Hungary: Dobos torte / Dobostorta
One of the great fad desserts of the 19th century, the Dobostorta, Dobos torta or torte (sometimes Anglicized as “Dobosh”) was invented by the famous Hungarian confectioner Jozsef C. Dobos in 1884. Dobos owned a far-famed shop in Budapest that specialized in gourmet foods generally: at a time when shipping food over distance was usually unreliable, his shop routinely featured as many as sixty imported cheeses, as well as foreign wines, breads, and occasionally cakes. His high profile often took him to international food exhibitions, so that he became, for his time, what we would think of as the equivalent of a superstar TV chef / food impresario.
The fame of the torte to which Dobos gave his name was probably at least partly due to its extravagant use of chocolate buttercream / buttercreme, at a time when most cakes were iced or filled with cooked creams, whipped creams, or custards. Dobos had brought the buttercream recipe back with him from one of his many exploratory journeys—in this case, a trip to France—and shortly thereafter introduced the cake at the National General Exhibition of Budapest in 1885, as well as featuring it in his shop. Due to all this publicity (for it became a favorite of the Emperor and Empress of Austro-Hungary), people in cities across Europe began clamoring for it: but Dobos refused to license out the recipe. Instead. Dobos developed a special container in which it could be safely shipped, and “the cake with the secret recipe” soon started appearing in all the great European capitals. In fact, Dobos actually toured with the cake, personally introducing it in city after city, until the early 1900’s, when he retired. He then gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners’ and Gingerbread Makers’ Chamber of Industry, on the condition that all members should be able to use the recipe freely.
The cake itself is straightforward to make. It involves either five or seven individually baked layers (there is some controversy about this, but tortes available in Budapest today usually use five; and these must never be sliced from a single cake): chocolate buttercream made with the best available chocolate: and a layer of caramel-glazed cake on top. Commercially available versions may taste nice enough, but cease to become authentic the moment there are more than five layers.
6 eggs, separated
Scant 2/3 cup Vanilla Sugar*
1 cup sifted all-purpose Flour
CHOCOLATE CREAM FILLING:
6 ounces semisweet chocolate (6 squares or 1 small package chocolate bits)
3 tablespoons strong coffee
1 cup butter
1 cup sifted vanilla confectioners’ sugar*
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Vanilla granulated sugar or vanilla confectioners’ sugar should be used as indicated. It gives a much more delicate flavor than sugar plus vanilla extract. If you have no vanilla sugar on hand, substitute plain sugar and a few drops of pure vanilla extract.
Prepare six 9-inch cake tins for baking: cut 6 circles of waxed paper, brown paper, or baking parchment to fit the bottom of the pans, grease the bottom of each one with butter, place the paper in, and grease that as well. Set the pans aside until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 400. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of the salt until foamy; continue beating until stiff peaks are formed. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and the sugar together until lemon-colored and very thick. About 1/4 cup at a time, sift the flour on top of the egg yolk and sugar mixture and fold it in. Mix a tablespoonful of beaten egg whites into the batter to lighten it, and then gently fold in the rest of the whites. Keep a light touch throughout, handling the batter just enough to make sure it is evenly blended.
Take a prepared pan and spread one-sixth of the batter on the bottom as evenly as possible, let the batter touch the sides of the pan at several points. Place it in the middle of the preheated oven. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cake hardens and begins to turn color. Remove from the pan with spatula, invert, and quickly but carefully tear off all the paper. Cool on cake rack. Continue in this fashion until all the layers are baked. During the baking time, prepare the filling as follows.
Melt the chocolate with the coffee in a double boiler or over very low heat. Cream the butter with the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the melted chocolate and beat until it is well blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and continue beating until the cream is light and fluffy. Keep the filling in the refrigerator until ready to use.
When all the layers are ready, pick the best one for the top. Place it on a piece of waxed paper and set it aside. Spread filling on the first four layers and stack them; put the fifth layer on top. Saving enough filling for the fifth layer plus a little extra, frost the outside of the cake and then the fifth layer.
Meanwhile, melt the sugar in a light-colored heavy skillet over low heart. Continue cooking until the caramel is smooth and quite brown. Do not touch or taste the caramel: it is VERY HOT! When ready, pour it quickly over the sixth layer, spreading it evenly with a spatula.
With an oiled or buttered knife, quickly cut the caramel-topped layer into 12 or 16 wedges before the caramel hardens. As soon as it dries, place the wedges on top of the cake and use the rest of the filling to frost the outside of the fifth and sixth layers.
If there is enough filling left, put it in a pastry bag and pip a design along the top edge of the torta. Leave the cake in a cool place until ready to serve. Keep any leftovers in the refrigerator.