My Granny’s Donauwelle – a Marble Cake with Cherries and Buttercream


In my young years, I built up a remarkable reputation in my family regarding the amount of cake I could eat at one go. Our regular gatherings at my granny Lisa’s house used to start with a huge cake buffet which equaled paradise in my childish eyes. Most of my aunts and uncles are passionate cooks and bakers, they always lined up a scrumptious selection of our sweet family classics, like black forest cake, cheese and fruit cakes, spongy lemon cake, crumbles and my granny’s masterpiece, her fabulous Donauwelle (meaning Danube wave). This traditional cake is also known as Snow-White-Cake due to its colour combination. It combines a layer of juicy black and white marble cake with sour cherries, German buttercream and melted bittersweet chocolate on top. The original name refers to the wavy pattern which you see when you cut the pieces. The cherries sink into the dough while it’s baking and create waves like the Danube river – Donau in German.

As a child, I used to have quite a healthy appetite, but sometimes I pushed my borders. I could easily eat five or six pieces of cake, especially when I tried to keep up with my well built male cousins. Of course, there were many days I had to suffer afterwards but it was all forgotten by the next family feast.

It’s been more than twenty years since my granny passed away and I never baked this cake myself. I kept the recipe safe and waited. But then, when my Maltese mother Jenny visited us last week, I thought about a special German sweet to treat her to. My granny Lisa’s Donauwelle was the first one that came into my mind and it felt like the right time to finally give it a try. I was a bit nervous so I called my sister to get some more detailed instructions. After a few adjustments and improvisations on the recipe (we forgot to use the fifth egg as it rolled behind the toaster but we didn’t miss it in the final result), we had this luscious family classic on our table. It tasted like my granny’s and brought back sweet memories of her in the kitchen, of her cherry tree in her garden and the perfect times I used to spend at her house.

The cake is traditionally completely covered in chocolate decorated with a wavy pattern, my granny made it this way too. I find the bittersweet taste too overpowering so I went for a lighter chocolate sprinkle. I also only used half of the butter for the buttercream, it made it less dense and heavy.

We were all quite impressed with the result and savoured it for days. On the second and third day, we thought it was best but the chocolate wasn’t as pretty any more, but who cares! What can I say, food is like music, it saves memories for the rest of our life so that we can recall them at any time, I love that!





For a 24 x 30cm / 10 x 12″ baking dish you need

sour cherries (preserved) 300g / 10.5 ounces
bittersweet chocolate 100g / 3.5 ounces, for the topping
butter 1 tablespoon, for the topping


For the marble cake

butter, at room temperature, 275g / 10 ounces
sugar 275g / 10 ounces
the seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod
organic eggs 4
milk 175ml / 6 ounces
plain flour 400g / 14 ounces
baking powder 1 package (4 teaspoons)
a pinch of salt
dark cocoa powder 2 heaped tablespoons

Set the oven to 180°C / 355°F (fan-assisted oven) and line the baking dish with parchment paper.

Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and continue beating for a few minutes until thick, creamy and light yellow. Combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Fold the dry ingredients and the milk with a wooden spoon gently into the butter egg mixture, alternating, about 1/3 at a time.  Divide the dough in half between two bowls and stir the cocoa powder into one of them.

Scrape the light dough into the baking dish, even it out and put the dark one on top. Spread the cherries on top, one by one, and push them lightly into the dough. Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cake is done. Check with a skewer, it should come out clean. Let the cake cool completely.


For the German buttercream

All ingredients for the buttercream must be at the same temperature (room temperature) to combine well!

butter 125g / 4.5 ounces
organic egg yolks 4
cornstarch 60g / 2 ounces
sugar 120g / 4.5 ounces
milk 500ml / 17 ounces
a pinch of salt
vanilla pod, slit slightly, 1

Beat the soft butter for 5 minutes until white and fluffy.

Whisk the egg yolks with the cornstarch, sugar, salt and 50ml / 2 ounces of the milk until well combined.

In a sauce pan, bring the remaining milk with the vanilla pod to the boil. Take the vanilla pod out and scrape the seeds out of the bean into the milk. Add the egg mixture to the hot milk, whisking well. Take the sauce pan off the heat after 1 minute and continue whisking for 2 minutes until stiff. Fill into a bowl and cover the pudding’s surface with cling film.

When the vanilla pudding has cooled off completely, press it through a sieve and mix it in batches with the beaten butter, first with a spoon and then with your mixer for a few seconds until nice and creamy.


The Donauwelle

For the topping, melt the chocolate and butter and let it cool a little.

Spread the buttercream on top of the cake and decorate with the melted chocolate.