Five thin layers (no more, no less) of vanilla sponge cake, each slathered with chocolate buttercream icing, and topped with wedges of caramel-glazed cake—this is the famous Dobos. It’s one of the few Austro-Hungarian creations that is never literally translated, as any Hungarian can tell you that the Dobos is a national institution, and much more than just a layer cake.
There are no shortcuts to a perfect Dobos Torte. The layers must be baked individually—never sliced from one thick cake—to give them their characteristic dryness, all the better to spread with the chocolate buttercream. Luckily the batter bakes very quickly and the process can be speeded up by using two or more baking sheets—and a kitchen timer to keep track of baking times. Get yourself in an assembly-line frame of mind, and you’ll be finished in no time.
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1⅓cupsconfectioners’ sugar, divided
1cup plus 2tablespoonssifted cake flour
pinch of salt
4ouncesbittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1½cups (3sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
2tablespoonsDutch-processed cocoa powder
1¼cupsconfectioners’ sugar, sifted
2teaspoonsfresh lemon juice
12whole hazelnuts, toasted and peeled, for garnish
½cup toasted, peeled, and finely chopped hazelnuts, for garnish
Position the racks in the center and top third of the oven and heat to 400°F.
Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan as a template and a dark pencil or pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so the graphite or ink doesn’t touch the cake batter).
To make the batter: Beat the egg yolks, ⅔cup of the confectioners’ sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer at high speed Until the mixture is thick, pale yellow, and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes.
In another bowl, Using Clean beaters, beat the egg whites Until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining ⅔cup of the confectioners’ sugar Until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about one fourth of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of whites visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half of the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.
Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 34cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the center and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the procedure on the other baking sheet, placing it on the center rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8-inch round springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round.
To make the chocolate icing: Melt the chocolate in the top part of a double boiler over hot water or in a microwave at medium powder. Cool until tepid.
Beat the butter with a handheld electric mixer on high speed in a medium bowl until smooth. On low speed, beat in the cocoa, then the confectioners’ sugar. Beat in the cooled chocolate, then the vanilla.
Set aside the best-looking layer for the caramel top. Place a dab of the icing in the center of a 7½-inch cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with about ⅓ cup of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake. Refrigerate uncovered while making the caramel top.
To make the caramel topping: Line a jelly-roll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly butter a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
Stir the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush, until the syrup has turned into an amber-colored caramel.
Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. Using the spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the knife, cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges. Cool completely.
Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Serve chilled.