There aren’t many cities in Europe I want to return to as badly as I do Budapest. From its Szécheyni Baths to its House of Terror Museum, from its goulash to its paprikash, and from its café culture to its running culture, Budapest has it all.
Café Gerbeaud—in operation since the mid 1800s—is the confectionary gemstone in Budapest’s crown. The husband and I must not have known about Dobos Torte when we were there because he had brioche and I, a croissant. They were delectable, of course, but next time I’m getting the Torte.
Recipe Adapted From: Martha Stewart’s Baking
With CONVICTion Handbook
Level of Difficulty: moderate
Time Consumption: moderate to high—I’m not going to kid you, layer cakes from scratch are not quick, and this one is fussier than most. Save making this for people you really like (or are desperate to impress).
Kitchen Destruction: moderate
Wow Factor: high—I mean, c’mon, nine layers. Of course that’ll wow ’em. Plus, the husband declares this cake’s frosting to cake ratio and buttercream distribution “perfect.”
- 3 sticks (1½ C) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
- 1½ C all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
- 1½ C cake flour (not self-rising)
- 1 TBS baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 2¼ C sugar
- 8 large egg whites plus 3 large egg yolks
- 1 C milk
- ½ C heavy cream
- Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8×2″ round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter parchment and dust with flour, tapping out excess; set aside. Into a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and 2 cups sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes; scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Add egg yolks, one at a time, and beat to combine.
With mixer on low, add reserve flour mixture in three parts, alternating with milk and beginning and ending with the flour; scrape down sides of bowl as needed.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and beat until soft peaks form.
Add about 1/3 of the egg white mixture to the reserved batter and gently fold in with a rubber spatula. Gently fold in remaining whites.
Divide evenly among prepared pans; spread to smooth with an offset spatula.
Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Run a plastic knife or spatula around the edge of each pan, then invert cakes onto a wire rack and peel off parchment.
Reinvert cakes, then let them cool completely, top sides up. Meanwhile, in a clean bowl with a clean whisk attachment, whip cream until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream Ingredients:
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 C sugar
- 3 sticks (1½ C) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
- 8 oz melted bittersweet chocolate
In a heatproof bowl of an electric mixer set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the egg whites and sugar. Cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch, about 160°F.
Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg white mixture on high speed until it holds stiff (but not dry) peaks. (Honestly, I’ve never known what ‘dry’ peaks are . . . or how to prevent them.) Continue beating until mixture is fluffy and cooled, about 6 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter several tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. (If frosting appears to separate after all the butter is added, beat on medium-high speed until smooth again, 3-5 minutes more.)
Add slightly cooled chocolate to the buttercream. Beat on lowest speed to eliminate air bubbles, about 2 minutes. Stir with rubber spatula until frosting is smooth and chocolate is fully incorporated.
Place 2 cups Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream into a bowl (set aside the remaining buttercream). Fold refrigerated whipped cream into the 2 cups buttercream to lighten.
Assembly (this, folks, is where it gets fun):
Using a serrated knife (and your steadiest hand 😉 )—or a handy Tortenschneider—trim the tops of the cakes so surfaces are level, if necessary. Slice each cake horizontally into three equal layers.
Place one layer on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread 1/3 cup of the lightened buttercream in an even layer. Top with another cake layer and repeat. Keep repeating until you are out of cake layers. Do not frost top layer.
Stand back and admire your nearly finished 9-layer cake. Pull out your Leaning Tower of Pisa pictures from your trip to Italy. If your creation looks like the tower, gently press sides of cake to straighten. Aim for the Colosseum.
Spread a thin layer of reserved buttercream over the top and sides of cake to seal in the crumbs. Refrigerate until frosting is firm, about 30 minutes.
Spread cake with remaining buttercream, making smooth strokes with an offset spatula.
Confessions of an Imperfect Baker: I skipped two small directions when making this cake. First, I didn’t sift the flour and other dry ingredients; I just stirred them together. I rarely sift. If I can’t distinguish between the tastes of different grades of Chianti, I doubt I’d notice the textural difference between a sifted flour cake and a stirred flour cake. Second, I didn’t trim the tops of the cakes to make them level. I rarely level my cakes because I’m not just an imperfect baker, I’m a lazy baker.
According to my authoritative Kaffeehaus cookbook, which gives a pretty thorough history of Dobos Torte, Hungarian Jószef Dobos’ masterpiece is supposed to have “five thin layers (no more, no less) of . . . cake.” Worse still, “The layers must be baked individually, never sliced from one thick cake . . .” Oops. I suppose this makes Martha’s version ersatz. Oh well—I won’t tell if you won’t.