The August 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.
Thank goodness for the Daring Bakers because who else would encourage you to face your fears and re-encounter past demons? This month’s challenge was a little more special to me as it was co-hosted by Australia’s own Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella. And yes, of course us close knit of Sydney daring bakers were relentless in pressing her and trying to guess what she chose but being the proper host, she kept her lips sealed. Now Lorraine is a formidable baker who’d relish challenging the Daring Bakers and my fear was a crazy layered torte of some kind (imagining Lorraine’s evil cackling).
Dobos Torte, a Hungarian beauty of a cake but one that has scarred me from making it again due to an unpleasant first experience more than a decade ago. It involved at least 6 layers, chocolate buttercream and caramel. Let’s just say it was one hell of a messy afternoon. Now in 2009, I’m older and wiser and of course, I like to think my kitchen skills have improved drastically.
It’s now my time to redeem myself.
The Dobos Torte is essentially a multi-layered sponge cake that’s filled with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel-covered cake wedges. It was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos and it’s a classic favourite in the cake world much in the same vein as a Sacher Torte. It is sublime mostly due to the heavenly, creamy concoction that is buttercream…I could seriously eat this stuff with a spoon.
7 layers in total: beautiful to look at, tedious to make!
Some quick notes – I only made half a portion and this gave a small round cake which was much easier to layer, ice and caramelise. I found the sponge quite soft and incredibly airy (the offcuts proved quite delish to nibble on). Instead of baking separate layers I made one large sheet and used a large round cookie cutter to cut out the circles (you can only do this with a half portion – otherwise you need to bake a slab twice).
Apologies also for the photos. This had to be a late-night job so this is about as sexy as night photos can get. I wish my kitchen had 24 hours sunlight!
But thank goodness that this experience was totally on the opposite side of the stress spectrum. Sure there were tedious moments (damn you caramel, my arch nemesis!) but it was a far cry from the Dobos tragedy of 13 years ago.
I have been redeemed.
Ingredients (full portion)
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar, divided
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
pinch of salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower) – for greasing the spatula
a 7” cardboard round
12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts
NB. The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.
1. Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).
2. Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9″ (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn’t touch the cake batter).
3. Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner’s (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don’t have a mixer.)
4. In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner’s (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.
5. Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack.
When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8″ springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)
My Notes: Since I was doing a mini torte, I simply baked a half portion in a thin level slab then use a round cookie cutter to cut out my cake layers. If the cake layers are a bit sticky to handle, dust over with icing sugar. This will also make it easier to cut out the cake rounds. Best to assemble the cake immediately as it was even more sticky after it was stored in the fridge.
NB. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.
1. Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
3. Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
4. Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
5. When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.
Lorraine’s note: If you’re in Winter just now your butter might not soften enough at room temperature, which leads to lumps forming in the buttercream. Male sure the butter is of a very soft texture I.e. running a knife through it will provide little resistance, before you try to beat it into the chocolate mixture. Also, if you beat the butter in while the chocolate mixture is hot you’ll end up with more of a ganache than a buttercream!
My Notes: I thought the amount of chocolate was too little as the mixture was too light. I melted in more chocolate until it got to a darker colour. Unfortunately I forgot that it would lighten further once you whip the butter in. In the end, I thought the buttercream wasn’t very chocolatey but delicious all the same. As for the butter, it needs to be soft. To tell if it’s ready, you should be able to make a dent with your finger without having to press too hard (but it can’t be too melted). An electric mixer is also essential I think to whip the butter and achieve a fluffy consistency.
1. Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2. Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
3. The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn’t just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer.
You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.
Angela’s note: I recommend cutting, rather than scoring, the cake layer into wedges before covering in caramel (reform them into a round). If you have an 8” silicon round form, then I highly recommend placing the wedges in that for easy removal later and it also ensures that the caramel stays on the cake layer. Once set, use a very sharp knife to separate the wedges.
1. Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2. Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
3. Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
4. Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.
I decide to cover the cake with walnuts (it was an excuse to use it up) but it was delicious. I also used macadamia halves rather than hazelnuts to prop the caramel pieces. Because I did a mini torte, I decided against the wedges and just made caramel hearts.
I (Angela) am quite happy to store this cake at room temperature under a glass dome, but your mileage may vary. If you do decide to chill it, then I would advise also using a glass dome if you have done. I should also note that the cake will cut more cleanly when chilled.
Shape: The traditional shape of a Dobos Torta is a circular cake, but you can vary the shape and size if you want. Sherry Yard in Desserts By The Yard makes a skyscraper Dobos by cutting a full-size cake into four wedges and stacking them to create a tall, sail-shaped cake. Mini Dobos would be very cute, and you could perch a little disc of caramel on top.
Flavour: While we both love the dark chocolate buttercream and this is traditional, we think it would be fun to see what fun buttercreams you all come up with! So, go wild! Or, you could brush each layer with a flavoured syrup if you just want a hint of a second flavour. Cointreau syrup would be divine!
Nuts: These are optional for decoration, so no worries if you’re allergic to them. If you don’t like hazelnuts, then substitute for another variety that you like.
The cooking process for the buttercream will produce lightly cooked eggs. If you fall into a vulnerable health group then you may wish to use an egg-less buttercream.