Heidi Diehl’s Hinterkopf Geburtstagskuchen (Birthday Cake)

Heidi Diehl’s Hinterkopf Geburtstagskuchen (Birthday Cake)




In Lifelines, Louise falls in love with German drummer Dieter Hinterkopf when she travels from  Oregon to Düsseldorf to study art in 1971. The Hinterkopf Geburtstagskuchen is Dieter’s family‘s traditional birthday cake.

Louise’s mother-in-law, Hannelore, instructs Louise to make the cake for her Dieter, part of the complicated family history that Hannelore shares.

The preparation includes an unusual step: the cake is layered with currant jelly and left to sit somewhere cool, which makes it dense and sweet. Louise also learns about a more controversial tradition: she hears murmuring in the family that the cake is only made for men.

The Geburtstagskuchen appears at different points in the novel’s timeline; while some traditions endure and others change, the cake is always served with meringue.

This recipe is from my family; my great-grandmother, who lived in Germany, used to mail the birthday cake (without the meringue) to my grandfather, who had immigrated to the United States. The slow postal journey gave the cake the required time to sit.

Heidi Diehl’s Website


Heidi Diehl’s Hinterkopf Geburtstagskuchen (Birthday Cake)

Prep Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 10-12 servings

Serving Size: 1 7-8 inch cake

Author Heidi Diehl shares a book club recipe for her great-grandmother’s Hinterkopf Geburtstagskuchen, a jelly layered cake covered with meringue that appears in her novel, LIFELINES.


For the cake:

½ pound (1 cup) unsalted butter

½ cup sugar

3 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3½ cups all purpose flour

12-16 ounces red currant jelly

For the meringue:

3 large egg whites

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

6 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Make the cake: With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix well. Add flour and mix until combined. Gather dough in a ball, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat oven to a moderate temperature, 325°-350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove dough from refrigerator and cut into 6 sections. Flour two sheets of wax paper big enough to place a 7- to 8-inch plate upside down.

Roll out each dough section between the sheets. Remove the top sheet of wax paper, and place the plate on the dough. With a sharp knife cut a circle using the plate as a guide. Use the bottom sheet of wax paper to transfer the round to the baking sheet.

Bake the rounds two at a time until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Watch carefully so they don’t burn.

Remove from oven, cool slightly, then lift one round to an ovenproof plate or small baking sheet. Using a broad flat knife or a large spatula, spread the layer with currant jelly and carefully place a second round on top. Continue with the next rounds but do not spread jelly on the last one. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few days to allow the jelly to penetrate the layers (see note).

Make meringue and bake cake: Heat the oven to 275°F.

With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed. When they begin to get foamy, add the cream of tartar. Continue beating until the whites are fluffy (when you lift the beater, they should just hold their shape). Add the sugar, a few tablespoons at a time and beat at medium speed until combined. Add the vanilla. Continue beating until the mixture is smooth and glossy and is able to form stiff peaks.

Remove cake from the refrigerator. With a spatula, spread the meringue all over the cake. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the meringue is set and any peaks are lightly browned. Cool and transfer to a serving plate.


The layers are really like big, thin cookies—it is not a “cakey” cake the way Americans would think of cake.

This cake tastes even more delicious if left to sit for a few days after baking, so that the currant jelly saturates the cake layers. You can refrigerate the cake, as the recipe suggests, or as in LIFELINES, leave it in a cool basement. Add the meringue just before you’re ready to serve.

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