Emilia’s Kranz for Hans


Emilia’s Kranz for Hans

When the meticulous 98-year-old Barbara asked her to help bake a Frankfurter crown cake and an apple tart for her family doctor, EMILIA SMUTS knew what was coming.


I WAS busy in the rock garden, or rather struggling in the rock garden. It was mid-morning and I was hot and sweaty, in the face and elsewhere. I saw something out of the corner of my eye and looked up. A wrinkled face with piercing blue eyes looked at me. Closely, appraising, as if she was looking for something.

I recognised her: I had often seen her walking by with her cane. In the mornings around 6.30, when I opened the front door to let in the morning coolness, she would walk past; measured but brisk, obviously on her way somewhere.

I wiped the sweat from my forehead with a dirty hand and kindly but firmly asked what she was looking at.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

“I see you are creating a rock garden. You have to ask me to show you, I'm good with rock gardens, I've made many in my life.

A bit of a German accent, with a touch of the schoolteacher's voice. She paid scant attention to the slight irritation in my voice. “Look, there you have put the plants in the wrong place; they won't make it. You need to use a wider variety of plants and you need to show off the stones better. I will bring you some cuttings."

Had it not been for the offer of cuttings, I would have been annoyed. But I replied: “Okay! You are welcome to come and work in my garden.”

Barbara reported on the morning we had agreed upon. I hired two gardeners who could move heavy stones. But she stood bent over all morning, and with her 93-year-old body she ran rings around me and my two men. My plea for a soft drink at 11 o'clock was dismissed. And yes, the rock garden undeniably looked better than my best efforts.

Thus began the friendship with Barbara Wildner. Over the years, I got to know her and her mannerisms well. Most of them stem from the fact that she is German. Echt deutsch. She is blindly loyal to her ancestors' country of origin and unwaveringly believes in alle deutsche Dinge. “You know, the pastries of the Germans and the Austrians are the best in the world!" And so are their cars. And their roads. And their technology. And their… you get the picture.

But she is also correct, hardworking and generous, she speaks her mind, and she can hang in there. When I got to know her, she was retired from her job in the diplomatic service and lived alone in her apartment, a stone's throw up the street.

For decades, Barbara baked 12 types of German Christmas cookies in her tiny kitchen every year. Then she would wrap and distribute them to family, friends, the postman, the janitor, the hairdresser and doctor, the priest and nuns and everyone who had shown her a kindness during the year. And then there was her famous German apple tart, of which she baked hundreds. You only had to look at her bleary-eyed to get an apple tart.

A year or so ago, Hans Woermann, her (German) family doctor, insisted that she move to a retirement place where she could have help if she needed it. That meant Barbara lost her kitchen. It was difficult for her, but she adjusted quite easily. She now inspects Vredehoek's gardens with her cane. At the age of 98.

I don't see Barbara that often any more. A while ago, during a visit, she expressed the wish to bake a cake for Hans's birthday. Not just any cake, a Frankfurter Krantz, because “it may be the last time". (Because you see, Barbara has been dying from cancer for years — as soon as she gets a cancer brave enough to take her on.) And as a casual aside, “also an apple tart for the staff at the practice".

I knew what was coming, but I agreed. And I started scrambling: pans as specified, ingredients as instructed and precisely measured, nothing more and nothing less. The cakes were baked on time, but then the book with the recipe for the German cream garnish disappeared; just like her dentures that she accidentally flushed down the toilet one night and found somewhere else in the bathroom two weeks after the new ones were fitted.

It became a race against the clock, because Hans's birthday was the next day and candle power was looming. Eventually, her cousin tracked down the book and forwarded the recipe. We struggled, but managed, and Barbara was even in time for dinner. I saw her off with the same feeling in my heart as the first time I met her: slightly annoyed, but still…

Barbara Wildner (top, left) and Emilia Smuts crafting the apple tart.
Barbara Wildner (top, left) and Emilia Smuts crafting the apple tart.

Barbara’s apple tart

Barbara doubles the recipe for the crust and keeps the rest in the fridge for when she urgently needs a tart later. You never know when someone's subsea pipeline is going to blow up and they might need a tart for comfort.

For the tart crust:

  • 100 g flour
  • 50 g corn flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 little packet of vanilla sugar (available at German stores), or 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 50 g sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • ½ tsp fine cinnamon
  • 80 g cold butter or margarine, diced
  • 1 jumbo egg or two small ones, whisked


  1. Sift the dry ingredients together, rub in the butter or margarine to form coarse crumbs, then mix in the egg. Use a food processor if you want to.
  2. Roll the dough into a ball and leave to rest for half an hour or longer in a cool place.
  3. Line a greased and floured springform pan (about 22cm in diameter) with the dough and about halfway up the sides, but not too thick.

For the filling:

Barbara uses Granny Smith apples, which keep their shape during baking. Pink Lady is also a good choice. She prefers to cook the apples until they are slightly soft in ¼ cup water, a cinnamon stick, lemon peel strips and 3 tbsp sugar and drain overnight in a sieve before use.

I mix 1 kg of apples, peeled, cut into wedges and halved, and flavoured with sugar, lemon juice and zest and a little fine cinnamon until the sugar is melted; drain it and use it raw in the pie crust.

Pack the apple pieces into the pie base and cover it with this crumb topping:

  • 65 g cold butter, grated
  • 45 g sugar, white or brown
  • 60 g flour
  • ½ tsp cinnamon


  1. Mix the ingredients together until coarse crumbs form. Pour about half over the apples, or as much as you like. Keep leftover topping in the fridge.
  2. Bake the tart for an hour in a medium oven at around 165ºC, until it is nicely browned and the apples are soft. 

Barbara's oven was still calibrated in Fahrenheit and, moreover, the heat knob's markings had long since disappeared. Barbara's eyesight is also not what it used to be. Especially in the last years, her tarts were sometimes perfect, sometimes too dark and sometimes too light. But they were always baked with great love and servitude.

The Frankfurter Kranz in the making.
The Frankfurter Kranz in the making.

Frankfurter Kranz

This Frankfurt crown cake is decadent and delicious. It's a butter cake, filled with raspberry jam, covered with a butter cream and almond crunch and crowned with cherries.

For the cake:

  • 300 g butter or margarine
  • 300 g sugar
  • 1 packet vanilla sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tbsp rum
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 225 g each flour and corn flour
  • 22 ml baking powder


  1. Thoroughly prepare the ring pan (25 cm in diameter). Cream the butter and add the sugar little by little.
  2. Then add the salt, eggs, rum, lemon juice and zest and beat thoroughly.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Sift together the rest of the dry ingredients and mix spoonfuls into the butter mixture.
  4. Scoop the batter into the cake pan and bake on low in the oven for about 45 minutes or until done.
  5. Let stand in the pan for 10 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely.

In the meantime, make the almond crunch:

  • 20 g butter
  • 200 g sugar
  • 150 g peeled almonds, finely chopped


  1. Melt the butter in a non-stick pan, add the sugar and heat to melt the sugar completely to a light caramel colour. Do not stir, but tilt the pan to mix.
  2. Add the almonds and stir until they have a lovely golden brown colour. Watch out, it's blazing hot!
  3. Turn out onto a silicone sheet, quickly flatten and cool until hard. Chop finely.

By the way, broken into pieces, the crunch in itself is a nice sweet snack with coffee.

For the buttercream icing:

  • 200 g butter
  • 200 g sifted icing sugar, split in half
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten until frothy
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp liqueur – Barbara insists on Cointreau (even though it is not German) or strong coffee
  1. Cream the butter very well and add spoonfuls of one half of the icing sugar.
  2. Mix the rest of the icing sugar with the beaten egg yolk and add to the butter mixture.
  3. Whisk in the lemon juice and liqueur or coffee little by little.

To garnish the cake:  

  • 1 little jar of raspberry jam
  • 12 cherries


  1. Cut the cake into three layers and spread the jam on each layer. Barbara also spreads a little of the buttercream on top of the jam.
  2. Place the cake on the plate on which it will be served, spread with the buttercream, but keep about 100 ml aside to hold the cherries in place.
  3. Now cover the entire cake with the crunchies — it's a sticky job, but keep at it!
  4. Pipe 12 icing roses on top and finish with 12 cherries.
Francois Smuts, Emilia's husband, obviously enjoyed the Frankfurter Kranz.
Francois Smuts, Emilia's husband, obviously enjoyed the Frankfurter Kranz.

The Krantz must stand for a day before it is eaten. After the delivery, Hans confessed it had been his birthday cake of choice since childhood and that his mother baked it every year. But, he says, “it's not a Sunday afternoon project". I completely agree!

As often in the past, I wanted to take offence at Barbara's baking efforts, because she is a strict taskmaster and  drove me crazy with the whole business.

Until I reconsidered and realised how much pleasure it gives her to give something she made with her own hands to the people around her. Perhaps this is the secret of her long life: walking briskly, working hard and giving generously. 

♦ VWB ♦

BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Speech Bubbles

To comment on this article, register (it's fast and free) or log in.

First read Vrye Weekblad's Comment Policy before commenting.