Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Baumkuchen means “tree cake,” and a glance at one of these German specialties explains the name. In its uncut form, a Baumkuchen is a 3- to 5-foot-tall cylindrical column, hollow on the inside and patterned in ridged rings on the outside. The result surely suggests a tree trunk, albeit one glazed with a sheer white icing or, for more modern tastes, a chocolate frosting. To be served, it is cut horizontally in curved shavings and slices to show a series of rings much like the age rings of tree trunks. Those rings are a result of the baking process. Baumkuchen is one of a long line of spit cakes, some dating back to medieval times. These cakes are baked—or perhaps more correctly, grilled or toasted—on rotisserie spits over or in front of wood fires or, commercially today, electric grill-ovens. The spits are fitted with cone-shaped or elongated sleeves covered in layers of wet parchment. The batter for Baumkuchen is a rich, foamy, custard-like mixture that includes eggs, butter, flour, and possible flavorings of lemon, almond, or vanilla. When the spit is hot enough, portions of batter are poured over the parchment (or the spit is lowered into a trough of batter), and the thick liquid wraps around the revolving spit as it bakes. When one layer has turned pale golden brown, another is poured over and so on, accounting for the rings and often adding up to between 16 and 35 layers, depending on the width desired.