As distinctive as a rehrücken is, there isn’t much history associated with it. Or at least not much that I was able to find. My assumption was that it was Austrian, however one source I came across claimed that it hails from Swabia in extreme southern Germany. I found nothing at all to back that claim up, so I turned to the ever-valuable Jim Chevalier for help. His search turned up roughly what mine did, save for some interesting detail about some of the cakes that were once made in the “rehrücken style.” Notably a thing called Brown Almond Torte, which shows striking similarities to the recipe I’m working with this week:
Brown almond tart a la Rehruchen, Rubbing 14 decagrams Chocolate, leave it a little to chill, soften the rest with some 14 decagrams of butter and knead this with 6 yolks and 14 decagrams of sugar with lemon peel. Then add 14 decagrams of sliced almonds. Beat the white and put in 7 decagrams of bread or kipfel crumbs with rum, moistened with cream. Bake this in a buttered and floured venison mold. Put apricot sauce in the hollows and cover the whole with Chocolate Icing, stirred with egg white and chopped Lemon zest, and a partly white icing like “cream slip” on it. Sprinkle it, while it is still moist, boiled in sugar water, with oblong-cut lemon peel and [stained the back of it peppered with such sliced thick stistelig], with a bit of sugar toasted almonds.
– Katharina Prato Scheiger, Die süddeutsche küche auf ihrem gegenwärtigen standpunkte, 1890
Bread crumbs seem to be a recurring ingredient in rehrücken cakes both prior to and after the turn of the last century. Indeed Jim found references to Brown Almond Torte going back as far as 1816 in France, though they omit the chocolate for obvious reasons (bar chocolate didn’t come along until 1830 and didn’t become popular as a confection until after 1875). So it seems that historically, rehrücken was a crumb cake and not a spongecake. These days it’s just about anything anyone cares to make in a mold of that shape, though chocolate cake is probably the most common.
As for where rehrücken originated, my guess is still Austria. My evidence is scant, save for something anecdotal that happened when Mrs. Pastry took the cake over to the U of L modern languages department and gave a piece to an administrator from Germany. The woman didn’t recognize it, but also speculated that it was Austrian in origin. “What makes you say that?” Mrs. Pastry asked. The reply: “Because of all the jam. Those Austrians just love to put that stuff in cakes.”
Good enough for me!