Dobos Torta: Hungarian Layer Cake

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Dobos torte is a Hungarian layer cake consisting of 5 layers of sponge cake filled with rich chocolate buttercream and topped with crisp caramel wedges. Dobos torte was invented in Budapest in the 1880s by József Dobos, the owner of a gourmet deli, and premiered at the National General Exhibition of Budapest.

The cake was designed to last longer than other cakes and pastries, even when cooling techniques were relatively limited. The caramel topping, buttercream and ground nuts around the outside help prevent the cake from drying out. Because of its durability, the cake was able to be shipped.

Cafés were the cultural epicenter of Belle Époque Budapest, a golden age of peace, prosperity and flourishing art at the turn of the 20th century. Buda, Obuda and Pest were united as one city and much of Pest was reconstructed and heavily influenced by Parisian design. Opulent cafés served as the social venue and workplace of writers, journalists, composers and the elite, where they could sip on espresso and indulge in luxurious cakes and pastries.

While Dobos torte may seem simple compared to the elaborate cakes of the era, chocolate buttercream was relatively new and extravagant. Dobos discovered the buttercream while traveling through France.

Tips for Baking Dobos Torte

Dobos Sponge:

A Dobos sponge is a lighter cake made using the foaming method. The eggs are first separated. You beat the yolks with half of the sugar until pale and thick. Then the whites are whipped with the remaining sugar to medium peaks. The whites are folded into the yolks, followed by the flour and finally the melted butter.

When whipping the egg whites, it is crucial that the bowl is completely clean. Any grease or fat destroys the foaming ability of the albumin in egg whites.

When you fold the beaten egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, first fold in one-third of the egg whites to lighten the mixture. Then gently fold in the rest. You worked hard to beat as much air as possible into the egg yolks and egg whites, and you want to preserve as much of it as possible. The air trapped in the batter expands in the heat of the oven, lightens the cake and makes it rise.

Chocolate Filling:

Temperature is paramount when making the chocolate filling. Be sure to start with room temperature butter. The bain-marie is important because it provides gentle heat to help prevent burning the chocolate or curdling the eggs. When you mix the egg mixture into the melted chocolate, make sure they are at similar temperatures. You don’t want to shock and harden the chocolate, or scramble the eggs. When you whip the chocolate mixture into the butter, they should both be room temperature. If the chocolate mixture is too warm, you will melt the butter and won’t be able to whip the mixture to a fluffy texture.

The recipe for the chocolate filling is just enough to fill and frost the cake. If you tend to be a bit heavy-handed with frosting, or you want to do some piping on the cake, you can make 1.5-times the recipe or even double it.

Caramel:

Be especially careful when making the caramel. Sugar melts at an extremely high temperature (160°C / 320°F).

The caramel is poured over one of the cake layers and spread thinly with an offset spatula. The wedges should be sliced while the caramel is still warm. Once it’s cooled and hardened it’s difficult to make a clean slice. Butter the chef’s knife to prevent the caramel from sticking to the knife.

To make it easier for yourself, prepare everything you need for the caramel layer ahead of time. Set up the Silpat or wax paper with the cake layer on a work surface near the stove. Butter a chef’s knife and keep extra butter nearby to reapply between slices. Have your offset spatula within reach.

If you want even more tips, you can download a guide with my favorite baking tips.

dobos torte
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Ingredients:

Yields 1 8-inch (20cm) cake.

Dobos Sponge:

MetricCups
6 large egg yolks
50g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 large egg whites
50g granulated sugar

100g plain flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

35g unsalted butter, melted
6 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 large egg whites
1/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Chocolate Filling:

MetricCups
4 large eggs
135g granulated sugar

115g chocolate (70% cacao)
45ml strong brewed coffee

170g unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar

4 ounces chocolate (70% cacao)
3 Tablespoons strong brewed coffee

3/4 cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Caramel:

MetricCups
100g granulated sugar
30ml water
30g corn syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons water
1 1/2 Tablespoons corn syrup

Handful of walnuts, toasted and finely chopped

Dobos Sponge

Preheat the oven:

Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F).

Prepare the pan:

If you’re using a cake pan, grease and flour the pan and line with parchment.

If you’re using a baking tray, cut a piece of parchment paper to line the baking tray. Draw an 8-inch (20cm) circle (trace a cake pan to get it perfectly round). Line the baking tray with the parchment, ink-side down (you don’t want ink in your cake).

Whip the egg yolks:

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with a whisk, beat the egg yolks, 50g sugar and vanilla extract until pale and thick, about 4-5 minutes.

Whip the egg whites:

If you used a stand mixer to beat the yolks, transfer the yolk mixture to another bowl and wash the whisk attachment and stand mixer bowl. If any grease is left on the bowl, the egg whites won’t whip properly.

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer. Gradually add the sugar and continue to whip to medium peaks.

With medium peaks, when you turn the whisk upside down, the peaks hold but the tip folds back on itself.

Combine the wet ingredients:

Using a rubber spatula, fold one-third of the egg whites into the yolk mixture. This helps lighten the yolk mixture so that when you fold in the rest of the egg whites, you preserve more of the air that you worked hard to whip into the batter.

Gently fold in the remaining egg whites.

Fold in the flour:

Gently fold in the flour and salt until just combined.

Fold in the melted butter:

Gently fold in the melted butter, mixing just until the streaks of butter disappear and you have a uniform batter.

Divide and bake the sponge layers:

Dobos torta is traditionally made with 6 layers of sponge cake. To ensure the cake layers are even, scale the batter. Just weigh your batter and divide by 6. I made 6 layers using about 85g of batter per layer.

scale the sponge cake layers
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Spread the batter evenly to the edges of the cake pan, or to the edges of the circle in the baking tray.

Bake each layer at 220°C (425°F) for 5 minutes, until light golden brown.

If you have a large enough convection oven and multiple pans, you can bake more than one layer at a time. Otherwise, bake each layer one at a time, carefully transferring the baked layer to a cooling rack before scaling and baking the next layer.

cooling rack with sponge cake layers
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Cool and wrap:

Once you’ve baked all 6 layers and they’ve cooled to room temperature, wrap them in plastic so they don’t dry out while working on the other components.

Chocolate Filling

Set up a bain-marie:

Place a saucepan filled with an inch or two of water on the stove over medium-low heat.

Melt the chocolate:

Break the chocolate into pieces in a heatproof bowl and add the strong brewed coffee. Set the bowl over the bain-marie to melt the chocolate. Remove the bowl and set aside.

Beat eggs and sugar over bain-marie:

In another large heatproof bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar over the bain-marie until they triple in volume and reach 74°C (165°F), about 5 minutes.

Combine the eggs and chocolate:

Whisk a quarter of the egg mixture into the melted chocolate. Then gradually whisk in the rest and the vanilla extract.

Let the chocolate mixture cool to room temperature.

Beat the butter:

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the butter until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Beat in the chocolate mixture:

With the stand mixer running on medium-low (you don’t want to splatter), gradually pour in the chocolate mixture and whip until combined and fluffy.

chocolate filling
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Refrigerate until firm:

Cover the chocolate filling and place in the refrigerator to cool until firm, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the caramel.

Caramel

Mise en place:

Because caramel is incredibly hot and sets quickly, you’ll want everything in place and ready ahead of time.

Place one of the cake layers on a Silpat or a piece of wax paper that has been greased with non-stick baking spray.

Grease a chef’s knife with butter. Leave the butter nearby, as you’ll probably need to reapply after each slice.

Have an offset spatula at the ready.

Combine water, sugar and corn syrup:

Pour the water into a small saucepan. Pour in the sugar and corn syrup and stir to combine, being careful not to leave any sugar stuck to the sides of the pan.

Make the caramel:

Set the saucepan on the stove over medium heat. The sugar will dissolve and come to a boil. If you see any sugar crystals on the side of the pan, use a wet pastry brush to push them down the sides of the pan. Do not stir. Heat the caramel to 160°C (325°F), or until light golden brown.

Take the caramel off the heat.

making caramel
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Pour the caramel over the cake layer:

Carefully pour the caramel over the cake layer and spread thinly using an offset spatula. Some of the caramel will end up on the Silpat or wax paper.

Working quickly and carefully, slice the cake layer with the buttered chef’s knife into 8 equal slices. You may need to apply more butter after each slice so the caramel doesn’t stick to the knife. Let the caramel cool and harden completely.

dobos caramel wedges
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Assemble the Cake

Beat the chocolate filling:

Remove the chocolate filling from the fridge and beat until thick and fluffy.

Stack and fill the cake:

Center the first layer on the cake stand and spread a small amount of chocolate filling using an offset spatula (about 1/3 – 1/2 cup). Repeat with the remaining 4 layers.

stack and fill dobos torte
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Apply the crumb coat:

Apply a thin layer of the chocolate filling to the top and sides of the cake, using the offset spatula to keep the top and sides even. Refrigerate the cake for 15-30 minutes until the crumb coat is firm.

apply the crumb coat
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Apply the final coat:

Frost the cake and use an offset spatula or a bench scraper to smooth and straighten the sides and ensure the top of the cake is level.

Coat the sides with walnuts:

Coat the sides of the cake with finely chopped toasted walnuts.

Top with the caramel sponge layer:

Arrange the caramel sponge slices on top of the cake.

dobos torte
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Refrigerate until firm:

Refrigerate the cake until the chocolate filling is firm, at least 1 hour. This ensures that you maintain the layers when slicing and serving the cake.

Slice and serve:

Slice the cake, cutting between the caramel wedges and wiping the knife clean after each cut. 

The cake will keep in the refrigerator for two days.

slice of dobos torte
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