Check out the layers on this torte. The outside may look like an unassuming (delicious, but unassuming) chocolate cake, but once you cut into it, you see layer after layer of delicate genoise sponge cake sandwiched between rich chocolate frosting. If you want to impress your guests with your baking prowess, I think this will do it.
It’s Sunday, which means that I’m sharing a recipe from my grandmother’s Anniversary Slovak-American Cookbook. I’ve been doing this for a few months now, and I thought I’d marked most of the recipes I really wanted to try. But then I found an entire section on tortes that was tucked away from the rest of the cakes, and I had to immediately scrap my plans and make this dobos torte. It really gives you an idea of how many amazing desserts are packed into this book that I missed an entire dessert category on my first few dozen passes through it. This dobos torte is a traditional Hungarian recipe, with light layers of sponge cake and chocolate buttercream all topped with caramel. I’ve been baking enough recently that I felt like I could tackle it, and I think that, if you have a couple of hours and the desire to make a show-stopping, many-layered confection, you can too.
This torte has three components: genoise cake, chocolate buttercream frosting, and a caramel topping. The combination of the light cake, rich frosting, and crunchy sweet caramel is a perfect combination for holiday baking. It takes a little extra time and effort, but for a special occasion it really is an impressive dessert. I made the cake layers first, then made the buttercream and caramel while they cooled.
This cake batter is a genoise sponge, which means that the only leavening ingredient is whipped eggs. After separating six room-temperature eggs (put them in a bowl and cover them with warm water for a few minutes if you don’t have time to let them rest at room temperature), beat the egg whites until they’re stiff and shiny and set them aside. Beat the egg yolks until they’re light and creamy, then gradually add in the sugar and one tablespoon of lemon juice. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch and salt, and then add half to the egg yolk mixture, switching to a rubber spatula to gently fold it in. Add another tablespoon of lemon juice. Then, alternate adding small amounts of the egg whites and the rest of the flour, gently folding them in until no white streaks remain. It’s important not to overwork the batter so that the sponge stays light and airy.
To get all of those layers, we’re going to be baking very thin amounts of batter, one layer at a time, in a springform pan. Butter the pan and then line it with a circle of parchment paper, and fill it with about five tablespoons of batter, or enough to cover the entire surface of the pan. Bake it for five to six minutes, until the cake is lightly golden brown. Release the pan, peel out the layer with the parchment paper, and set it aside on a cooling rack. You can either peel off the parchment paper and re-use it, or you can start with a fresh circle. Repeat the baking process until you have seven layers of cake (eight if you’re using a smaller 8″ springform pan; I only have the 9″ variety).
While the cake layers cool, make the chocolate buttercream. Heat the chocolate in a large bowl over boiling water, then stir in the egg yolks, sugar and cream. Cook it, stirring constantly, for about five minutes, until it is thick and smooth. Beat the butter with a hand mixer (or a stand mixer if you feel like it), then add it a little bit at a time to the chocolate, while beating the mixture with the handheld mixer. By the end you will have a fluffy chocolate buttercream.
Finally, it’s time to make the caramel. This is dead simple, as long as you don’t mind having to soak a small saucepan afterward, since some of the caramel will stick to the bottom (don’t worry, it washes out once it soaks). Put 3/4 of a cup of powdered sugar in a small sauce pan and set it over low heat. Let it start to warm up, then start whisking constantly. Eventually science will work its magic and the sugar will turn into a caramel liquid.
Now it’s time to act fast: place one of the cake layers on a sheet of parchment paper and quickly pour the caramel over it. It will cool and harden quickly, and you can use this as the top layer and decoration for the cake. I didn’t have quite enough caramel to cover an entire layer, so I decided to break it up into a (hopefully) interesting geometric pattern and scatter it on top. If you want that clean circle on top, then heat 1 cup of powdered sugar instead of the 3/4 cup.
To assemble the torte, place one of the cake layers onto your cake stand. Slide strips of parchment paper under the edges to catch any stray frosting for easy clean up. Spread about a quarter cup of frosting over the layer and smooth it out with an offset spatula. Place another cake layer on top and keep repeating, covering the last layer with chocolate. To frost the sides (this is optional – you could go for the naked cake look and add a little more frosting between each layer), place frosting around the sides of the cake with the spatula, then smooth it with a bench scraper, taking off any excess frosting from the bench scraper if it accumulates. You’ll probably have some extra frosting push up on top; smooth this over the top with the offset spatula. Place the caramel-covered cake pieces on top, remove the parchment paper strips, and serve.
- 6 eggs, separated
- 1¼ cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ¾ cup sifted pastry flour
- ¼ cup cornstrach
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces unsweetened chocolate
- 4 egg yolks
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- 1¼ cup unsalted butter
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Butter an 8" or 9" springform pan and line it with parchment paper. Note: you will get one more cake layer if using an 8" pan.
- In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with a handheld mixture until they form stiff peaks and are glossy. Set aside and clean the mixer blades.
- In a large bowl and using a handheld mixer, beat the egg yolks until creamy and light. Gradually add the sugar, beating well after each addition. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice with the last bit of sugar.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cornstarch and salt. Add half of this mixture to the egg yolk mixture, stirring gently with a rubber spatula until blended. Add the second tablespoon of lemon juice and gently fold in.
- Add in about a cup of the egg whites (eyeballing it is fine) and gently fold them in. Alternate with the flour, adding a little at a time and stirring gently until no white streaks remain.
- Spoon enough of the batter into the springform pan to cover the bottom with a thin layer of batter. This took me between four and five tablespoons of batter. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes, until the cake is very lightly browned. Release the pan and remove the cake, placing it on a cooling rack. You can reuse the same piece of parchment paper or, if it has a lot of crumbs attached, you can flip it over or start fresh with a new round of paper. Repeat the baking process until you are out of batter. I used a 9" pan and got seven layers of cake.
- Coarsely chop the chocolate. Place it in a large heat-proof bowl and set this over a saucepan on medium-high heat filled with an inch or two of boiling water. Melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally.
- Gently beat the egg yolks, then add the cream and sugar. Add this mixture to the melted chocolate and cook it for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly until the mixture is thick and smooth.
- In a separate bowl, beat the butter with a handheld mixture until creamy and light, then add this to the chocolate mixture a little at a time, beating continuously until blended. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
- Place the powdered sugar in a small saucepan over low heat. Let the mixture heat up, then stir constantly until the sugar liquifies and becomes a light caramel color. Immediately pour this over one of the cake layers. You can either place this entire layer on top of the assembled cake, or break it into pieces and create a geometric pattern.
- Place strips of parchment paper around the edges of one of the cake layers on a cake stand. Spread about a quarter cup of the chocolate frosting over the layer and spread with an offset spatula. Place another layer of cake on top, then spread it with frosting, repeating with the remaining layers and ending with a layer of chocolate frosting.
- Using the offset spatula, spread a few tablespoons of frosting onto the side of the cake, and repeat until you have frosting around the cake. Use a bench scraper to smooth it, removing excess frosting with the spatula. Smooth the top and edges of the cake with the offset spatula.
- Place the caramel-covered cake (in pieces or as a whole round) on top of the last layer of frosting and serve.