I’m cutting through a slice of Black Forest Cake at Swiss Pastry Shop in Fort Worth, running my fork through the confection’s crispy, crackly layers of golden baked meringue, which are slathered with sweet whipped cream and heavily garnished with dark chocolate shavings and sprinkles. The highly praised pastry—made with egg whites, sugar, and crushed almonds—is, without question, the most well-known and beloved dessert in Fort Worth. It has served as the concluding course of countless luncheons, birthday parties, baby showers, and holiday dinners for decades.
“Meringue desserts have always been really popular in Switzerland,” owner Hans Peter Muller tells me as we sit on red vinyl chairs at one of the restaurant’s four-top tables. He’s the jovial son of the late Swiss baker Hans Muller, who founded the landmark bakery 42 years ago.
I remember my mother requesting the popular pastry for her birthday, and topping one with candles for my own on multiple occasions. As I grew older, we’d indulge in a slice with hot coffee after Christmas dinner, if she had put her order in on time. Muller says that the restaurant’s Black Forest Cake accounts for 35 percent of his total sales. Come Thanksgiving, most of Swiss Pastry Shop’s tables will be filled with boxed orders ready for pickup. “Sometimes there’s no room for anybody to eat,” Muller jokes.
These days, the success of his dad’s Black Forest Cake allows Muller to explore his own culinary passion: smoking brisket on “Q-Zilla,” his giant offset smoker. A second-generation pastry chef who doubles as a barbecue pit master is a rare find, yet Muller says baking and barbecuing are more similar than most realize.
“I really respect the experienced barbecue guys in Texas,” he admits. “I have a lot in common with them. They’re the ones who have to get up early in the morning like I do. There’s a lengthy process involved in what we do.”
Swiss Pastry’s Black Forest Cake is the most well-known dessert in Fort Worth.
Muller’s barbecue has breathed new life into the wood-paneled institution, where sheer curtains with eyelet cutouts still hang from the windows. A young, hip generation of diners now intermingles with the longtime, silver-haired regulars, and they’re here not only for classics like the Black Forest Cake, but also for newer menu items like Muller’s Fort Worth Cheese Steak. Comprised of thinly sliced rib-eye smoked over pecan wood and smothered in white queso with diced Hatch chiles, the rich and smoky sandwich is served on a house-made sesame-seed bun. Others swear allegiance to the Smoking Cuban sandwich, for which Muller again calls on Q-Zilla for pecan-smoked pork loin. Then there’s a lengthy menu of prime Wagyu beef burgers, which range from the Dirty Redneck, a half-pound patty piled high with cheddar cheese, grilled onions, applewood bacon, and juicy smoked brisket, to the “eieiO,” which comes with a plump egg cooked over-easy.
Muller also frequently dreams up off-menu specials, like the recent Texas burger, which featured ingredients from around the state, including cheese from Veldhuizen Family Farm in Dublin and South Texas onions sautéed in Llano Estacado Riesling.
Muller’s smart use of social media illustrates his quick wit and self-deprecating sense of humor. (“Only 2 days left of vacation unless someone wants to buy a bakery,” he recently tweeted.)
“The Fort Worth Cheese Steak and burgers have drawn in a younger crowd,” Muller says. “But I don’t want to do anything to run off the people who’ve been coming in here for 40 years. We’ll keep the chicken salad, turkey-salad sandwiches, and Reubens.”
And he won’t change a thing with the Black Forest Cake. I’m finishing my serving now, searching for more crunchy bits of meringue amid the small mound of whipped cream that’s left on the plate. Although Muller tells me the chocolate éclairs, cream-filled Napoleons, and strawberry tarts are among the storied desserts they’ve offered since the bakery’s beginning, and that he takes real pride in his meringue pies, it’s the Black Forest Cake that pulls at customers’ heartstrings. Just ask anybody in Fort Worth.