Another month, another challenge courtesy of the Daring Bakers!
The January 2014 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Francijn of “Koken in de Brouwerij“. She challenged us all to bake layered cakes in the tradition of Baumkuchen (tree cake) and Schichttorte (layered cake).
The cake itself is a sponge cake and the technique in play is the multiple, thin layers baked one on top of the other, creating striations in the finished cake as each layer is allowed to brown. The sample recipe we were given used crumbled marzipan, but since we don’t really do a lot of nuts in our home, I substituted light brown sugar with a bit of almond extract for that line, and (of course) used my usual Low-FODMAP baking blend for the little bit of flour called for in the recipe (again, being a sponge-cake, most of the structure is coming from the whipped egg whites, not the gluten in wheat flour).
The procedure called for spreading 1/10th to 1/12th of the batter per layer so I tried to figure out what exactly that would be, measurement-wise. Since I had right around 8 cups of egg whites after beating to stiff peaks, and the butter and yolk mixture came to approximately 2 cups, I figured with the inevitable loss of air folding them together would bring, I’d still end up around the 8-cup mark, so 2/3 cup per layer should get me to the 10-12 layer mark, right?
Not so much. I ended up with 6 layers (and I could stand to practice keeping them even) and instead of the 4 minutes each layer was expected to take to bake at 450 degrees F, they took 8 minutes each. At first I thought maybe they’d start cooking quicker once the first few layers were in place–after all, that insulated surface should speed things up, right? By the end of the third layer, though, I realized we were just going to stick out the 8-minute shifts so adjusted my timer accordingly.
Once a bit cool, it was time to glaze the cake. The sample recipe called for apricot preserves, heated, sieved, and mixed with a bit of orange liqueur, but I had a better idea. In part because apricots are High-FODMAP and in part because I had 12 mini-jars of Champagne jelly sitting around that never fully set (making them Champagne sauce, instead), I popped open on of those jars and skipped the heating, sieving, and mixing and just brushed it straight on. (But just to be safe I dunked one of the trimmed sides into the sauce to make sure the two components would mesh well–they definitely did!)
The final step was to mix up a chocolate coating from melted bittersweet chocolate chips and a bit of coconut oil and pour/spread it on. And then it got to sit for a night, as the recipe assured us that it was better if given a day to rest.
Before our gaming group arrived, I divided the small cake into 12 thin bars and set them out prettily. When it’s cut, it looks a lot like the 12-layer cakes you see at bake sales (at least here in the south) but without frosting between each this layer. The strata give it the appearance of wood grain, which is where the idea of “tree cake” comes from–the original Baumkuchen were cooked in successive layers on a spit, creating concentric rings. I don’t have one to try it on, but I wonder if a counter-top rotisserie grill would do the trick in that instance?!
The process was a little tedious by the end–being tied to the oven for over an hour got a little old after the first few layers, but I did read through a couple magazines that had been piling up, so it wasn’t a total loss of time. Some of the participants made their schichttortes using the broiler to quick-cook mini-layers in cupcake pans–I think I’d have to employ a piping bag to make that slightly more manageable, as well as adding a filling layer somewhere in the middle. Still, it was fun to try (which is the whole point) and certainly didn’t go to waste on our guests.
Perhaps the most surprising thing was the richness of the cooked cake–sponge cakes can be very dry and this one definitely doesn’t fit the bill. It was very moist, my almond extract & brown sugar substitution seemed to do the trick, and the bottom layer cooked into a sturdy crust but didn’t burn (thankfully). And even though the cake was small to start with, a twelfth was more than enough for a serving.