The August 2009 Daring Baker's challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Class Caffes of Vienna, Budapest and Prague.
The traditional Dobos Torte is seven layers of sponge cake filled with chocolate buttercream and topped with a decorative layer of caramel topped sponge. I decided to make a few smaller cakes rather than one large one because there is no way we would ever eat a whole big cake. Somehow, four little cakes seemed more manageable.
Good thing I made that decision because it allowed me to practice until I got it right - or at least as right I was going to be able to manage!
I made very thin sponge circles, cooked on a Silpat, for the layers. I used a cookie cutter on the circles to assure a uniform size. The chocolate buttercream was just standard issue - followed the recipe they gave us. The problem was the weather. Despite my lovely air-conditioning, it was warm in the kitchen and the buttercream quickly became too soft when it sat out. Finding the optimal temperature was tough: soft enough to spread without tearing the delicate sponge cake yet firm enough not to melt.
I also learned that the Food Network, despite its detractors, does provide useful information. I've watched all those cake challenges and I know that real bakers use an internal support system when building layered cakes. As I struggled to keep my first mini-Dobos upright while adding layers, I realized I needed some way to keep the layers even. So, mini number 2 had a skewer inserted in the center of the layers. This made it immensely easier to frost the sides and top without having the thing turn into the Leaning Tower of Dobos.
The other struggle I had was the caramel topping. The original recipe calls for the caramel to be poured on the top of one layer, which is then cut into pie-shaped slices and made into kind of a whirl-i-gig topping by supporting the wedges with either a hazelnut or some piped buttercream. This seemed too complex for my little cakes, so I decided to do some fancy caramel swirls or ribbons or whatever to top the little darlings. Nice plan and they always make it seem so simple. Believe me, making caramel into lovely shapes requires skill and probably hours of practice. Caramel is HOT when it is poured. Letting it cool a little is essential (one large blister established it had not cooled enough); letting it cool too long results in brittle rather than pliable caramel. Suffice it to say, timing is critical. I did manage some swirly things and some thin strands and other shapes. Not what I was going for but I recognize my limitations. I like to think of the decorative topping of my Dobos Torte-lini (I made that up) as abstract. Perhaps it is symbolic of the merger of the traditional dessert with a modern variation. Or maybe it is just weird.
The torte was very rich. It did taste good, but small bites were more than adequate. Once again, we tasted but did not indulge. I saved the pretty one for Nick and he had about two bites before he was sated. For some reason, my sweet tooth has pretty much disappeared. I'm hoping Daring Bakers will choose some challenges that are not so desserty - maybe croissants or an interesting ethnic bread.
I'm unable to do the Daring Cooks challenge this month, but if I make anything interesting, I'll post. Otherwise the next Daring Baker challenge will pop up on September 27. And by the way, if you want to see what a serious pastry chef can do, check out http://www.mytartelette.com. This woman's work - both pastry and photography - is incredible. Her variation on the Dobos challenge is absolutely gorgeous and creative.