' “spit” here refers to a horizontal rotisserie '
December 10, 2017 2:30 PM   Subscribe

A baumtorte, or baumkuchen, is a traditional German cake, so-called because the thin layers of batter resemble tree rings when sliced. This 'king of cakes' is traditionally made on a cake spit, or rotisserie, the baumkuchen is one of several so-called "spit cakes": "The exact origin of Baumkuchen, like that of so many other food specialties, seems murky. One theory is that it began as a Hungarian wedding cake. Another is that it was invented in the German town of Salzwedel, in the early nineteenth century, where it quickly became a favorite of the visiting Prussian king. Polish sekacz, Lithuanian sakotis, and Swedish spettekaka are other regional versions of what are classified as spit cakes, a term that might give pause in this era of blood-and-guts chefs. Fortunately, “spit” here refers to a horizontal rotisserie (now powered by electricity) that spins constantly above or in front of a wood or gas fire as the baker ladles over it anywhere from ten to thirty-six layers of sunny batter, which has the consistency of a foamy liquid custard."


At one time, there were only four bakeries in the United States making them:
Paul Gauweiler's Cake Box in Huntington Beach, CA (pictures)
Stork's, in Queens, New York
Lutz Café, in Chicago
none in Seattle.

Glaze, since closed, in Denver, had the only cake rotisserie in America, which was imported from Japan.
Why Japan? That's due to a German emigre, Karl Juchheim, who started the entire tradition of delicious Japanese baumkuchen.

But let's imagine that you are, sadly, without a cake spit this holiday season.
Do you have a rotisserie oven that you can modify? video demonstration

Or make a schichtortte (under a broiler, in a springform pan)! (as seen on GBBO):
Pastry revolution
Jamie Oliver
Genius Kitchen
Natasha Solomons

What if you're not particularly German?
Try the:
Lithuanian ragoulis
Polish sękacz
Swedish spettekaka
Goan bebinca
French Gâteau à la broche
Tyrolean prügeltorte

And I will not even get into the yeast-raised chimney cakes of Eastern Europe...

Baumtorte is one of those cakes to help you remember.
posted by the man of twists and turns (44 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Caramelized tree cake with chocolate ganache

and this is the most beautiful of the recipies: German Tree Cake | Baumtorte / Baumkuchen
This is my favorite cake. All 21 layers of it. It has been since my mitten-wearing years. My mom used this intricately layered almond and chocolate cake as an activity for us kids – something to keep us busy on rainy mornings, when crayons had lost their interest. It is single-handedly responsible for my obsession with almond paste (and it’s sweeter counterpart, marzipan).

The original recipe might as well be called “the dance of dirty bowls.” I took a hacksaw to the method, removing five extra bowls. Your baby soft hands will thank you. The best part? No cake goodness was harmed in the streamlining of this recipe.

NOTE: You need two days to make this cake because the cake needs to chill in the fridge overnight.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:35 PM on December 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

Oh wow, thanks for this. I was briefly obsessed with baumkuchen, because I can't get it. There was a gourmet shop near here that had packaged imported ones from Germany, and I made a walk in the snow particularly to look for one this year, but they weren't there. I suspect they were probably full of preservatives anyway, and probably as much baumkuchen as Hostess Cupcakes are cupcakes, but I wanted to try it.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:44 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I love that the French version lists it as “easy” in terms of difficulty!
posted by Kitteh at 2:49 PM on December 10, 2017

Great FPP, thanks for making me miss German pastries more than usual this time of year.

Once in a while you'll see imported baumkuchen at ALDI during their German Week promotions, but they look and taste more like a Hostess Ho-Ho than anything else.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:50 PM on December 10, 2017

My only exposure to baumkuchen is my first day in Japan, I went to Nagano with a friend-of-a-friend, and his loose social group, where we skied and stayed in a ryokan run by a one of the people's aunts. After skiing, we made a kamakura (which is like an igloo), with candles in little bamboo sconces, and built a fire on some cinderblocks in the snow, which fire we started by blowing through bamboo onto a mix of charcoal and embers from the ryokan's wood stove. After a dinner of roasting stuff on bamboo skewers, and sake warmed in the fire in a chunk of bamboo, and a dessert of mochi cubes toasted like marshmallows, we took a piece on a bamboo and painted cake batter on it over and over to make some baumkuchen over that same fire, for ... uh, double dessert.

I'm not gonna lie, it was pretty great. Real bamboo-ey though.
posted by aubilenon at 2:57 PM on December 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

Firstly, very much eponysterical. Secondly, isn't this going ti taste basically like a rolled-up pancake?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:17 PM on December 10, 2017

My local Korean-American corner store imports prepackaged Japanese versions of German baumkuchen. It is tasty as heck.

(Don't read the calorie labeling on the back of the package, though.)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:19 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

The ragoulis looks fun! To eat! Not to make! It looks stressful to make.

When I was in Hungary, you could get giant cones of kurtos kalacs at festivals. They're not very pancake-like at all...they always reminded me of donuts, if you could imagine a baked donut that tasted good. They're cooked on a grill and dusted with cinnamon sugar, and I forgot they existed until this post set my mouth watering. (I've seen pics where they're used as ice cream cones, but I've never seen anyone actually eat it that way, and I feel weirdly disapproving of it. Kurtos kalacs doesn't deserve to be upstaged by ice cream ok.)

I've never tried replicating kurtos kalacs, but I made a tipsy, mid-episode attempt at the GBBO schichtortte a few years ago. The cake looked surprisingly decent, but it tasted tough and eggy. I overcooked it, but I suspect even an well-made schichtortte wouldn't taste as good to me as the other outdoor/rotisserie cakes listed here.
posted by grandiloquiet at 3:24 PM on December 10, 2017

And I will not even get into the yeast-raised chimney cakes of Eastern Europe...

Briefly, Transylvanian Chimney Cake (aka Kürtőskalács). The neat Hungarian bakery in Queens mentioned in this Saveur article closed a few years ago.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:37 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Marie Antoinette posting on MetaFilter: “Let them discuss cake!”
posted by Fizz at 3:43 PM on December 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

You can get bebinka at any bog-standard Indian restaurant in Lisbon, and they’re always great.
posted by chavenet at 3:56 PM on December 10, 2017

posted by supermedusa at 4:22 PM on December 10, 2017

The cake is a lie.

Actually, now I really want some.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 4:52 PM on December 10, 2017

I have had a schichtortte recipe open in a tab on my browser for close to two years now (I know, don't judge me), and every few weeks I read it over, think, "this really doesn't look that hard," contemplate actually making it, and then chicken out. I can very, very clearly picture all the ways it can and probably will go wrong, while not being able to imagine the flavor or the family appreciation if I actually get it right. Someday I will do this. I hope.
posted by Mchelly at 5:07 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

If one was presently visiting Berlin, where would one go to experience cake-vana? Asking for a friend.
posted by vert canard at 5:09 PM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh shit. I eat Baumkuchen all the time around Christmas. It’s like, damn, Baumkuchen again? I had no idea about the story behind it. From now on I will be more appreciative of the time and effort that goes into making one.
posted by chillmost at 6:11 PM on December 10, 2017

Eitelbach in Toronto used to make and sell them. Sadly, I used to only go in for their chocolates, and now they are gone.
posted by scruss at 6:21 PM on December 10, 2017

We've managed to find them in our local Aldi once, and I'm always on the lookout for them again.
posted by Wild_Eep at 6:26 PM on December 10, 2017

A cake that demands an oven of its own

Whose bright idea was it to use sentient yeast??
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:26 PM on December 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I became addicted to baumkuchen when I lived in Japan.

Still haven't quite been able to kick.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:58 PM on December 10, 2017

Indonesians also makes something like a schichttorte, called lapis legit or spekkoek. The flavour is different (cinnamon, cardmom, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, I don't know what other spices) and it's much richer.
posted by emeiji at 7:10 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Kürtőskalács seems to be identical or similar to the cake the Czechs call trdelník. When I first went to Prague in the '90s you never saw them, but since about 2010 they're everywhere on the streets.

It's still hard to find good ones, though. The best I've found were in towns outside Prague. In the city I've had some stale and tasteless trdelník. Baumkuchen sounds a lot better; I'll have to find some.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:52 PM on December 10, 2017

Thanks for this, I've had the slices from Asian bakeries and convenience stores in Japan, didn't realize they were made this way, don't understand the fuss, just tastes like cake to me but maybe never had the good kind.

When I was in Hungary, you could get giant cones of kurtos kalacs at festivals.

Those look incredible, and easy to see how some would be compelled to fill 'em with ice cream.
posted by Rash at 8:03 PM on December 10, 2017

I am just getting over a cold and now I want to eat all the sweets that I possibly can even though I know that will probably make me sick again

this post is not helping

no, just kidding, it is, I like living dangerously, give me cake or give me death
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:18 PM on December 10, 2017

give me cake or give me death

I'll have the cake, please
posted by aubilenon at 9:26 PM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

When I recently discovered the Japanese Baumkuchen in my local Asian grocery store here on the West Coast, it crossed my mind that while I went westward, emigrating from Germany, the cake went Eastward via Japan and we were both destined to run into each other in Berkeley. Aesthetically circular, just like...Baumkuchen.

(Maybe there are exceptions, but I’ve found it to be one of the things that sounds so much better in theory than it tastes like in practice. I’ll take some dead simple but delicious Biskuitrolle instead.)
posted by The Toad at 9:46 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'll have the cake, please
Very well, give him cake. Thank you for flying Church of England.

I am terribly pleased that the only source of baumkuchen in my city is also in my neighborhood. The layering technique immediately suggests Rainbow Gay Wedding Cake options to me, yet none of the links I looked at seem to be playing with color in the layers at all. ::starts trolling Craigslist for a used rotisserie::
posted by All hands bury the dead at 9:48 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

i want the cake give me the cake
posted by poffin boffin at 10:20 PM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

the layering technique immediately suggests Rainbow Gay Wedding Cake options to me

OMG that's brilliant!

Okay I searched for that and now I'm super mad at this
posted by aubilenon at 12:02 AM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

yeah, baumkuchen for me is definitely a Japanese thing (as in, i get it from Japanese sources; the German bakeries here are more interested in making bavarian breads, salty pretzels and just dark breads in general since that's much harder to get), but I'd rather help myself to the Indonesian kek lapis, or the more colourful Sarawakian kind.

Those kurtoskalacs though... i dream of having some again. Some enterprising Hungarian opened a chain here but it didn't survive for very long, but i guess you need to have it on a cold night, freshly warm from the oven.
posted by cendawanita at 1:03 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Japan and Baumkuchen - whenever I'm in Japan, it always freaks me out that every measly convenience store will have at least three different types of Baumkuchen on offer, whereas it's almost impossible to find the stuff in Germany.

They also make for a good breakfast substitute. If you're in Japan and need to get your breakfast from a convenience store.
posted by sour cream at 1:20 AM on December 11, 2017

For those Mefiters based in (or travelling to) London: There is a Kurtoskalacs stand at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. As a self-declared connoisseur of Kurtoskalacs I can confirm they are the real thing and worth the trip.
posted by Parsnip at 2:44 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I had a birthday cake from that Denver shop while they were in business. It was amazing, and I hope there's a new home for the rotisserie machine someday soon. (Though as time passes, it seems less likely.)

posted by asperity at 6:27 AM on December 11, 2017

Baumkuche is my favorite German cake. Just remove all those Stollen, I don't need them.
Thanks for a great post!
posted by mumimor at 6:42 AM on December 11, 2017

flip a kebab rotisserie sideways and install epic drip trays?
posted by scruss at 7:27 AM on December 11, 2017

epic drip trays

posted by moonmilk at 8:06 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

A company from Bulgaria (of all places) is selling electric Kurtoskalacs ovens. Six cakes at a time! I DO NOT recommend it for personal use (though I was very tempted myself).

I bought from them the wooden spits (buy the large one - the small one is ridiculously the size of a cannelloni) - there are dough recipes online and you can bake your own epic Kurtoskalacs over coals on the barbie as it is traditionally done.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for your expanding waistlines.
posted by Parsnip at 8:18 AM on December 11, 2017

This type of cake was briefly mentioned in the fantasy novel Uprooted from a couple of years ago, and it immediately sent me down a wiki hole when I read about it. (Then I immediately recognized the similarly-layered-but-not-spit-roasted cake challenge on GBBO a few months later.) These look so incredible, but also incredibly time consuming to make.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:39 AM on December 11, 2017

but I'd rather help myself to the Indonesian kek lapis, or the more colourful Sarawakian kind.

Woah everyone google this immediately
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:59 AM on December 11, 2017

Lithuanian spiked cakes forever! We had one at our wedding - they ship marvelously and keep forever. So dense, you could use them as a cornerstone for your new house.
posted by ikahime at 9:27 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

There used to be a Transylvanian restaurant in my neighborhood that served things like his. The dinners were not appealing to our American palates and the restaurant did not survive. But the desserts were fabulous while it lasted.
posted by elizilla at 8:16 AM on December 12, 2017

Kek lapis is like edible Hakone marquetry.
posted by lucidium at 4:34 PM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

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