What dessert originated in Europe as a Christmas holiday treat but is most known, baked and eaten in Japan?
This cake’s characteristic rings, which appear when sliced, resemble crosscut tree rings, and give the cake its German name, baumkuchen, which literally translates to ‘tree cake’.
Baumkuchen‘s exact origins are not entirely clear. One theory is that it was created in the German town of Salzwedel, a history the town itself popularizes, and has been made there for over 200 years. Another theory suggests it began as a Hungarian wedding cake, which derives from the oldest Hungarian pastry kürtőskalács/chimney cake. In Ein New Kochbuch/A New Cookbook, the first cookbook written for professional chefs by Marx Rumpolt, a chef himself, there is a recipe for baumkuchen. This publication puts the origin of baumkuchen as far back as 1581, the year the cookbook was first published.
Aside from its more recent history, baumkuchen can trace its roots back to ancient Greece and then Rome, with the Romans bringing the recipe for baking cakes on logs over an open fire to modern day Germany and the surrounding regions with their conquest of Northern Europe.
Traditionally, baumkuchen is made on a spit by brushing on even layers of batter and then rotating the spit around a heat source. Each layer is allowed to brown before a new layer of batter is poured. When the cake is removed and sliced, each layer is divided from the next by a golden line, resembling the growth rings on a crosscut tree. A typical baumkuchen is made up of 15 to 20 layers of batter. However, the layering process for making baumkuchen can continue until the cakes are quite large. Skilled pastry chefs have been known to create cakes with 25 layers and weighing over 100 pounds. When cooked on a spit, it is not uncommon for a finished baumkuchen to be 3 to 4 feet tall.
Baumkuchen is one of the most popular pastries in Japan, where it is called ba’a.mu.kū.hen
(バームクーヘン). It is a popular return present in Japan for wedding guests because of its usual ring shape. It was first introduced to Japan by the German, Karl Juchheim. Juchheim was in the Chinese city of Tsingtao during World War I when Britain and Japan laid siege to Tsingtao. He and his wife were interned at Okinawa. Juchheim started making and selling the traditional confection at a German exhibition in Hiroshima in 1919. After the war, he chose to remain in Japan. Continued success allowed him to move to Yokohama and open a bakery-store, but its destruction in the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake caused him to move his operations to Kobe, where he stayed until the end of World War II. Some years later, his wife returned to help a Japanese company open a chain of bakeries under the Juchheim name that further helped spread baumkuchen‘s popularity in Japan and is still in operation.
Baumkuchen ingredients are typically flour, sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla and salt. Baking powder is not considered a traditional ingredient. The ratio of flour, butter and eggs is typically 1:1:2 respectively (i.e., 100 grams/3.5 wt.oz. of flour, 100 grams/3.5 wt.oz of butter, and 200 grams/7 wt.oz of eggs). The recipe can be varied by adding other ingredients, such as ground nuts, honey, marzipan, nougat and vanilla/rum/brandy to the batter or filling. Additionally, baumkuchen may be covered with sugar or chocolate glaze. With some recipes, the fully baked and cooled baumkuchen is first coated with marmalade or jam, and then covered with chocolate.
Schichttorte, a simpler, horizontally layered version of the cake also exists. It is baked without a spit and thus does not have circular rings but horizontal layers. This horizontally layered version results in a baumkuchen that is more like a conventional cake in shape. It can also be baked in a conventional household oven that has a broiler inside, whereas the traditional spit version requires special equipment normally not available in an average household. However, unlike the spit variant, the schichttorte cross section is less reminiscent of tree rings.
Spekkoek, also called Spiku in some cities in Indonesia, or more popularly called lapis legit in Indonesia is a Dutch-Indonesian layered cake. It was developed during colonial times in the Dutch East Indies and may have been based on Dutch cake recipes using local ingredients. The cake is the Indo (Dutch-Indonesian) version of Baumkuchen and contains a popular mix of spices of cinnamon, clove, mace and anise.
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Baumkuchen, Schichttorte Style
Recipe by: Fae’s Twist & Tango (fae-magazine.com)
Known as “Der Konig der Kuchen”/The King of Cakes in Germany, baumkuchen is a very special cake and is also used as the symbol of the German Confectionery Association.
This recipe is for Schichttorte style, only way possible to make at homes. Much patience is required in the baking of this layered cake as each layer is baked separately in a rather time-consuming and labor-intensive process, which makes it even more special. When more confident, for the next step, filling it with jam and/or covering with glaze gives further satisfaction.
More than ever, I am convinced, weighing (and not by measuring cups) dry ingredients is crucial to baking successfully. Weight ounce/gram measurements are key for baking this cake.
Check cup to grams chart.
• 6 oz (170 g) almonds or hazelnuts, very finely ground (this will make a moist cake).
If store bought marzipan is used, if it contains sugar, adjust the amount of granulated sugar accordingly.
• 1¼ cup (160 g) all-purpose unbleached flour
• ½ cup (64 g) cornstarch
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1/8 tsp salt
• 1½ cup (300 g) granulated sugar
• 11 Tbsp (155 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
• 10 large eggs (570 g/1¼lb with shells) room temperature – 1 whole & 9 separated
• 2½ tsp vanilla
Additional tools needed for baking:
heat-safe kitchen mittens — a pitcher or ladle to pour the batter
a manual timer — a toothpick — a spoon — a sharp, small knife
◊ Have all your ingredients measured, at room temperature, and handy — ‘mise en place‘!
◊ Slightly spray 9”/23 cm round by 1.5”/4 cm deep non-stick cake pan (or spring form pan) with non-stick spray and line with parchment paper cut to size.
◊ In a food processor, ground almonds very finely. Add flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, and process very finely.
◊ Place the oven rack 1/3 the space from the broiler (no less than 6″/15 cm from the broiler), and preheat the oven on broiler.
◊ Beat sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the one whole egg, all egg yolks, vanilla, and beat well, until creamy smooth.
◊ While still beating, sprinkle dry ingredients, little at a time, until smooth, soft batter.
◊ In a separate bowl, with clean beater, beat egg whites until very stiff.
◊ Fold in egg-white, one-fourth at a time, into the batter, gently into a foamy batter.
◊ Position a rack in the top shelf of the oven and turn on the broiler.
*From this point on, no phones, no texting and no distractions! Full attention is needed. Baking/browning can take place very quickly, each 3 seconds is the difference between a perfect finish or burning!
◊ Pour about 6~7 Tbsp of batter, a thin covering into cake pan (not too thin, it will make a dry cake).
◊ Place in oven, turn on timer for 1:30 ~ 2 minutes and bake until very light brown.
*Although for baking you need to be attentive, when pan is out of oven for the next layer to be poured, take time and pay due diligence — pour thin layer of batter, holding pan with mittens, rotate to have very even spread.
* Oven may be opened slightly to observe/check baking. If bubbles are forming, bring pan out, poke bubbles with toothpick, press bubbles gently with back of a spoon to let air out, and put back in oven.
* If any over-done spot occurs, scrape with tip of knife. It will be mended with the the next layer.
◊ Repeat baking the layers until all the batter is gone. Baking part for this cake took 60 minutes for 10 layers.
◊ When the cake is done, still in its pan, put a sheet of paper-towel over it and cover with wrap/foil tightly and put in refrigerator for at 1~2 hours. This process will keep moisture in the cake.
◊ When fully chilled, if needed, run a knife (use plastic knife, not to scratch the pan) gently along sides of the pan.
◊ Placing a plate over the pan, invert cake onto a plate, remove parchment paper and place serving plate over the cake and invert onto serving plate. At this point, if needed, using sharp edge of a small knife, scrape off any burs, baked spills or imperfections.
◊ Cake is ready to be glazed or decorated. Otherwise, cut in desired shapes and serve.
~ Guten Appetit! ~
So, what’s cooking in your kitchen?