As it gets closer to Christmas, hexagonal packages are popping up on supermarket shelves across Germany. The little window on one side of the packaging reveal a chocolate-glazed cylinder. It is one of Germany’s true Christmas staples with a century-old tradition. The little brown barrel is a delicate cake that goes by the name of Baumkuchen. Its name – literally “tree cake” – derives from the numerous thin layers of dough which remind of the annual rings of a tree.
The Long Tradition Of Baumkuchen
It is not entirely clear when Baumkuchen was first invented but the tradition of baking dough on a long skewer has been around for many centuries. And while the oldest recipe for the Christmas cake dates back to 1450, a similar method of baking bread in medieval times suggests that Baumkuchen could be much older. Either way, the layered cake had already become a common wedding pastry in Nuremberg and Frankfurt in the 15th century.
But the Baumkuchen that the Patricians loved back then and the one we know today has gone through quite a transition. From wrapping a firm dough around a roller and fixing it with ropes which produced the signature indentations to pouring liquid dough in several layers over the roller. A common icing of sugar and rose water was replaced by chocolate coating in the 18th century resulting in the Baumkuchen as we know it today.
Around the same time, production of the Christmas sweet moved from private homes to professional confectioners. Baumkuchen became the “king of cakes” and even represented the confectioner’s craft as a whole with its depiction on the official emblem. Following the tree cake’s triumphal procession, centers of the art of baking Baumkuchen established mainly in the east of Germany. Among those, the town of Salzwedel undoubtedly formed the capital. Thus, the most traditional form of the cake is known as Salzwedeler Baumkuchen which also enjoys preservation by the EU as a protected geographical indication.
While Baumkuchen-like cakes exist in many countries across Europe, it has surprisingly become a staple in Japan as well. Once introduced by German confectioner Karl Joseph Wilhelm Juchheim, it is now one of the most popular pastries altogether. Despite the rather high price, Baumkuchen is in high demand and therefore available in pretty much any Japanese supermarket.
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How To Make Original Baumkuchen
Just like most other pastry, Baumkuchen comes in several variations. Nevertheless, the basic ingredients are always the same. The dough consists of a mix of flour, butter and eggs in a ratio of 1:1:2. Thus, it is crucial that there is at least twice the amount of eggs to each part of flour and butter in order to create the distinct consistency of real Baumkuchen. In addition, sugar, salt an vanilla form the essential condiments for its traditional flavor. Like with any kind of cake, there are many variations to this standard version. Here, common aromatic supplements are honey, rum, nuts, nougat or marzipan, among others.
For the production of original Baumkuchen, confectioners make use of a large rotating skewer. Traditionally, this so-called roller would lie horizontally over wood fire. Nowadays, specific baking machines replace the open fire. 10-20 thin layers are necessary to create a traditional Baumkuchen. The confectioners dip the skewer into the dough and then bake layer after layer, forming the typical rings of the “tree”. The use of a wooden comb creates a wavy contour which results in the pronounced, loop-like shapes along the entire length of the cake. After baking, the long spit can be removed leaving behind the plain, cylindric cake. For sale, the long cake is portioned into smaller pieces of one to five “loops” in height and then covered with coating chocolate. This kind of industrially-produced Baumkuchen can be found in all supermarkets in Germany during Christmas season.
Can You Make Baumkuchen At Home?
For making Baumkuchen at home, the traditional method on a skewer is highly impracticable. For that reason, turning it into a sheet cake will allow you to make the Christmas treat without the specific equipment at hand. It is the same method that finds use in the industrial production of so-called Baumkuchenspitzen. The trapeze-shaped, chocolate-covered pieces of Baumkuchen are first baked as a whole and then cut into bite-size wedges. For a detailed instruction, check out our delicious recipe below. We are sure you will love it – whether as a Christmas dessert or a sweet for any other occasion!
- 600 g butter
- 600 g sugar
- 3 packages vanilla sugar
- 15 eggs
- 50 g + 250 g starch
- 100 ml dark rum
- 350 g flour
- 1 1/2 packages baking soda
- 600 g dark coating chocolate
- 2 cubes hardened coconut oil
- Stir the butter with an electric mixer while slowly adding sugar, vanilla sugar and a pinch of salt
- Keep beating up the mix for several minutes until a thick cream develops
- For 10 eggs, separate the egg yolks from the egg whites
- Blend one egg yolk after another into the butter cream
- Now, add the remaining 5 eggs and 50g starch. Take turns blending in each egg and the starch. Also add the rum
- Sieve and mix 200 g starch, flour and baking soda and slowly blend it into the cream
- Beat the egg whites until stiff, blend in a pinch of salt and then gently fold the egg foam into the dough
- Pre-heat the oven to 175°C
- Grease the baking tray with butter and line it with baking paper
- Use a table spoon to apply a thin layer of dough of about 2mm on the baking tray. Bake it for 1-2 minutes until it starts browning and take it out instantly. Apply another layer and repeat the process until you finish the dough and have added about 15 layers
- Take out the cake and let it cool down for about one hour before detaching the edges and dropping it upside down onto a plate or wooden board. Also remove the baking paper and let it cool down completely
- Chop the coating chocolate into smaller pieces and melt it together with the coconut oil in a bain-marie. Let it cool down a little before continuing.
- In the meantime, cut the cake into 6 even strips along the long side of the tray. Now, cut 12 trapezes from each strip
- Coat each of the trapezes with liquid chocolate and let them drain and dry on a cooling rack
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Brandenberger Prügeltorte from Austria
Kransekage from Denmark ans Norway
Spettekaka from Sweden
Kürtőskalács from Hungary
Trdelník from Slovakia
Šakotis from Lithuania
Sękacz from Poland
Gâteau à la broche from France
Obelisa from Greece
Agnethler from Rumania
Baumukūhen バウムクーヘン from Japan
Baumkuchen by pelican, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Other images by SunnySideCircus