Anyone who knows anything about pastry can tell you (with the full force of all that is right and true) that what appears in the picture is not a real dobos torte. I am, sadly, not enough of a food historian to tell you how much of the various information about Josef Dobos and his creation that floats around the Internet is accurate, but it would appear that "dobos" is both the name of the patissier (who, it seems, was Hungarian, but may or may not have developed the cake in Vienna) and the Hungarian word for "like a drum." Recipes differ as to the number of layers that a dobos torte should have. Joy of Cooking says nine; other sources say as few as six. Everyone seems to agree that the filling should be something very like a chocolate buttercream and that there should be a layer of hard caramel glaze on the top.
I didn't originally intend to make a dobos torte per se. I was more interested in coming up with an (arguably) easier way to make the cake part, and once I had my seven to ten layers, I was hoping to make a batch of orange curd and a batch of raspberry curd and then alternate them as fillings between the layers. To finish, I wanted to pour ganache over all.
But all that filling seemed like a lot of fuss, and I wasn't sure I was going to make the cake at all until a very rainy afternoon and a very eager (and bored) L. combined to make me promise that we'd make something fun. By the time I made that promise, we were at home, and going back to the supermarket wasn't an option, and there were neither oranges on the counter nor raspberries in the freezer. There was some cream in the frig, and there's always some chocolate in the pantry, though, so I figured I'd make do somehow. When you're cooking with a ten-year-old, you don't have to make the ideal cake that you had in your head, but you do have to end up with something.
The hardest part of making a dobos torte (or an eight-layer cake filled alternately with orange and raspberry curds and topped with ganache) is making the layers. The typical way to make the layers is to either use a whole lot of pans or to use half a whole lot of pans and split the layers. (Alternately, you can make two half-sheet pans of cake and cut them in rectangles and stack those up, but when was the last time you saw someone playing a rectangular drum?) Splitting a cake into layers that are perhaps a third or a fourth of an inch thick is not for the faint of heart, the strong of heart, or the completely heartless. (I don't know how anyone does it. I once made a nine-layer cake with genoise and chocolate buttercream, and I have no idea how I did it. I think I did some splitting of layers, but I'm not sure how much, and I really can't be certain that I split any.) Baking six to ten separate layers is easier, but it is still quite the production.
It occurred to me that it might be easier just to do it with pancakes. But I wanted the pancakes to be cakelike. I didn't want either your typical American flapjack, nor your typical European crêpe. I wanted something in between the two in thickness. And I wanted it to taste like cake. I thought about taking a cake recipe and a crêpe recipe and splitting the difference, but instead I just took a long look at the Joy of Cooking white cake recipe and made what seemed to be suitable adjustments. Starting with using whole eggs rather than just beaten egg whites, so that it really couldn't be called a white cake, but whatever. I used less flour; I used more milk. I wanted some orange flavoring, so I added some Grand Marnier. It seemed like it ought to work. And it did.
My recipe made nine layers. If you count the layers in the picture, you'll only see eight. With the amount of cream I had, I could only make about a cup of ganache, and even though I thought I was relatively frugal by using only about two tablespoons between each layer, I ran out after the seventh layer of filling, so I let L. take the ninth layer of cake and eat it with whatever bits of ganache she could scrape out of the big measuring cup with the bits of cake. She was very happy with it. She was also very happy with the finished product.
8 ounces cake flour
1.25 cups sugar
2 t. baking powder
(a pinch of salt, if you're using unsalted butter)
1/2 cup butter AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
1 t. vanilla extract
2 T. orange liqueur
1 1/3 c. milk
Put the cake flour, sugar, and baking powder (and the salt, if you're using it) in the bowl of your stand mixer. Fit the whisk attachment to the mixer and mix for a couple of minutes.
With the mixer running, add the softened butter. Mix until well incorporated. With the mixer still running, add the eggs (one at a time), the vanilla, the orange liqueur, and the milk. Do not rush adding anything, and don't move on to the next ingredient until the last is well incorporated. Scrape the bowl down if you feel it would help. You want the finished batter to be very smooth and slightly more liquid than normal (American) pancake batter.
Put a nonstick skillet over a medium low flame. When it is hot, add a half teaspoon or so of butter, swirl the butter around, and rub it off with a paper towel. Fill a half-cup measure with batter. Hold it over the middle of the pan, a few inches away from the pan, and pour the batter onto the pan in a slow stream. It should spread into a round nearly as big as your skillet (unless your skillet is very large). Cook until the edges appear somewhat dry and there are large bubbles all over the surface of the pancake. Carefully slide a pancake turner under one edge of the pancake, lift the pancake off the pan, and flip it.
Cook the pancake on the other side for just a minute or so. It will take much less time than the first side took. Invert a cooling rack on top of the pan, flip the pan over, and when the pancake falls onto the rack, take the rack over to the counter to let the pancake cool. Add another small amount of butter to the pan, wipe it out with a paper towel, and make the next pancake. Repeat until they're all cooked.
Flipping a cake pancake is significantly trickier than flipping a flapjack, but it is still a good deal easier than it seems when you first do it. It will seem like it's going to break, and it may, in fact, crack a little, but it will repair itself when the second side cooks. Once you have your pancake turner under the edge far enough to lift the pancake, the whole pancake will follow. Then you just put the dangling side down farthest away from you and finish flipping it. After you've done the second one, it will cease to seem difficult. The pancakes will shrink a bit when they're cooking on side two. Don't let this bother you. Also don't be troubled if the pancakes are not exactly the same size. After you stack them up, you're going to cut them in slices to serve anyway, and the cross section is very impressive even if the rim is not perfectly even. And if the unevenness bothers you, you can always either trim the layers with a large circular template or flan ring or just ice around the sides with some buttercream.
The pancakes turned out very well. The cake itself was a little less good than it might have been because I had an impatient (but very helpful; you should have seen her spreading the ganache on the layers) ten-year-old who wanted to eat cake. And because I don't have enough racks to properly cool nine layers without some overlap. Layers this thin cool fairly quickly, and when you stack them they don't stick, but they would have been even better if they had been left to cool separately and for longer.
Because we ran out of ganache (you can look up one of my earlier ganache recipes; you can also fill the cake with anything you like) after the seventh layer of filling, I microwaved some seedless raspberry jam and brushed a couple of tablespoons of it on the top layer. Then I grated some bittersweet on top of it, while the jam was still warm.
It does take a while to cook nine layers on top of the stove. You could, of course, do it in half the time with two skillets, but it's not particularly taxing work, and you can do something like unload or load the dishwasher or otherwise clean up after yourself while you're waiting for the first side of the pancake to cook. I rather liked cooking the layers that way. L. watched TV while I was cooking the layers, but whenever there was a commercial, she had fun watching me deal with the pancakes. And of course when we got to the filling, she was both fascinated and involved.
I'm definitely going to try this method again. I may add a bit more butter to the batter, and I will likely get some more cooling racks, but I certainly found it more fun than baking nine layers of cake. And I thought the finished product was very good indeed. L. concurred.