custom cakes/cookies

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dobos Torta

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

So, what is the Dobos Torta?

The word 'dobos' means 'like a drum' in Hungarian. However, this cake is named after its creator. This rich torte is made by stacking 7-9 extra-thin layers of GÉNOISE (or sponge cake) spread with chocolate buttercream. The top is covered with a hard caramel glaze. A classic Viennese layer cake.

One of the great "fad" desserts of the 19th century, the Dobos torta or torte (sometimes Anglicized as "Dobosh") was invented by the famous Hungarian confectioner Jozsef C. Dobos in 1884. Dobos owned a well-renowned shop in Budapest that specialized in gourmet foods at a time when shipping food over distance was usually unreliable. His shop routinely featured as many as sixty imported cheeses, as well as foreign wines, breads, and occasionally cakes. His high profile often took him to international food exhibitions, so that he became, for his time, what we would think of as the equivalent of a superstar TV chef/food impresario. The fame of the torte to which Dobos gave his name was probably at least partly due to its extravagant use of chocolate buttercream, at a time when most cakes were iced or filled with cooked creams, whipped creams, or custards.

Dobos had brought the buttercream recipe back with him from one of his many exploratory journeys -- in this case, a trip to France -- and shortly thereafter introduced the cake at the National General Exhibition of Budapest in 1885, as well as featuring it in his shop. Due to all this publicity (for it became a favorite of the Emperor and Empress of Austro-Hungary), people in cities across Europe began clamoring for it, but Dobos refused to license out the recipe. Instead. Dobos developed a special container in which it could be safely shipped, and "the cake with the secret recipe" soon started appearing in all the great European capitals. In fact, Dobos actually toured with the cake, personally introducing it in city after city, until the early 1900's, when he retired. He then gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners' and Gingerbread Makers' Chamber of Industry, on the condition that all members should be able to use the recipe freely.

So here it freely is for you to try too...

Sponge cake layers
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 ⅓ cups confectioner's sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour
pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream

I added hazelnut paste to the buttercream to really amp up the flavor, for this cake became a birthday treat for a friend that adores hazelnuts.

4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup superfine sugar
4oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
⅓ cup hazelnut paste
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Caramel topping

1 cup superfine sugar
12 tablespoons water
8 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

Finishing touches

7” cardboard round
12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
½ cup peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

Directions for the sponge layers:

1. Position the racks in the top and center thirds of the oven and heat to 400F.
2. Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9" cake pan as a template and a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over so that the ink doesn't touch the cake batter.
3. Beat the egg yolks, ⅔ cup of the confectioner's sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes.
4. In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining ⅔ cup of confectioner's sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about ¼ of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in;
repeat with the remaining flour.
5. Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper.
Using a small offset spatula, spread about ¾ cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the center and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking
sheets. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six (or possibly more) layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8" cake pan as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round.

Directions for the chocolate hazelnut buttercream:

1. Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about 5 minutes.
3. Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
4. Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
5. When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. Add hazelnut spread and continue to beat. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Directions for the caramel topping:

1. Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a 8-9” silicone cake pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Cut the reserved cake layer into 12 equal wedges. Reform into a circle and place on the paper. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2. Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel. This could take some time, be vigilantly patient.
3. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until set, about a minute or so. Using a sharp, hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

Assembling the Dobos

1. Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with additional cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
2. Press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
3. Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavor.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Paella, My Way

The August Daring Cooks Challenge was hosted by Olga from Las Cosas de Olga and Olga’s Recipes. She chose a dish from José Andrés, a renowned Spanish chef who trained under Ferran Adria at his three Michelin star restaurant El Bulli. José now lives in Washington DC where he owns several restaurants. I’ve been most fortunate to dine at Jaleo, Zaytinya and Oyamel, and at each had a satisfyingly memorable and unique meal.

The paella-like recipe Olga selected is from José’s TV show Made in Spain. Of course, being the cook that I am, I made my own modifications. Namely, I eliminated the cuttlefish. I made paella my way…finally. This was a long time coming. More than several years ago, fresh off the plane on my first trip to Europe, sitting in an outdoor café in Madrid, I ordered paella. Be it youthful naivete or general stupid-Americanism, I tried to customize my order with the waiter in horribly broken Spanish. Really all I wanted was yellow rice, vegetables and beans, with NO fish! (Still working through this: I am squeamish about the fishy things of which traditional paella abounds.) He nodded in what I thought was understanding and promptly brought me the unedited version. Chagrinned and not knowing enough Spanish to protest, I picked around the shells and fishy bits and swallowed politely. Oh well, I was hungry.

For my version, cuttlefish was substituted with potatoes that I purchased from a particularly proud farmer at the market. He gave me his recommendation on (in his opinion) the prettiest, brilliant red-skinned spuds. The gorgeous mushrooms in this dish were grown at Tantré Farms. As another ingredient note, I used Calasparra rice, a short-grain variety that is particularly suited for use in paella due to its capacity to absorb large amounts of broth while remaining firm. It really cooks up beautifully like plump little toothsome sponges brimming with saffron flavor! Unlike risotto, which also uses short-grain rice as a foundation, the preparation of paella requires minimal stirring and fretting. Try making it yourself. It really takes very little effort to prepare.

Ingredients (serves 4):

4 Artichokes (because of the season, I used a canned variety)

12 Mushrooms (button or Portobello)

1 or 2 Bay leaves

1 glass of white wine

4-6 red-skinned potatoes, medium-size dice

Sofregit (see recipe below)

2 cups short grain rice (Calasparra or Montsant are preferred, but you can choose any other short grain.

6 cups vegetable stock

1 pinch of saffron threads, crushed

Allioli (see recipe below)

  1. Add 1 or 2 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add the potatoes and cook stirring occasionally to prevent sticking to pan.
  2. Cut artichoke hearts into eighths. Clean the mushrooms and cut them into fourths. Add a bay leaf, artichokes, and mushrooms to the potatoes and sauté until potatoes are golden. Next pour in enough white wine to deglaze the pan and then add several tablespoons of sofregit, stirring to incorporate.
  3. Add the vegetable stock and bring it to boil. Stir in the rice. Let boil for about 5 minutes on heavy heat. Add saffron and stir once or twice to incorporate. Reduce heat to low and boil for another 8 minutes (or until rice is a little softer than “al dente”). Remove the pan from heat and let the rice stand a couple of minutes before serving with allioli.

Sofregit is a fragrant sauce made of olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and onions, and also sometimes includes different vegetables such as peppers or mushrooms.


2 Tbs of olive oil

5 big red ripe tomatoes, chopped

2 small onions, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

5 garlic cloves, chopped

1 Bay leaf

1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped


Touch of ground cumin

Put all the ingredients together in a large swallow pan and sauté slowly for about an hour until all vegetables are soft. Taste and salt as needed.

Allioli (Traditional recipe)


4 garlic cloves, peeled

Pinch of salt

Fresh lemon juice (several drops)

Extra-virgin Spanish olive oil

Finely mince the garlic along with the salt using the flat side of your knife to mash into a smooth paste. Add the lemon juice to the garlic and drop by drop slowly pour in the olive oil as you continue to crush the paste with your knife. It takes time—around 20 minutes— and a bit of patience to create a dense, rich sauce the consistency of a very thick mayonnaise.