Baumkuchen (Tree Cake)
Here’s a little known fact – I lived in Germany as a child. In Munich to be precise. This was a long time ago, but there are things that stay with you – memories of tastes, sounds and sights, right? This Baumkuchen brings back vivid memories for me – the tastes of marzipan, chocolate, and the subtle sweetness of the cake – not overpowering or in your face like traditional American desserts. (not that I don’t LOOOOVE an overpowering crazy American dessert – I’m all for those too!) It’s great with a cup of coffee or to impress a dinner party. It doesn’t take a lot of honed skill, just time and patience and a vigilance with the oven. Join me!
Making a Baumkuchen – where to begin
Well, like every good baker, I looked to my friend Google. Of course I searched for “Baumkuchen recipes” and I got a whole lot of recipes that showed up. How to decide what is the best one? Well, the fun of baking off the internet is that you can try all sorts of things – but my real litmus test is whether or not the instructions look helpful, if the source is reliable, and if the pictures are nice! I did a bunch of looking and found one by Jamie Oliver, who I am very familiar with and trust.
Now, also in keeping with the way I tend to roll, I was not planning ahead to make this cake – it was a spur of the moment decision… so, of course I didn’t have every exact ingredient on his list in the amounts he prescribed. No worries – I just made this recipe my own with a few adjustments.
Fake it until you make it
One of my biggest pet peeves with baking or following recipes is that the ingredients tend to call for packages that leave extra bits left over. I hate that – firstly because then I have to STORE the extra left over bits, and sometimes I don’t have plans for exotic ingredients (like a whole bottle of rosewater after I use a few drops..what am I going to do with the rest??), and secondly because that meant I needed to buy more than I needed, and I hate that too.
I have adjusted this recipe so that there is little waste – you’ll be able to use packages in their entirety, if you have access to the same ingredients I do.
For one, I adjusted the marzipan to accommodate an 8oz package that I can get from the Solo brand:
To adjust for the difference in Jamie’s recipe, I have added a bit more sugar so that the cake is still sweet enough. I felt that there was plenty of almond flavor with this 8 oz of almond paste.
For the glaze, I chose to use two 4 oz bars of chocolate – it’s what I had on hand, and it was the perfect amount. Now I don’t have random, foil-wrapped pieces of baking chocolate hanging around, waiting to get lost amongst all the other leftover baking tidbits!
Making the cake
You will need a springform pan (ideally 9″), parchment paper, 2 pastry brushes and an oven with a broiler. (You can see my easy instructions on how to make parchment circles in any size here).
I won’t go over every single instruction that is in the recipe below, but suffice to say – it takes a bit of adjusting to how your oven works to determine how long each layer will be. The best advice I can give you is NOT to stop watching the layers as they bake. They say a watched pot never boils, but I can tell you that a NOT-WATCHED cake layer WILL burn under the broiler.
If you have a convection oven like me, I might advise that you use the non-fan option for broiling, just so that the layers get a chance to bake a bit before they brown too much.
Another tidbit of advice – put one hand in an oven mitt, and keep it there – and then leave the other hand free to dump batter and use the pastry brush – and try not to mix those hands up! Your hand with the batter and the brush will get messy and the hand with the oven mitt is important because the pan is always hot…that way, you’re not getting batter on your oven mitt, although you are likely to get batter on the handle of your oven door if you’re anything like me!
After about an hour of layering and baking, the cake was done and I had to let it cool (DAMMIT). I did hurry it along by putting the cake tin in the freezer for about 30 minutes, just to get the cooling process started, and then moved it to the refrigerator.
The waiting is the hardest part
I hate cooling cakes. I hate waiting. I am not patient. Ooooh – shiny! (see why?)
I waited as long as I could until I took the cake out of the fridge and glazed it with the chocolate. I made a little silly decoration with a fork, but it actually looked nice – even my daughter said “oooh, it’s so beautiful!”. 10 year olds know stuff.
I put it back in the fridge to harden (you HAVE to do this, I’m sorry) and then it was finally time to cut it. I advise you also to heat up a knife with hot water before cutting it if you don’t want the top chocolate to break and chip – but that’s only if you’re trying to make things extra pretty – it has zero to do with how wonderful this tastes!
Eat and enjoy!
Now it is time to eat this yummy cake. The beauty of it is that it fits with almost any occasion – simple enough for a family dinner dessert, fancy enough to impress, and light enough on the sweetness to eat for tea time or breakfast with a cuppa.
I hope you try it – and send me a picture when you do!