Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dobos Torte - Daring Bakers Challenge

Since I almost never bake cakes, almost every cake I do make involves some kind of first for me. The Dobos Torte gave me my first experience with a layer cake (and my first experience making sponge cake), and though I envisioned all sorts of things going wrong - layers sliding off each other, a cake leaning perilously to one side - the cake-making actually went fairly smoothly.

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.

The Dobos Torte is a layer cake that interleaves rounds of sponge cake with a rich chocolate buttercream, and tops it all with a layer of caramel wedges.

While the cake is quite impressive to look at, I found that in terms of taste, the easier an element was to make, the better it tasted! The chocolate buttercream was divine, and it was by far the simplest thing to make. The sponge cake, while not bad, didn't really stand out taste-wise, and it sure required a lot more work than the buttercream. Finally, the caramel, which required a fair bit of attention and cutlery skills, ended up being more spectacle than edible. A whole wedge was overwhelming in its sweetness and, perhaps more importantly, much too hard on the teeth! Most people tried a bite or two and then left their wedges to the side while they devoured the rest of the cake.

If I were to make this cake again, I would probably just forget about the caramel and cover the top with shaved almonds or hazelnuts. Actually, I think I would just make the buttercream and forget about everything else =)

Below is the recipe, with my notes in purple.


  • 2 baking sheets
  • 9” (23cm) springform tin and 8” cake tin, for templates
  • mixing bowls (1 medium, 1 large)
  • a sieve
  • a double boiler (a large saucepan plus a large heat-proof mixing bowl which fits snugly over the top of the pan)
  • a small saucepan
  • a whisk (you could use a balloon whisk for the entire cake, but an electric hand whisk or stand mixer will make life much easier)
  • metal offset spatula
  • sharp knife
  • a 7 1/2” cardboard cake round, or just build cake on the base of a sprinfrom tin.
  • piping bag and tip, optional

Prep times

  • Sponge layers 20 mins prep, 40 mins cooking total if baking each layer individually.
  • Buttercream: 20 mins cooking. Cooling time for buttercream: about 1 hour plus 10 minutes after this to beat and divide.
  • Caramel layer: 10-15 minutes.
  • Assembly of whole cake: 20 minutes

Sponge cake layers

  • 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

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 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 *I used Valrhona 70%, which is my favorite baking chocolate (also good just to eat by itself!)
  • 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping

  • 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)

Finishing touches

  • a 7” cardboard round
  • 12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted *Sadly, it is very difficult to find hazelnuts here, so I had to substitute filberts. I don't like their taste anywhere near as much, but since they serve more of a structural purpose here, I figured it was better than using a differently shaped nuts.
  • ½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts *Due to the above-mentioned scarcity of hazelnuts, I substituted slivered almonds.

Directions for the sponge layers:

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.)

A sponge layer

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:

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.

Chocolate buttercream

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!

Directions for the caramel topping:

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.

Caramel wedges

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.

Assembling the Dobos

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 had a bit of sponge and buttercream left over, so I made a mini-slice with 8 layers - easier than making a whole 8-layer cake!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fusilli estivi con pesto

This is a sort of take-off on caprese - the classic Italian salad of mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. Here the basil comes in the form of pesto, which is very useful if you have too much basil to make a normal caprese!

Though I had my own basil plant last summer, this summer I've been moving around/on vacation too much to deal with having plants, so I've just been buying basil at the farmer's markets each week. The only problem with this is that you can't buy basil in quantities smaller than a gigantic bunch, and of course basil only lasts for a few days, so you have to eat it quick!

Since I really can't eat that much basil on my own, I've just been using as much as I need and then turning the rest into pesto. This has led to a bevy of interesting pesto creations for dinner, and so far, this pasta is my favorite.

75 g. fusilli per person
A handful of cherry tomatoes
Ciliegini di mozzarella (the little cherry tomato-sized balls of mozzarella)
Kalamata olives (I added them to jazz things up, but if you want to keep it simple, they can easily be omitted)
A few basil leaves for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, and add the fusilli. Wash the basil, cherry tomatoes, and olives, and chop the cherry tomatoes into halves. Pit the olives, and chop them into halves.

When the pasta is done cooking, drain it, and run cold water over it to cool it. Drain again, and combine with the pesto, mixing well. Add the cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, and olives, and mix again.

Serve, adding the basil leaves on top.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Farfalle with watermelon

This pasta is certainly not traditional, but it is tasty and it's a great way to use up any extra watermelon you've got sitting around!

I read somewhere that you can use watermelon pretty much anywhere you would use tomato. While watermelon is clearly no tomato substitue, the idea of using watermelon in a savory dish intrigued me, and as I have a gigantic watermelon sitting in my fridge, now seemed like a good time to try it out!

I did use the watermelon pretty much as I would use cherry tomatoes, though I probably put more thought into the other elements of the dish that I would have if I were using tomatoes. I wanted to combine the watermelon with something salty to highlight its sweetness, so I chose black olives, which worked perfectly. I imagine feta would also be delicious here, but I'll have to try that one another time.

75 g. farfalle per person
1 large slice of watermelon per person
A handful of kalamata olives
Several leaves of basil
Olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and, in the meantime, cut the watermelon into small chunks. Rinse and pit the olives, slice them in half, and add them to the watermelon. Wash the basil leaves and chop them up.

When the water is boiling, add lots of salt, and then the farfalle. Let cook until al dente, drain, and run under cold water. Drain the farfalle again, and mix them with the watermelon, olives, and basil. Drizzle with olive oil, and add the pepper (I didn't add any more salt because I had used a lot when cooking the farfalle, but if you think the dish needs it, go ahead and add some more).

Serve immediately or after refrigerating - this is a great dish for a hot day!