During our various travels in Ireland last year we watched a lot of BBC, mostly because that’s the bulk of what’s available on your basic hotel cable package. I can’t make a lot of sense of the TV schedule over there, mostly because I never have enough time to get accustomed to it and also because things don’t tend to begin or end on the hour or half hour. Plus we were on vacation, so who really wants to watch television (I do, when I’m jet lagged and can’t imagine peeling myself off the couch).
One show I enjoyed whenever I could manage to catch it was The Great British Bake Off (which for some reason is called The Great British Baking Show when it airs in the United States), but I never got to see how the series ended because it was in the middle of its run at the time. It’s been over for a couple of months in the UK but began airing on PBS in January, so hooray! Now I can enjoy all of the episodes in their entirety.
A side effect of this is that I want to bake constantly, and I want to bake things that are complicated. The last few episodes have focused on progressively more advanced techniques (Advanced Dough last night, and next week Patisserie) and this is great entertainment, but it means I feel like I should try and also bake things like a Swedish Princess Cake, for example, or kouign amann (never heard of it? Neither had I and neither had any of the contestants).
Strictly speaking I should not try to bake these things. Nothing makes me more frustrated than having to chuck out $20 (or more) worth of ingredients because something didn’t rise or come together as it should have. But after reading a few recipes and finding myself shut in for an entire weekend because it was just too cold to go outside, I decided to give dobostorte a try.
Dobostorte (a two-tiered dobostorte was the “showstopper” challenge in a recent GBBS episode) seemed like the most reasonable thing to attempt: it’s simply French buttercream frosting and sponge cake with a caramel layer on top. I used this recipe because it was the most straightforward I could find. I decided to tackle the frosting on Saturday and follow up with the cake on Sunday; I figured that if the buttercream broke or was otherwise a disaster I could either chuck the whole project or simply try again. (Owing to our CSA I’ve four dozen eggs in the refrigerator so it’s not like I was going to run out of those.)
I couldn’t decide what would be more intimidating: the buttercream or the cake. I’d never previously made French buttercream, only the American version with powdered sugar, butter and vanilla. In the end, it really wasn’t that tricky. It did feel as though it took forever to bring the sugar syrup up to “soft ball” stage but I stuck it out; the whole pound of butter blended in beautifully with no lumps and I feel like the chocolate flavor was what I wanted it to be. Once it was finished I packed it away in a Pyrex until the next afternoon.
Now the sponge cake has a very simple recipe, but I have a history with sponge cake dating back to a disastrous attempt at a bûche de Noël several years ago. It seems the key is to sift your flour into the eggs and then fold, fold, fold, fold….fold, until it’s all nicely blended. I held my breath but it worked, and I ended up with two very thin sponges, which I cooled and sliced into oblong pieces to stack and frost. In future I’d bake the sponges a little less…they weren’t tough exactly but they didn’t benefit as much from sitting between layers of creamy frosting as they might have. Lesson learned.
I skipped the layer of caramel on top of the cake because I did run out of sugar, so technically what I made is a prinzregententorte, or prince regent cake. Whatever you call it, it is very good and I would say worth the effort, particularly if you are a fan of having small portions of a very rich dessert. We ate ours with some raspberries alongside, but i don’t think I would serve this with cream or ice cream. The frosting and cake together contain nearly three cups of sugar, a pound of butter and a dozen egg yolks, so a) you don’t need the accompaniment and b) the frosting is creamy and sweet enough that ice cream would be gilding the lily.
I’d make this again, by request or for a special occasion. My husband pronounced it among his top three favorite things that I’ve made, so perhaps he’ll see it again on his birthday later this year.