Dobos Torte

When I married, Mr. Photographer gave me a Hungarian last name. I don’t speak a word in Hungarian, and I suspect I never will, because from what I know, Hungarian is one of the hardest languages to master. Hungarians are dynamic, cheerful folks, they make great wine, and bake spectacular cakes. Even though Dobosh Torte is Hungarian in origin (it was invented in the 1800s by a confectioner Joszef Dobos after whom it is named) it is well known in the neighboring countries and you can find it in cake shops in Prague, Vienna, and my hometown, Bratislava.

Dobos Torte is basically a multi-layered vanilla sponge cake, filled with chocolate buttercream. Top layer is traditionally coated with a shiny caramel glaze. Although baking it it’s not hard, the process has a lot of steps and it’s time – consuming. The cake layers need to be baked individually so they are as uniform in thickness as possible, and are then layered with buttercream and finished with a thin caramel layer on top.

All in all, baking the cake ate away a substantial part of my Saturday. Mr. Photographer left to take pictures of something else than my creations, the boys each had their program as well, and I had an afternoon for myself. I briefly considered going shopping, and spent even less time pondering the possibility of cleaning the house. As you can see, at the end the vacuum stayed in the closet,  I took out whisks and spatulas, and had a wild one person party in the kitchen. When Mr. Photographer came home, everything in sight was covered in sticky caramel: the counters and stove, my shirt, I even had some in my hair. But the cake was almost done and the buttercream was divine, the best chocolate buttercream I’ve ever made.

As I suspected, the biggest challenge proved to be the caramel layer. I adore caramel in any shape and form, but it can be a little temperamental, and this case was no exception. To make the caramel layer on the top cake round, you need to work quickly, because caramel hardens extremely fast: First you have to spread the hot caramel onto the cake layer, then, while it’s still gummy, cut only the caramel layer into slices, and when it’s cooled a bit, cut the entire caramel cake layer into triangles. If you wait too long, the caramel will be hard to cut through and will shatter.

I decorated the sides with chocolate covered almonds, because I had them on hand and they look pretty in the pictures, but they’re not part of the traditional Dobos Torte recipe. If you’re unsure about the caramel, please don’t let that stop you from making the cake: simple chocolate glaze in its place would work just as well; in fact, many confectioners don’t bother with caramel glaze these days and use chocolate instead.

I am very excited about this recipe; so much so that I’ll definitely look around for more recipes for Hungarian sweets. Who knows, I might even take up Hungarian after all; being able to go through old cookbooks and look for recipes for delicacies such as this one is pretty powerful motivation!

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Dobos Torte

Each of the six sponge cake layers:
  • 1 egg, divided
  • 20 g (¾ oz.) white sugar
  • 30 g (1 oz.) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • pinch salt
Chocolate Buttercream:
  • 220 g (7 ¾ oz.) eggs, beaten (about 4 eggs)
  • 220 g (7 ¾ oz.) white sugar
  • 35 g (1 ¼ oz.) cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 70 g (2.5 oz.) dark cocoa powder
  • 280 g (10 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
Top Caramel Layer:
  • 150 g (5 oz.) white sugar
  •  ¼ cup water

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Method:
  1. Make the Vanilla Sponge Cake layers: Preheat the oven to 200 °C (390 °F). On each of the six sheets of parchment paper, draw a circle around a 26 cm (10 inch) round cake pan.
  2. Start beating the egg white with pinch of salt, gradually add sugar. Whisk until stiff peaks form. Carefully mix in the egg yolk, and lastly add the flour and combine.
  3. Spread the batter in a thin layer on one of the circles drawn on the parchment. Bake for about 10 minutes; invert on a cooling rack and carefully remove the parchment paper. Let cool.
  4. Prepare the other five cake layers in a same way.
  5. For the Chocolate Buttercream, place the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and cornstarch into a small deeper pan. Carefully heat the mixture over a water bath, whisking constantly, until it thickens. (Do not boil, or you’ll end up with sweet scrambled eggs.)
  6. Transfer the thickened egg mixture into a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whisk, and whisk the crème until it cools.
  7. In the meantime, beat together butter and cocoa until light and fluffy. Gradually add the cooled vanilla egg crème, one tablespoon at a time, and combine into light chocolate buttercream. Set the buttercream aside.
  8. To assemble the Torte: Take one of the cake layers, and with a tip of the knife, gently draw lines on, as if dividing the circle into 16 triangles. This will be your top layer. Set the cake aside.
  9. Place one cake layer on a plate and spread it with 1/6 of the buttercream. Layer the five sponge cake circles and the buttercream on top of each other, and spread the rest of the buttercream on the top and the sides of the torte. Refrigerate the Torte while you make the top caramel layer.
  10. Make the Caramel: In a non-stick pan, combine sugar and water. Let the mixture cook, until the water evaporates and the sugar turns light golden brown. Do not stir; if you feel you need to, just gently swirl the sugar syrup in the pan. Watch the caramel closely so it doesn’t burn.
  11. While the sugar syrup is cooking, lightly butter three long knives you’ll be using to cut the caramel. Set aside.
  12. When the caramel is ready, quickly pour it over the reserved top cake layer and spread it thinly. Through the caramel, you should see the lines drawn on the cake. Wait a minute till the caramel becomes gummy, and cut it quickly with the buttered knife into 16 triangles, cutting only through the caramel, but not the cake. The caramel will stick to the knife, so you will need to change the knives often. Let the caramel harden (it only takes a moment), and cut the triangles all the way through.
  13. Place the caramel triangles on the torte and refrigerate until serving.
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