Peach cake gives the summer its sweetest taste

JACQUES KELLY

August 06, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Peach and cake -- two words that can stir the taste buds of an old-fashioned Baltimorean in August.

Ah, peach cake. That simple confection made of fresh, juicy, unpeeled peach quarters on a bed of yeast-raised, sweet dough. It brings back memories of German grandmothers' kitchens and German bakers' shops. There's many a person who waited in line in the afternoon for a slab of this summertime confection. There are those who consider it the greatest Baltimore dessert of them all.

Years after Silber's, Glaser's, Gerstung's, Heying's and Doebereiner's bakeries went out of business, their former customers still rhapsodize over the merits of their remembered peach cakes.

Why the fuss? Maybe because classic peach cake is only good in part of July, all of August and maybe the first 10 days of September.

"It's the passport that brings people in these doors. It really does," said Walter Uebersax, owner and master baker of the Fenwick Bakery in the 7200 block of Harford Road, between the Parkville and Hamilton neighborhoods.

His rowhouse-wide establishment, known to those with a taste for classic, non-pretentious Baltimore baking, is usually packed with customers. It's not unusual to see the line of customers extend out the door.

The same peach-cake mania keeps the customers coming back to the Woodlea Bakery at Belair Road and Woodlea Avenue in Gardenville, another flour-and-sugar landmark in Northeast Baltimore.

"We are very proud of peach cake and the way we make it. The peaches have got to be ripe, with their skins left on," said Charles Hergenroeder Jr., the third generation of his family to work at the Woodlea.

Yesterday morning, John Hergenroeder, his 84-year-old grandfather who founded the Woodlea Bakery in 1942, drove his 1970 Cadillac to Paw Paw, W. Va., to buy as many bushel baskets of peaches as he could load in the car.

"The peach cake I remember as a child was the plain type, just peaches and the bed of cake," said Dolores Hergenroeder Pomles, John Hergenroeder's daughter.

Her family has devised two basic varieties of the cake. One is a traditional sweet raised dough, the other a buttery, pastry dough, like a Danish bun.

If there is one component of the recipe that causes peach cake mavens to argue, it is the almighty glaze issue. Some bakers brush the peaches with a clear, golden yellow sugar-based glaze. Others do not. The Hergenroeders sell both kinds.

"Because appearance is so important in selling bakery products, we find that the glazed peach cakes outsell the non-glazed 10-to-1," said Charles Hergenroeder.

Not every baker agrees.

"There's no monkey business with glaze here," said the Fenwick Bakery's Uebersax. He's been making his peach cakes the same way since 1939 when he joined the family business that once stood on Fenwick Avenue near Clifton Park.

"We are very proud of our ability to serve peaches that are soft and ripe on the cake," he said. "Other people might make peach cake with frozen peaches. We don't get into that. We don't even make the cake until the peaches are ripe in the middle of July." Uebersax obtains his free-stone peaches from Blevin's Fruit Farm in Stewartstown, Pa., just north of the state line.

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