I would generally consider myself a meticulous person.
I prefer to weigh ingredients over measuring them with cups and spoons (which is ironic considering that I always share my recipes in cups and teaspoons, I know. But I acknowledge that most people prefer to bake sans kitchen scale, so I try to convert my recipes based on reader preferences. You’re welcome.)
I always read through a recipe several times before starting a baking project.
You could relive an entire day of my life just by referencing my Google calendar.
I make detailed mental notes about dietary preferences when I meet someone for the first time so that I can tailor any future food-related activities to that individual (which is thoughtful and in no way creepy).
You can see why it pains me to say that I completely overlooked a major detail in making this cake.
Let me preface this story by saying that one of my life mottos is “In Smitten Kitchen I trust.” Deb has never steered me wrong. I’ve made hundreds of recipes from her blog, and I’ve never been disappointed. The woman just gets me. She shares amazing recipes that are well-written and easy to follow, and they always produce dishes that everyone is more than happy to eat.
I’ve had her recipe for a dobos torte saved for years. So when I needed a birthday celebration cake for this week, I knew this was the one I had to make.
I read through the recipe multiple times, gathered my supplies, and dove in.
And then weird things started happening.
Like my cake layers were freakishly thin and looked more like crepes than Deb’s fluffy yellow layers. And I had trouble spreading the batter in the pan without creating holes in it. And my cakes baked way faster than hers did. And once I stacked and filled all of the layers, my cake was still shorter than hers. And why did it seem like I didn’t have enough chocolate frosting?
So I re-read the recipe. Again. And then I broke out my measuring tape. And only then did I realize that I was using half-sheet pans, assuming that they were quarter-sheet pans (like hers).
And that’s how I ended up with a 16-layer cake instead of the traditional seven that is the dobos torte.
Yup. A whole nine extra layers.
Trust me when I say that the layers of my cake are THIN. Like, hold them up to a light and you can see right through them thin.
The cool thing about this cake is that legit pastry chefs enjoy challenging themselves to make their layers as thin as they can bake them. I wish I could say that that’s the reason my cake has so many layers, but it just happens to be a happy coincidence.
So. All of that to say that this cake doesn’t have to be as daunting as it looks. If you go with the traditional seven layers, this torte really is a piece of cake to make.
Or if you’re up for a challenge, then try to beat my sixteen layers.
Either way, the prize is this incredibly rich and decadent cake that everyone should try at least once in their life. So it really is a win all around.
Recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen
Start to finish: 3 hours
*Note: I made my cake with 16 layers by using four half-sheet pans and cutting each cake into four pieces. For a more traditional cake, you can make seven 9-inch round layers or six 4 x 8.5-inch rectangular layers (use two half-sheet pans and cut each cake into three pieces).
For the cake
7 large eggs, separated
3 large egg yolks
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dusting racks
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon table salt
For the chocolate frosting
1/2 pound semi- or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
For the caramel layer
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
Handful of toasted, peeled hazelnuts
Assemble the cake pans you will need by lining the bottom of each with a sheet of fitted parchment paper. Butter and flour the parchment and sides of the pan. Tap out excess flour.
For the cake
Preheat oven to 450°F and place a rack in the center of your oven. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat 10 egg yolks for a few minutes at high speed, until pale and lemon-colored. Reduce speed and gradually add sugar, then increase the speed and beat the yolks and sugar until thick and glossy. Scrape bowl occasionally with rubber spatula. Reduce speed again and gradually add flour and salt; increase speed mix for 5 minutes more, then mix in lemon juice. Scrape bowl again with a rubber spatula.
In a separate bowl, beat the 7 egg whites with a whisk attachment until they hold stiff peaks.
Stir a few spoonfuls of the whites into the yolk mixture to loosen it a bit, then fold in the rest of the whites in three additions. When you’re done, you should have a spreadable, foamy batter.
Spread your batter in prepared pans. Try to push the batter rather than pull it with an offset spatula. Spread the batter evenly to the edges with an offset spatula; be careful not to leave any holes.
Bake each layer for 5 minutes, or until golden with some dark brown spots. Thicker layers may take up to 2 additional minutes. (Mine were done in 4). When layer is baked, remove it from the oven and flip it out onto a cooling rack that has been dusted with a small amount of confectioners’ sugar. Carefully, gently remove parchment paper then flip cake back onto another lightly dusted cooling rack to finish cooling. It’s best to cool the layers right side up; the tops are the stickiest part. Since I own exactly one cooling rack (how is that even possible, I know), I flipped my cakes from the pan to the cooling rack, then flipped them from the cooling rack to a piece of parchment paper on my table. This worked well for my paper-thin cakes, as they cooled in just a few minutes. If you are making thicker cakes, and you, too, only own one cooling rack, I would strongly recommend borrowing another from a friend for this project. Or just buying a second rack, as I should clearly do.
Repeat with remaining layers. Layers will cool very quickly. Trim edges of cake, if needed, to make even shapes or divide larger rectangular pans accordingly.
For the chocolate frosting
Melt chocolate until smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter until soft and smooth, scraping frequently. Add vanilla and 3 egg yolks. Add sugar and cooled chocolate, beating until thoroughly mixed and scraping as needed.
To assemble the cake
Place four strips of parchment or waxed paper around the outer edges of your cake plate. Place first cake layer on plate and spread chocolate on top and to edges with an offset spatula. The filling must be spread fairly thinly to have enough for all layers and the outsides of the cake. Repeat with remaining layers (or all layers except one, if you’d like to do a decorative caramel layer), stacking cake as evenly as possible. Once fully stacked and filled, you can trim the edges again so that they’re even.
Spread chocolate on outside of cake in a thin coat, just to cover and adhere the crumbs to the cake. Place cake in fridge for 30 minutes (or freezer for 5 minutes) to set the chocolate. Spread chocolate more thickly and smoothly to make a final exterior coat of frosting. Remove paper strips.
For the caramel layer
Lightly grease a sheet of parchment paper. Place last cake layer on this sheet. Lightly oil a large chef’s knife (if cutting layer into 16 traditional wedges) or sharp cookie cutter of your choice and set aside.
Combine the sugar and water in a small, heavy saucepan and swirl it until the sugar melts and begins to turn a pale amber color.
Quickly and carefully, pour this over the prepared cake layer and spread it evenly with an offset spatula, right over the outer edges. Using prepared knife or cutter, quickly cut layer as you wish. Leave in place, then cool completely.
Once fully cooled, cut edges of shapes again, to ensure that you can remove them cleanly. Arrange caramel pieces or wedges over cake, propping them up decoratively with hazelnuts.
Chill cake until needed.
Cake can be make several days in advance and should easily keep up to a week after being cut.