You know what I love?
When a cooking or baking challenge is something with which I am completely unfamiliar before reading the challenge.
And guess what?
That's what happened this month with the Daring Bakers' Challenge!
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 layered cake that inspired this challenge is not what most of us think of when we think "layer cake." I mean... when I think layer cake, I think a cake or two, or maybe even three, maybe each cut in half horizontally to make them thinner, with frosting between them.
That's not what this is.
This is a cake where all the layers are baked right on top of each other.
I'll show you.
First, a batter is prepared. Most baumkuchen cakes include marzipan and many, many eggs. With little man's allergies, I pretty much knew that there was no way to make this work for him, but, even so, I found a recipe (here) that didn't include marzipan (didn't want to take the nut-contamination risk). But, like the other recipes I'd found, it involved lots of bowls, separating eggs and careful measurement.
Once those egg whites were incorporated, the batter was then divided evenly in half. One half was flavored with a touch of vanilla extract, the other with cocoa powder.
And then it was time to bake! The batter was thicker than I'd expected, but bear with it - it'll work! I took about a quarter cup of the chocolate batter and spread it thinly on the bottom of my springform pan.
I used only enough batter to cover the pan - I wanted to stretch my batter to as many layers as possible!
The pan then goes into the oven. And since it's such a thin layer, it bakes quickly.
Four minutes later, I took this out.
And then we build.
Another quarter cup of batter, this time the vanilla one, scooped right on top of the baked chocolate layer. And because the cake is hot, it actually spreads very easily this time.
And so on and so on until all of the batter is used.
Alternating layers, I actually was proud to wind up with an even number of chocolate and vanilla layers.
The whole thing then has to cool completely. I didn't dare remove the springform pan's outer ring until the next morning.
Okay, didn't look too impressive straight out of the pan. But with this one, it's what's inside that counts.
But before we could get there, I had some decorating to do. I had a little bit of ganache leftover in the fridge, so I heated it a little big to a pourable consistency and used it to top my cake.
And then added some delicate candy peals to finish the look.
But it wasn't until our family dinner that night that we got to really see the results. As my father in law cut in the cake, I had my fingers crossed so tightly, just hoping that it worked.
And guess what??
But how did it taste?
Pretty good! The cake was a little dense, but definitely tasty. Next time I make it (I will try this again!!), I may use the broiler, cooking the cake only from the top, rather than the regular oven cycle, since the bottom layer, while not burned, was definitely cooked more than the higher layers (had a bit more of a cookie-like consistency than cake, if that makes sense).
Francijn, thank you so much for introducing me to this super fun cake. I can't wait to try this again. You were truly a wonderful, helpful and encoraging hostess!!
If you'd like to see the other amazing and impressive baumkuchens baked in the kitchen month, check them out here.
And to see the challenge as it was presented to us, with a more traditional and impressive recipe, check it out here.
(batter ingredients and preparation method from La Reposteria de Miguel, baking process from The Daring Bakers' Challenge)
250 grams butter
250 grams sugar
7 eggs, separated
150 grams flour (recipe calls for pastry flour, I used all purpose)
100 grams cornstarch
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Beat butter with sugar until doubled in volume and mixture becomes very light and fluffy.
Add the egg yolks, one at a time, to the butter and sugar mixture.
In a seperate bowl, beat the egg whites, with the salt, until stiff.
Slowly add the flour to the egg yolk, butter and sugar mixture until incorporated. Then fold in the stiffly-beaten egg whites, in two separate additions.
Divide the dough into two equal parts. Into one part, add the cocoa powder. Into the other, add the vanilla extract.
You are now ready to begin assembling and baking the cake.
Start with about 1/4 cup of one of the batters (I started with the chocolate batter) and spread it on the bottom of a 9 or 10 inch springform pan. The first layer is the toughest one to spread, and it will be a thin layer. This is okay. Use just enough batter to very thinly cover the bottom of the pan.
Bake this layer for 4 minutes (for me - watche it, though - if it starts to brown too much, pull it!).
Remove the pan from the oven and create a second layer, with your other batter (the vanilla) and spread it over the first layer. Since each layer is now hot from the oven, each subsequent layer will be much easier to spread.
Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 4 minutes (again, times may vary - keep an eye on it!).
Repeat this process, alternating batters, until all of the batter is used up, baking each layer for approximately four minutes and spreading a new layer on after each is cooked. I wound up with eight layers in a 10 inch springform pan.
Once your final layer is baked, allow the cake to cool completely.
I covered my completely cooled cake with ganache and decorated it with little candy pearls. The ganache is relatively traditional, but you can cover, frost or prepare the cake however you'd like.