Dobos Torta: The Cake with the Secret Recipe!

When I was in kindergarten, my teacher put on a pageant for the parents, and I was part of the Angel Band. Nine of us little angels stood in a line with tinsel halos and cardboard wings covered with aluminum foil. Each held an instrument. After the other eight angels played their triangles and shook their rattles, I was to give my drum one giant wallop. Well, boy did I.  When my turn finally came, I banged that drum so hard, one cardboard wing snapped off and my halo went flying. It was one of my proudest moments.

P1070820In Budapest, there’s a special drum you don’t play, but you do get to eat. It’s called Dobos Torta. Dobos means drummer in Hungarian. World famous, this show-stopping pastry consists of six thin layers of vanilla sponge cake smothered with chocolate butter cream and topped with thin wedges of caramel-glaze. Because the caramel layer looks like the skin of a drum, many assume that that’s where the cake gets its name, but it isn’t so. The pastry was invented by master Hungarian chef József Dobos in 1884. In an era when cooling techniques were limited, Dobos’s aim was to create a cake that would last longer than other pastries. The caramel topping keeps it from drying out.

When Dobos introduced his new showy dessert, it was an immediate sensation.  Dobos Fever hit Europe, and orders poured in from all over the continent. One of the reasons for P1070829the cake’s huge success was its use of buttercream, a little known ingredient that Dobos picked up in France. Up till then pastries were filled with whipped cream or custard.

For decades, other pastry chefs tried in vain to re-create Dobos’s famous recipe, but Dobos kept it a closely-guarded secret until he retired. Surrounded in scandal, these attempts to divine the secret even became the basis for an operetta. If they ever revive the show here in town, I’m going to go to the auditions and try out for the drummer. As you know, I’m very good at it.

11 thoughts on “Dobos Torta: The Cake with the Secret Recipe!

  1. Last weekend of September 2 people visited Hungary. Why is this fact interesting? Cause they came from Argentina and it was their very first visit. They are quite old and speak Hungarian fluently. They learned it from their parents who left Hungary in the 1920s. And these parents gave their children not only the language but 2 recipes too. One of these 2 people, a woman, makes Dobos cakes that became very popular in that area where she lives (Chaco) and she could earn enough money to feed her family. Other of them, a man, learned from his father how to make real Hungarian sausages.That weekeend they could try the original ones.

  2. My sister in New Jersey makes a very delicious Dobos Torta. She will be 70 years old and has been making it for the family for many years…

  3. Thanks for sharing your Budapest with us. I’ve been a Dobos Torte fan since babyhood. My mother’s parents emigrated to Canada from the Tokaj area in the 1920′s and I grew with Dobos Torte as my preferred birthday cake. Sometimes my mother baked, sometimes an aunt would make one. And sometimes we bought one from the now long-gone Hungarian bakeries that were just across the border from us in Southern Ontario. As with everyone, my mother is aging and most of my aunts have passed away. Luckily their recipes (and there are several different versions) for Dobos Torte have been passed on to me. So I’ve experimented and I believe I have perfected the cake part, (the butter cream I’m never happy with! Still working on what i would consider perfection) Below is a copy of what I think best captures what the cake should be like, light and moist with a just a hint of sponginess. (I found most of the Dobos Torte in the commercial bakeries in Budapest [Gerbeaud included] are too dry. I’m told that these cakes are make from mixes and adapted into the form) I like lemon zest, but one can substitute orange zest or, as my mother prefers, just vanilla flavored.

    Dobos Torte – 7 layer recipe.

    Preheat over to 425 degrees
    Line upside down 8-9” spring pans with parchment paper
    Butter and flour the parchment

    10 egg whites
    1 pinch salt
    9 egg yolks
    2/3 cup cane sugar
    1 table spoon vanilla extract
    1 tablespoon lemon zest
    1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

    Beat egg white with pinch of salt until egg whites forms stiff peaks. Put aside.
    Beat egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest and sugar until the mixture turns a soft lemony yellow and sugar is dissolved.

    Gently fold the whites and the sifted flour into the yolk mixture, a bit at a time. At this point you should have a nice light batter.

    Ladel 1/7th of the batter onto the parchment lined spring pan. Spread so that the batter is even across the pan.
    Bake each layer for 8-10 minutes, until the tops just beginning to turn a golden color. The edges might just start to tune brown. Since the layers are so thin, you have to take care that they don’t burn.
    With a sharp knife, score the cake around the circumference of the pan so that they drop easily onto a cooling rack.
    Repeat until all seven layers are complete.

    As they cool, prepare the mocha butter cream frosting. Top with candy topping. My current frosting is pretty simple but it melts if left out of refrigeration too long:

    2 cups quality unsalted butter – room temperature
    1 cup confectioners sugar – sifted
    3 tablespoons 100% cocoa baking powder
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 teaspoon instant espresso powder dissolved in a tablespoon of strong coffee

    Blend these ingredients with a mixer until the butter and sugar are fluffy and one, no sugar grit remains.
    Spread a thin veneer of the frosting between each of six layers of the cake. For the seventh layer cover with the candy top.

    Candy Top.
    Simply melt one cup of sugar over medium high heat in a stainless steel skillet. When it starts to melt gently stir so as to prevent it from getting too dark until all the sugar dissolves. Pour the mixture over the seventh layer. While it sets, heat a knife, coat with a bit of light cooking oil and score the top so that slices can be cut.

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