolk


2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided


250g unsalted butter
2 cups plus 2 Tablespoons whole milk, divided
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided


1/3 cup cornstarch
1 large egg yolk


2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided


1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

Chocolate Coating:

MetricCups
200g bittersweet chocolate
30g unsalted butter
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
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Donauwelle Cake:

Prepare the pan:

Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan with butter. Line well with parchment so the cake can be easily lifted out later. Grease the parchment.

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Preheat the oven:

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

Sift together the dry ingredients:

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.

Sift the cocoa powder:

In a separate small bowl, sift the cocoa powder to ensure there aren’t any lumps. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 – 5 minutes. Pause and scrape the bowl a couple times to ensure even mixing.

Add the eggs:

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl about half way through. Adding the eggs one at a time helps emulsify the fat in the butter and the moisture in the eggs.

Add the vanilla and cream:

Pour in the vanilla extract and half of the cream. Beat just until combined.

Add the dry ingredients:

With the mixer on low, gradually add in the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

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Divide the batter:

Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with an offset spatula or a rubber spatula.

Add the cocoa and cream to the remaining batter:

Add the cocoa powder and remaining double cream to the remaining batter and stir until evenly combined.

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Pour the chocolate batter into the prepared pan:

Pour the chocolate cake batter into the pan and spread evenly over the vanilla cake layer.

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Add the cherries:

Evenly distribute the cherries in the chocolate layer and push them down into the batter a bit with your fingers. This helps create the wavy pattern in the cake.

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Bake the cake:

Bake the Donauwelle cake for 35 – 40 minutes at 175°C (350°F), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool the cake:

Let the cake cool to room temperature, leaving it in the tin. Meanwhile, prepare the German buttercream frosting.

German Buttercream Frosting:

Combine milk, sugar, cornstarch, and egg yolk:

In a large, heat-proof bowl, whisk together 60ml of the milk, 25g of the sugar, all of the cornstarch and the egg yolk. Set aside, somewhere close to the stove.

Combine the remaining milk and sugar:

In a medium saucepan combine the remaining 440ml of milk and 75g of sugar. Set the pan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent the milk from burning.

Pour the milk into the cornstarch mixture:

As soon as the milk begins to boil, take the pan off the heat. Slowly pour half of the boiling milk into the cornstarch mixture, whisking while you pour.

Make the pastry cream:

Pour the cornstarch mixture back into the saucepan and set the saucepan back over medium heat, stirring constantly with the whisk. When the mixture has come to a boil and thickened, remove from the heat and pour through a fine mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl. Whisk in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Cover with plastic wrap directly on the pastry cream so it doesn’t develop a skin. Place the bowl in an ice bath to cool the cream to room temperature.

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Cream the butter:

Once the pastry cream cools to room temperature, cream the butter in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, about 3 minutes.

Add the pastry cream:

While continuing to whip the butter, add the pastry cream one tablespoon at a time. Add the remaining teaspoon of vanilla extract and whip to combine. Continue to beat the frosting for 2 – 3 minutes until creamy and fluffy.

Assemble the Donauwelle Cake:

Frost the cake:

When the cake has cooled to room temperature, spread a thick, even layer of buttercream over the top of the cake.

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Put the cake in the refrigerator to chill for at least one hour before pouring on the chocolate coating.

Make the chocolate coating:

Finely chop the chocolate and place in a heat-proof bowl along with 30g (two tablespoons) of butter.

Set a saucepan filled with about an inch of water over medium-low heat and place the bowl on top of the saucepan, making sure the bottom of the bowl rests above the water without touching.

Heat the chocolate in the bain-marie until melted.

Coat the cake with chocolate:

Pour the chocolate over the buttercream frosting and spread evenly with an offset spatula, working quickly before the chocolate cools.

Use the tines of a fork to make the decorative wavy pattern in the chocolate.

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Refrigerate the cake:

Put the cake in the refrigerator to set the chocolate.

To unmold and slice:

Use the edges of the parchment paper to gently, but firmly pull the cake out of the tin.

Run a knife under hot water to heat up the knife before slicing the cake. This helps slice through the chocolate and get cleaner edges (hopefully cleaner than my slices!). 

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