Saturday, July 2, 2011

Dobos Torta (aka Nutella Cake)

Smitten Kitchen lady made this a bit ago, and I just bought myself this amazing cookbook, and two of my friends are going away for a month, and another of my friends says he ate this cake growing up in Serbia, so I just HAD to make this, you see. If this were a real dobos torta I’d've made a caramel-soaked top layer, but I can’t count and thus made too few layers so I skipped that (see the link above for details for how it’s supposed to look). A committee of two decided that a five-layer-cake without caramel is more exciting than a four-layer-cake with caramel. I decided to follow the cookbook’s recipe rather than the Smitten Kitchen one, almost entirely because it requires fewer eggs (6 versus TEN!). And it seemed like an apt way to break in the cookbook—page 72 is now well-marked with sticky batter drips. Luckily the copy I bought is a used ex-library book, complete with plastic-covered-dust-jacket! Since I bastardized it (er, adapted it) by making it without the caramel and covering it in roasted hazelnuts instead, this might get re-named to Nutella Cake. (A tragic occasion indeed.)

Dobos Torta


6 eggs, separated

1 1/3 c. confectioner’s sugar (divided use)

1 t. vanilla extract

1 c. plus 2 T. sifted cake flour*

pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli chocolate chips)

3 sticks unsalted butter, at cool room temp (yes, three sticks)

2 T. cocoa powder

1 ¼ c. confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 t. vanilla

1 large handful hazelnuts, de-skinned** and chopped (I guess this is optional)

*If you don’t have cake flour, take 1 c. AP flour, scoop out 2 T. and replace those 2 T. with cornstarch to make 1 c. cake flour. For this recipe I used 1-cup-minus-1/2-tablespoon AP flour and 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch. Or thereabouts.

**Since you already have the oven on, throw the hazelnuts on an ungreased cake pan (or cookie sheet, or whatever), and roast them for about 15 minutes, or until the skins look loose, then let cool and rub vigorously in a kitchen towel until most of the skins come off. I may have over-baked mine as the skins turned almost black, but miraculously they didn’t burn and the nut meats actually got nicely golden brown and roasty.

Prepare pans/parchment:

Unless you have removable-bottom cake pans (thanks Bonnie!), I recommend the parchment paper method. In fact, it was even somewhat of a pain to get the layers off the greased-and-floured removable bottoms, so I’d parchment those too. But really this batter is so thick and foamy that you don’t need cake pans at all. Cut out parchment paper a bit bigger than the layer size you want, trace the circle (or rectangle, or whatever) that you want on parchment and lay the parchment on a cookie sheet (the cookbook notes that you should have the side of the parchment with the graphite/ink on it facing DOWN so as not to pollute the batter). I made five layers, each 9.5 inches in diameter, and supposedly the batter is enough for 6 layers at 9 inches, or you could do some math and make crazy sizes/shapes. Once you have all that set up (you might have to borrow some cookie sheets), turn the oven on to 400 F with the racks in the center and top third of the oven.

Make and bake batter:

Beat eggs yolks, 2/3 c. confectioner’s sugar and vanilla at high speed for 3 minutes, until they are pale yellow and thick (this is a job for the stand mixer).

In a clean, grease-free metal or glass bowl (I used my hand mixer for this), beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining 2/3 c. of confectioner’s sugar until stiff, shiny peaks form.

With a large spatula, stir about ¼ of the meringue into the egg yolks to lighten. Then fold in the remaining meringue until mostly-mixed, leaving some streaks of white. Don’t worry about being overly-gentle, the meringue is pretty sturdy. (This is the perfect time to sample the batter for, er, quality assurance purposes.)

Sift half of the flour/salt over top and gently stir in, repeat with other half of the flour and stir until homogenous in color. Batter will be thick and foamy. Plop approximately equal portions of the batter onto your prepared parchment outlines, and spread the batter to the edge of the circles (push, don’t pull) to make a mostly-even layer, about ¼ inch thick, depending on the size and number of your layers.

Bake each layer for about 5 minutes (mine actually took closer to 7, I think my oven’s a bit cool), or until the top springs back when pressed and the edges are golden brown. Be sure to rotate the layers on the oven racks and turn them once; most ovens have a hotter side which will quickly burn these skinny little guys.

When done, flip the layers onto a rack and peel off the parchment, then flip them back onto the parchment or a rack to cool. The tops are very sticky, so don’t leave them sitting around top-side-down for any period of time. Let the layers cool completely, it won’t take long. Don’t worry if some layers are ugly (one of mine ended up with a hole in it), because they will all be lovely ensconced in chocolate frosting very shortly. Any that are particularly large or non-circular should be trimmed so that they stack nicely. (The cookbook recommends laying the bottom of an appropriately-sized springform pan or plate on top and trimming around...I just eyeballed it. I assure you that taste is not affected.)

Make frosting and frost:

Melt chocolate. Cream butter until smooth (for some reason the cookbook recommends using a hand mixer as opposed to a stand mixer for this—maybe to take advantage of the finer metal blades rather than the stand mixer’s paddle?). Mix cocoa into butter, then confectioner’s sugar, then chocolate, then vanilla. Beat until evenly-colored and frostingey. If your kitchen is 90 degrees, I’d recommend throwing the frosting in the fridge for a few minutes while you drink something cold (or wash the dishes) or you end up trying to spread something that’s the consistency of melted butter. Trust me.

When the frosting is spreadable, start stacking and frosting the layers of your cake. It’s a fancy cake, so use a fancy cake plate (thanks Bonnie!). I alternated the ugly layers with the pretty ones, saving one that was fairly flat and uniform for the top layer. Frost tops of all layers as you stack, then frost top and sides of cake. You don’t have to be too sparing with the frosting, but be modest about it or you’ll end up short for the sides. Sprinkle chopped hazelnuts on the top of the cake and refrigerate until eating time.

As you can see, my frosting layers are a little uneven...but it's good just the same!


  1. Awesome! I wanted to make this too but the layers and amount of eggs were intimidating. If it's ever below 90 here again, maybe I will...

  2. your torte is very beautiful. One tip I remember my grandmother making the layers on the bottom of cake pans to achieve uniformity and you don't have to cut them later. Nice job.