Place of origin
|Flour, butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla|
Baumkuchen is a kind of layered cake. It is a traditional dessert in many countries throughout Europe and is also a popular snack and dessert in Japan. The characteristic rings that appear when sliced resemble tree rings, and give the cake its German name, Baumkuchen, which literally translates to "tree cake".
The origins of baumkuchen and where it was first baked are disputed. One theory is that baumkuchen was invented in the German town of Salzwedel, a story the town itself popularizes, and has been made there since at least the 19th century. Another theory suggests it began as a Hungarian wedding cake, which derives from the oldest Hungarian pastry kürtőskalács (chimney cake). In Ein neues Kochbuch (lit. "A New Cookbook"), the first cookbook written for professional chefs by Marx Rumpolt, there is a recipe for baumkuchen. This publication puts the origin of baumkuchen as far back as 1581, the year the cookbook was first published. Marx Rumpolt had previously worked as a chef in Hungary and Bohemia. In 1682, a rural medic working for Johann Sigismund Elsholtz prepared a similar dish.
Aside from its more recent history, baumkuchen can trace its roots back to Ancient Greece and then Rome, with the Romans bringing the recipe for baking cakes on logs over an open fire to modern day Germany and the surrounding regions with their conquest of Northern Europe.
Traditionally, baumkuchen is made on a spit by brushing on even layers of batter and then rotating the spit around a heat source. Each layer is allowed to brown before a new layer of batter is poured. When the cake is removed and sliced, each layer is divided from the next by a golden line, resembling the growth rings on a crosscut tree. A typical baumkuchen is made up of 15 to 20 layers of batter. However, the layering process for making baumkuchen can continue until the cakes are quite large. Skilled pastry chefs have been known to create cakes with 25 layers and weighing over 100 pounds. When cooked on a spit, it is not uncommon for a finished baumkuchen to be 3 to 4 feet tall.
Baumkuchen ingredients are typically butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and flour. Baking powder is not considered a traditional ingredient. The ratio of flour, butter and eggs is typically 1:1:2 respectively (i.e., 100 grams of flour, 100 grams of butter, and 200 grams of eggs). The recipe can be varied by adding other ingredients, such as ground nuts, honey, marzipan, nougat and rum or brandy, to the batter or filling. Additionally, baumkuchen may be covered with sugar or chocolate glaze. With some recipes, the fully baked and cooled baumkuchen is first coated with marmalade or jam, and then covered with chocolate.
Baumkuchenspitzen, German for "tree cake points", are miniature versions of baumkuchen that are created from the cake when it is cut in slices and then into pieces that are referred to as "Spitzen". These pieces are typically coated in chocolate and sold individually.
A simpler horizontally layered version of the cake called a "Schichttorte" also exists. It is baked without a spit and thus does not have circular rings but horizontal layers. The horizontally layered version results in a baumkuchen that is more like a conventional cake in shape. It can also be baked in a conventional household oven that has a broiler inside, whereas the traditional spit version requires special equipment normally not available in an average household. However, unlike the spit variant, the Schichttorte cross section is less reminiscent of tree rings.
Baumkuchen in Japan
It was first introduced to Japan by the German Karl Joseph Wilhelm Juchheim. Juchheim was in the Chinese city of Tsingtao during World War I when Britain and Japan laid siege to Tsingtao. He and his wife were then interned at Okinawa. Juchheim started making and selling the traditional confection at a German exhibition in Hiroshima in 1919. After the war, he chose to remain in Japan. Continued success allowed him to move to Yokohama and open a bakery, but its destruction in the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake caused him to move his operations to Kobe, where he stayed until the end of World War II. Some years later, his wife returned to help a Japanese company open a chain of bakeries under the Juchheim name that further helped spread baumkuchen's popularity in Japan.
Other regional variations
- Austria – Baumkuchen are known in Austria as Prügelkrapfen
- Czech Republic – Popular under the name Trdelnik
- Luxembourg – Baumkuchen in Luxembourg, called Baamkuch, has become a traditional dish served mostly on special occasions like weddings
- Poland – In Poland it is known as Sękacz
- Lithuania – Šakotis or Raguolis (Bamkuchinas as known in western Lithuania) is a similar cake also cooked on a spit, normally over an open fire
- Sweden – Spettekaka with the protected geographical indication (PGI) registered by the EU
- Hungary – Kürtőskalács is a similar cake also cooked on a spit
- Slovakia – Skalický trdelník with the protected geographical indication (PGI) registered by the EU
- Turkey - Makara tatlısı is a similar cake also cooked on a spit.
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