Thursday, September 8, 2016
German Bee Sting Cake (Bienenstich)
Every year for Lewis's birthday, instead of the traditional cake, he's allowed to choose a random dessert and no matter how complicated or foreign it is I have to bake it. It's a challenge I am always willing and eager to accept and over the years I have made some pretty freaky desserts, some good - others disastrous (mostly falling victim to Pinterest fails) this year, however, proved to be an epic win.
As if this post wasn't German enough, here's a picture of an adorable dachshund in a sweater - you're welcome.
It is no secret we have an obsession with Germany and European desserts in general, so it was no surprise to me that this year he chose something from Deutschland. This is unlike any cake I have ever made, and although it was very time consuming, it has turned out to be one of my favorite desserts. The "cake" is more akin to a sweet yeast bread that is topped with caramelized honey almonds and if that wasn't enough, it is stuffed with perhaps the most delicious substance on earth - vanilla bean pastry cream. Now because this recipe was completely foreign to me I spent some time researching different recipes, I noticed the vast majority used vanilla pudding mix to season the filling which wasn't gonna fly with me considering I am somewhat of a pastry cream snob, so I knew that was top priority for me. I ended up choosing a recipe from Smitten Kitchen and changed some things according to her personal notes and comments I saw on her page.
German Bee Sting Cake (Bienenstich)
Original recipe from Smitten Kitchen
There are a lot of ingredients and tons of steps but we can get through this together! Ready?!
2 1/4 tsp (or 1 1/4-ounce package) active dry yeast**
3/4 cup whole milk, ideally at room temperature (or heated if you're using active dry yeast)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp table salt
2 large eggs, ideally at room temperature
4 TBS unsalted butter, at room temperature
**The original recipe called for instant yeast which I didn't have but I learned that you can swap out active dry for instant as long as you dissolve the active dry yeast in a warm liquid (in this case milk) and your rising time might increase. I personally did not notice a change in rising times.
IF you choose to use active dry yeast, you will need to carefully heat the milk reaching a temp. anywhere from 95°F-115°F to activate the yeast. If you're using instant yeast, you can just add it into the other ingredients dry.
Combine all of the cake ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl, stirring till the mixture becomes cohesive, then stirring for two minutes more. In a stand mixer, you can mix this with the paddle attachment (no dough hook needed; batter is thin) at low-medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down sides, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free place for 60 minutes, till it’s a little puffy. (It won’t fully double; this is fine.)
Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (or, if you have it, a 9-inch round springform pan). Stir the batter a few times to deflate it slightly, then scrape it into the prepared pan and nudge it until it fills the bottom. Cover again with plastic wrap (don’t let it drape in and touch the top) and set aside for another 30 minutes.
HONEY ALMOND TOPPING
6 TBS unsalted butter, cold is fine
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 TBS honey
2 TBS heavy cream
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
Two pinches of sea salt
Meanwhile, make the honey-almond-crunch topping: In a small or medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter, sugar, honey, cream and salt until the butter is melted. Bring to a simmer and let it boil for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes a shade darker (it should go from a yellowish tone to a light beige), stirring frequently. Stir in the almonds. You will probably panic because this mixture is going to get very thick — but don’t. Set it aside to cool slightly. Now you should preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Once the cake has finished its second rise (again, it’s not going to rise a lot; don’t sweat it) use a small spoon to scoop out small amounts of the almond topping and distribute it over the top of the cake. It’s going to be a little pesky because it is firm, but I promise, even if it’s not perfectly distributed, it will all smooth out just fine in the oven.
Bake cake on a foil-lined tray to catch any caramel drips, for 20 to 25 minutes, until top is bronzed and toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free. (Caramel on it is fine, and should be tasted.) Transfer to a cooling rack and let it sit in the pan for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, run a knife along the outside of the cake, making sure no places are stuck and invert the cake onto the cooling rack (this is where the springform pan will save you some trouble). Reverse it back onto another rack to finish cooling, replacing any almonds that fell off right back on top. They’ll merge back with the caramel as it cools; nobody will know.
While the cake is baking, start on the pastry cream. Warm milk and vanilla bean scrapings (if using; if using an extract, don’t add yet) in a medium saucepan. Pour into a small bowl or cup, ideally with a spout. Set aside. Rinse saucepan with cool water, to rinse and cool; wipe to dry. Off the heat, whisk the yolks and sugar vigorously together for a minute, until pale and ribbony. Whisk in flour and salt until smooth. Drizzle in warm milk mixture, a spoonful at a time, whisking the whole time. Once you’ve add half of it, you can add the rest in a more steady stream, again whisking the whole time. Return the saucepan to the stove and cook on medium-high heat until it bubble, then simmer for one to two minutes, more whisking the whole time. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and any extracts you may be using. Cool custard completely before using, a process that can be sped up in the fridge or whisking it over a bowl over ice water
PASTRY CREAM FILLING
1 cup whole milk
Seeds from 1/4 to 1/2 vanilla bean, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 TBS all-purpose flour or cornstarch
1 TBS cornstarch**
2 pinches sea salt
2 TBS unsalted butter, cold is fine
**Some people said that by using all flour, they noticed an off flavor, so I used both flour and cornstarch.
Finally, assemble the cake: Once both the cake and pastry cream are fully cooled, place the cake on a serving platter and divide it horizontally into two layers with a long serrated knife. Spread pastry cream over bottom half. Place top half on pastry cream. Serve in wedges; watch out for bees. Refrigerate any leftovers.
NOTE: If you desire a filling that is lighter in texture, you can always blend heavy whipping cream and sugar until stiff, then fold into vanilla bean pastry cream.