Caramelized tree cake with chocolate ganache
A delicate melt-in-your-mouth multi-layered cake smothered in rich chocolate topping.
This recipe is an adaptation of the traditional European “tree cake” (baumkuchen in German), so called because the many caramelized layers resemble the rings of a tree trunk. The authentic way to prepare tree cake is on a rotating spit; for those of us unfortunate chefs who don’t own one of those nifty devices, we’ll have to settle for this super cool “strata cake.”
And let me tell you, it is super cool. The wow factor is revealed as soon as you slice into this divine cake, and the first bite just proves that this cake is worth every minute of the long prep time. So lengthy directions notwithstanding, you have got to try this recipe – it’s a lot of fun.
I like to use non-dairy ingredients when possible, so I replaced milk with coconut milk, butter with Earth Balance, and heavy cream with vanilla-flavored coconut creamer. It came out wonderful. The only traditional component I skipped was browning the (faux) butter – it won’t work, and the flavor is wonderful even without that step. But if you’re using real butter, go ahead and brown it following this simple tutorial.
Gluten-free friends – rejoice! This recipe calls for a scant 1 cup of flour, and will work well with a gluten-free flour of your choice.
- 8 eggs
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon rum extract
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 cup melted butter (or browned butter)
- 1 cup flour
- 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chunks
- 1 cup heavy cream (or non-dairy creamer)
Set a medium pot filled ¼ full with water over high heat. When it boils, turn to a low simmer.
In a medium-sized metal bowl, whisk eggs, vanilla, rum extract, milk and sugar for several minutes until well combined.
Set bowl over simmering water and whisk for several more minutes, until mixture reaches approximately 120 degrees.
Transfer to electric mixing bowl and whip for about 5 minutes. Add melted butter. Mix for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until tripled in size.
Set oven rack to lowest rung, and preheat oven to a 500° broil.
Sift half of the flour into the egg mixture and gently whisk to incorporate. Repeat with the rest of the flour. Be gentle in your mixing, but be sure to completely break up any flour clumps.
Grease two 9” inch round cake pans. Cut two circles out of parchment paper to neatly fit into the bottom of each pan, and then butter the paper, too. This will help you remove the cake from the pan with no sticking or breaking.
Pour a full ½ cup batter into each pan, swirl to completely cover the bottom, and place in oven.
Set timer for one minute, and when it beeps, check to see if top is caramelized. This should take 1-1 ½ minutes. Don’t walk away at this point – you need to watch the cakes.
When tops are caramelized, remove from oven with mitts, and add another ½ cup batter to each pan and swirl, then place back in oven for another minute or so.
Repeat these steps until all batter is used – you should have about 7-8 layers in each pan.
Run a thin spatula around the sides of the pan to loosen, and then turn upside down on a wire rack. Peel off paper, and allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, heat heavy cream (or creamer) over medium flame until hot, but not boiling. Remove from heat, add chocolate, and stir until completely melted.
At this point you have to make a choice: Pile the cakes on top of each other for a higher, more impressive cake, or create two separate smaller cakes. There is enough ganache for two cakes, so if you choose to double up you will have extra for another cake, or to drizzle over ice cream.
Pour ganache over center of cake and use a large spoon to spread evenly. Allow ganache to drip over the sides of the cake and completely cover the layers.
If you have the time, refrigerate cake for an hour to allow the ganache to set up a bit. But you can cut and serve immediately, too.
This cake, when served buffet style, should be cut into so that guests can see what they’re getting into. Cutting out a wedge and setting it aside not only shows off the fabulous multi-layered center, it guarantees there will be something left for you to enjoy when the party’s over!