During a recent visit of the 1000-year-old city of Leipzig, I stopped by a cafe one afternoon. When travelling, I enjoy giving unfamiliar delicacies a try. This time, I spotted a tray of unusual-looking pastries in the window of Cafe Kandler, located across from the St. Thomas church. Leipziger Lerchen (Leipzig Larks), the sign read. Of course, I had to try one.
Leipziger Lerche, Cafe Kandler © Photo by J. Elke Ertle
What is a Leipzig Lark?
At first glance, a Leipzig Lark vaguely resembles a cupcake, but it really is a marzipan-filled shortcrust tart. The small pastry is then topped with two crossed strips of dough. But it is the story behind this treat that intrigued me.
History of the Leipzig Lark
Larks, the songbirds, are 5-7 inches long and can be found across much of Europe. They are streaked brown above and pale below and have a short, blunt, erectile crest. They live in open habitats and sing in flight. In the 18th century, local Leipzig merchants hunted these little birds and sold them to the wealthy who plugged, roasted and ate them with herbs and eggs. Boxes of bird carcasses were also shipped around the continent, from Spain in the southwest to Moscow in the northeast. The Leipzig Lark quickly became a culinary specialty of the city and business boomed.
The practice of hunting for larks became so prominent that over 400,000 specimens were killed in one month – October 1720 – alone. Nature lovers began to condemn the practice and tried to stop it in order to preserve the species. It took more than 100 years, but aided by a devastating storm that killed thousands of the birds, nature lovers finally prevailed. In 1876, King Albert of Saxony forbade lark hunting. Business in Leipzig suffered. A substitute had to be found.
An astute baker saved the day when he created a sweet treat that was visually vaguely reminiscent of the stuffed bird. He came up with a marzipan-filled shortcrust tart, made from pastry dough and ground almonds. By placing two strips of dough across the top of the tart, he tried to simulate the string that tied the stuffed body of the lark together. At last, the baker placed a cherry inside the confection to represent the heart of the bird. And so, the Leipzig Lark was born. It quickly replaced the traditional meat delicacy in popularity.
Surprise your friends
It only takes about 30 minutes to create a handful of Leipzig Larks, using ordinary muffin cups. If you allow an additional hour to allow the batter to rest, voila, you have your own assortment of Leipzig Larks. For recipe suggestions, visit http://www.chefkoch.de/rezepte/537781150886330/Leipziger-Lerchen.html.
For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com.