With all the bûches de Noël I saw, made and ate last month, I almost forgot we Germans have a `log` cake as well: Baumkuchen, originally baked on a turning spit, owes its name to multiple layers of dough mimicking the year rings of a tree (Baum). Unlike the bûches, Baumkuchen is not exclusively related to Christmas, but was first baked in medieval times to be served at wealthy people´s weddings, a symbol of growth, life and prosperity.
To make this cake at home, all you need is your oven broiler, a little time to create layer by layer, and a wary eye to watch those layers as they brown. It´s a fun project for a cold day when a little extra heat is welcome (for you´ll have to open the oven door every few minutes), and with a little patience, you´ll end up with a beautifully layered, subtly rum flavored cake. Cutting it will always reveal some flaws, some layers not dark enough or uneven, some too thick or too thin – imperfections from a baker´s point of view, but then again not, see:
“Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down (….), one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured.” (excerpt from Hermann Hesse´s Betrachtungen/reflections on trees)
If a beautiful, pondering piece of poetry isn´t a good excuse, then I don´t know.
May this New year be a happy, healthy, and prosperous one for each and every one of you!
Baumkuchen – “Tree cake”:
125 g flour
75 g cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
60 g ground almonds
200 g melted butter
175 g powdered sugar
1 pinch salt
2-3 tbsp rum
2-3 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla seeds
75 g apricot jam + 2 tbsp water
150 g dark chocolate
40 g butter
1 tsp rum
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk eggs with sugar and salt at high speed until pale and frothy. Melt butter. At low speed, gradually add sifted flour with baking powder, cornstarch and ground almonds while alternately pouring melted butter (slightly cooled) in a thin stream. Add vanilla, rum and a little milk (the latter only if needed) to obtain a thick, smooth and creamy batter.
Grease a small 20 cm /8 inch round springform or a rectangular cake mould with butter. Turn on your oven grill. When the grill is hot, add 3 tbsp of the batter and spread evenly with a spatula or the back of your spoon. Grill until slightly browned. Proceed by spreading 2 tbsp of the batter evenly onto the first, already baked layer, grill until browned and so on until all the batter is baked/grilled. The browning will need more time at the beginning and less time towards the end, so watch what´s going on in your oven to avoid burning.
Once the last layer is nice and brown, take cake out of the oven and leaven to cool.
Once cooled, heat apricot jam with water in a small saucepan. Strain trough a sieve onto the cooled cake and brush cake evenly all over. Leave to dry for 2 hours.
Make a chocolate glaze by melting cholocate with rum and butter over a double boiler. When melted, leave to stand for 2 minutes. Pour onto the cake and allow to drip down the sides. Leave to set.
This cake is best when you give it at least a few hours to rest and set. To serve, cut slim slices from the cake and cut them into small chunks – it´s a cake that you eat like cookies.