Pull up a chair, this is going to take a while.
Okay, so, this is basically a layer cake just with lots of layers of frosting and cake. And then some decorative caramel candy stuff stuck on. That said, the process to making this thing is very involved, with a ton of steps, and after making it I can absolutely understand calling it something fancy like “torte.” After drudging through all this, I definitely would have been disappointed with just “cake.” I can also see why it’s under the “Special Occassion Cakes” section of the MSBH – you wouldn’t want to spend all this time and effort on just an everyday cake.
You start, however, with a pretty simple cake batter (flour, leavening, salt, sugar, milk).
You lighten (and futher leaven) the batter with eggs whites, beaten with sugar to soft peaks. I got a small bowl & whisk attachment for my standing mixer, as the regular bowl is too large to allow the mixer to adequately beat eggs whites. I’m really happy with it.
I used this smaller bowl and whisk to beat my egg whites.
This is gently folded into the cake batter.
And this batter is divided amongst three 8-inch cake pans and then the cakes are baked. I hated the smell of the cakes baking – extremely egg-y smelling, like tons and tons of eggs cooking in my house. I actually gagged several times. (These are my favorite cake pans and I prefer these cake liners.)
My cakes baked in a funky way, with super dark edges, so I had to trim them off.
Luckily, the baked cakes do not taste like cooked eggs – they have a very light, sweet, creamy flavor.
Then the three cakes are cut into three even layers (each). This can seem daunting but it’s not altogether difficult. The MSBH has good tips for doing this using a serrated knife and toothpicks. You can also use a “cake leveler” – a simple tool you can find at most craft or food stores.
This one is by Wilton and cost just a few bucks. It has a thin wire on a metal brace. The brace’s legs have notches so you can adjust the height of the wire (thus the thickness of the layer you’re slicing).
The theory is a lot like that behind the wires that are used to cut big hunks of cheese or sausage – you run the thin wire through the cake achieving a a smooth cut. I use a long, smooth, back-and-forth motion as I guide the leveler across the counter. Pretty easy!
The slices are fairly thin and (ideally) level.
In the end, you have nine layers of cake. I’ll say right here that it took four hours from the start of getting my ingredients together to the end of wrapping the sliced cake layers for assembly the next day. Some of that time (about an hour) is for baking and cooling and and cleaning, but my point is: this is a very labor-intensive recipe. You’re doing a lot a different steps, requiring major use of your standing mixer. (By the way, if you can do this with a hand-held mixer (or entirely by hand – no electric mixer!) then you are my hero and probably have extraordinary upper-body strength and a sense of determination unparalleled by others.)
So anyhow, I split the project up into two days – the cake day and then the frostings & decoration day.
On day two, I made the Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream which is a variation of the Swiss Meringue Buttercream. As with the base recipe, you start with egg whites and sugar cooked to 160°F in a double boiler.
I also used this time to melt some bittersweet chocolate for the frosting, also done with a double boiler.
The cooked egg white/sugar mixture is then beat (I used the same small bowl and whisk mentioned above) to stiff peaks.
Then a bunch of butter is gradually mixed in (I changed to the large bowl and paddle attachment at that point) and then the melted chocolate. The mixer beats it all into this gorgeous, creamy, fluffy, chocolate buttercream frosting.
Some unsweetened heavy cream is whipped (again, I used that small bowl and whisk attachment!) and folded in to some of the chocolate frosting. This will be the frosting between layers of cake.
And then it’s a matter of assembling the cake. A thin layer of cake is topped with a dollop of frosting and spread evenly. Repeat nine times.
Once you’re done with the layers, you apply a crumb coat of frosting and allow the cake to chill completely in the refrigerator. You may notice my cake leaves a lot to be desired in both balance and straightness. Welcome to my life in the world of cakes.
While the cake was chilling, I got together my stuff for the caramel dots and sticks that garnish the cake. (You can find SILPAT mats here.)
Long-time readers will be familiar with my troubles with caramel. Sadly, this post will offer no signs of improvement. I followed the directions precisely (and even avoided distraction by not taking pictures) but my caramel was a flop.
The recipe instructs to “immediately” remove the caramel from heat when turns “light golden around the edges, about 8 minutes.” I so did exactly this! It was both “lightly golden” and “8 minutes” had passed! And then I did everything else the recipe instructed, but my caramel was nowhere near as dark as that in the MSBH’s photos and my resulting dots and sticks look really anemic and awful. Not to mention looking not much like dots and sticks.
I then finished frosting the cake with the remaining frosting.
At this point you are instructed to decorate the top and sides of the cake with the caramel dots and sticks. This would make it so hard to slice, however! Right? Seemed fairly ridiculous, although presentation-over-practicality seems par for the course in the land of Dobos Tortes.
I opted to place the caramel garnishes on after slicing. And finally, I was done.
The second day took me another good four hours, so all-told this recipe is an eight-hour affair unless you’re very organized and a pro at assembling and frosting cakes (admittedly, I am a bit of a lagger in this area). Eight hours for a cake? It looks pretty and tastes good, but I don’t know if it’s that good.
You don’t really taste the cake at all – it’s completely drowned out by the frosting. That’s alright though, it’s damn fine frosting! But I think you could use a much easier cake recipe with less steps and the end result would be fine. The frosting is well-worth the effort; I don’t think you could achieve the same soft, fluffy texture and pure-chocolate flavor with anything other than a swiss meringue.
The caramel dots and sticks are a total pass for me – even if they had turned out darker and more caramel-y, and even though they are traditional for the Dobos Torte, I would have been happier with dark chocolate discs and sticks or something like that.
It would take me several tries to get a torte that looks as perfect as the one featured in Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. It’s truly is something to behold. Mine definitely looks… amateurish in comparison, to say the least!
But overall, delicious!