Dobos Torte is a traditional Hungarian cake with thin layers of light sponge filled with rich chocolate buttercream. A showy caramel garnish makes it an eye-catching holiday centerpiece.
Dobos torte is such a classic special occasion cake with rich history and flavor. Although the number of layers are often debated (6, 7, 8, 11?) everyone can agree it is both beautiful and delicious.
The cake is named for its creator, József Dobos. The finer details of the original Dobos torte recipe were lost in the Second World War. Perhaps that’s why the recipes are so varied today. This this six layer cake is a fine version of Dobos Torte. It is balanced with light sponge layers and rich chocolate buttercream, and makes a very pretty holiday centerpiece.
Feather light sponge layers.
These days the sponge for traditional Dobos Torte is made with potato starch and flour. And like most sponge cakes the egg whites are whipped separately from the fatty yolk mixture. No surprises there. But take care not to over whip the egg whites or your cake will be too dry. Look for stiff peaks with a glossy finish. If you have stiff peaks with a dry or matte finish, you’ve gone too far.
Use pasteurized eggs for this buttercream.
The buttercream is wonderfully rich and silky, and that’s due to uncooked egg yolks whipped with the butter, sugar, and chocolate. This method for buttercream was new to me, but it’s not unlike the raw egg yolk custard in My Favorite Tiramisu. It is highly unlikely that microorganisms will grow in such a fatty, sugary frosting, and using yolks from pasteurized eggs is the most preventative measure. So, use them! And save your farm fresh eggs for the sponge layers.
From my research, the addition of yolks aims to replicate the texture of the original buttercream that Mr. Dobos made. Based on the information available, his recipe used cocoa mass (cocoa liquor) and cocoa butter which are not usual staples in the home baker’s kitchen. So this is our more approachable option. If you remain dubious about using raw eggs, see the recipe notes for a quick chocolate buttercream that does not use egg yolks.
The buttercream is not only the filling, but also the covering. I pressed in some sliced almonds while the frosting was still tacky, but you could use pecans, walnuts, or the traditional favorite which is hazelnuts.
You’ll have plenty of frosting left over to pipe large swirls on top of the cake. These are important because they prop up the cake’s eye-catching garnish of hard caramel.
The design creates an almost a windmill effect, and it’s beautiful from a bird’s eye view. The recipe is simply sugar and lemon juice cooked to amber hard caramel stage. It sounds really simple but timing is everything.
How to make the caramel garnish.
First, use the bottom of the same 8″ cake pan you cooked the sponge in to trace an 8″ circle onto parchment paper. Cook the caramel while watching it constantly and be ready to remove it from the heat at a moment’s notice. When the amber color is achieved, pour the caramel in the center of the circle and spread it out with a hot stainless steel spatula. You can make your spatula hot by placing it on the stove eye for 20 seconds, or if you have a chef’s torch you can heat it up with that. If you try to spread the caramel with a cold spatula, it will stick terribly.
Practice makes perfect.
Next, wait a few seconds until the caramel starts to set, then score it into wedges with a buttered knife. After the caramel is completely hardened, break it apart at the score lines. My first attempt at making this garnish broke apart irregularly. I had to make a second one, and it turned out much better. Practice makes perfect (or in my case, adequate). Luckily it takes very little time to repeat the process, because hard caramel doesn’t take long to cook!
The swirls on the cake prop up each caramel wedge. I just love the effect.
European cakes are often sponge-based and less moist than what American palates are accustomed to. And although it’s not original, I brush the layers with simple syrup which is included in this recipe. It seems to be an accepted practice, and some even add a boozy note with the addition of bourbon, whisky, etc. Tradition in baking is a wonderful thing, but a dry cake is not. The syrup is an extra step but improves the end result, and if you’ve overwhipped your sponge it’s a fail safe for a moist cake.
Hungarian Dobos Torte
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup potato starch or cornstarch
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 6 eggs separated and at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 16 oz. semisweet chocolate chopped
- 2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup sliced almonds
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Sift together the flour and potato starch. Set aside.
Set aside two thirds of the granulated sugar. Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until light and pale. When the beater is lifted the batter should leave a trail in the bowl (this is called ribbon stage). Stir in the zest.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites into soft peaks. Gradually whisk in the reserved sugar to form stiff, glossy peaks. Stir two big spoonfuls of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to loosen the texture. Gently fold in the flour. This will take a bit of careful mixing and the texture will seem strange and thick, but keep going. When no streaks of flour remain gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Do all of these steps as gently as possible so that you don’t knock out all of the air.
Preheat the oven to 425F. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with flour-based baking spray, or grease the pans and line them with parchment rounds.
Using a scale divide the batter into six bowls evenly (mine were about 3.30 oz. per pan, but yours may vary). This ensures each sponge layer will be the same thickness upon slicing. Alternatively, divide 1/3 of the batter between the two prepared pans. Spread an even layer in the bottom of each one using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon.
Bake for 5-6 minutes or until golden. Invert cakes onto wire racks and remove parchment, if using. Wash pans and re-grease. Repeat the process twice more with the remaining mixture to make another four layers of sponge, making six in total.
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil.
Cook until the sugar is melted; remove from heat. Stir in vanilla extract and let cool completely.
In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the chocolate until melted and smooth, in 30 second increments, about 2 minutes total. Cool to room temperature but still liquid and pourable.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes on medium-high. Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing well before adding the next. Add in the cooled chocolate and sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate any hidden streaks of butter or chocolate. Mix in the salt and vanilla extract. Beat until fluffy.
Place about 1 1/4 cups of the chocolate buttercream in a piping bag fitted with a large closed star piping tip; set aside. Brush a sponge layer lightly with the simple syrup using a pastry brush. Sandwich each of the six sponge layers together, brushing as you stack, with 1/4-inch-thick layer of the chocolate buttercream, then spread more buttercream evenly over the top and sides of the cake. To garnish the sides of the cake, press the sliced almonds into the sides while the buttercream is still tacky. Pipe 8 large rosettes of chocolate buttercream, evenly spaced, on the top edge of the cake using the piping bag of frosting. Chill for one hour before adding the caramel garnish.
Draw an 8” circle on a piece of parchment paper using the same pan you baked he sponge cakes in; set aside on a flat heat-proof work surface.
Place the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and mix together until the sugar looks like wet sand. Cook over medium high heat, watching constantly, and stirring/prodding the mixture occasionally until an amber caramel is formed.
Immediately pour the caramel into the center of the marked circle and quickly spread out using a hot stainless-steel spatula (to heat the spatula, let it rest on a hot stove eye, or heat it with a chef’s torch). Leave it for a few seconds until it starts to set. Grease a large chef’s knife then score the caramel into 8 wedges. Let set completely then gently break apart at the score marks.
Rest a caramel wedge at an angle on each rosette on the cake.
Store the cake covered at room temperature. This cake keeps well for a week and seems to improve upon standing.
Quick Chocolate Buttercream
- 3 teaspoons instant coffee
- 3 teaspoons unsweet cocoa powder
- 6 oz. semisweet chocolate chopped
- 3 cups unsalted butter softened
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- Dissolve the instant coffee and cocoa powder in 6 tablespoons boiling water. Pour into a small heat-proof bowl and add the chopped chocolate; melt over a pan of simmering water. Let cool until thickened but not set.
- In another bowl, beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar together until pale and fluff. Add the chocolate and mix well until combined. Then beat the mixture until pale and fluffy and thick. Use to fill, frost, and decorate a 6-layer Dobos Torte.