With great joy last year I discovered The Culinary Historians of Southern California (CHSC). I attended a lecture about food at the LA Central Library, followed by a reception in which the foods discussed were served. I was hooked. Became a member on the spot.
We just had our Members Only Fall Event over the weekend and it was spectacular. The party was centered around a theme (swoon!)—we went on a road trip dining our way through the Harvey House Hotels (swoon, swoon)! Each member brought a dish that was once featured on a Harvey House menu. I brought Dobos Torte.
In true CHSC fashion, the menu along with all the recipes was sent to all the members in advance. I signed up for the Quick Dobos Torte immediately. And you know who else did? Charles Perry. He is the president of the CHSC and a former staff writer of the food section of the LA Times. I'm not gonna lie. I felt a little nervous about that! But (spoiler alert), it all worked out stupendously. My dessert was a hit!
The first decision I made was not to follow the recipe that CHSC sent me. Not that there's anything wrong with starting with a pre-made pound cake, mind you. It's just not my way. So, instead of making a "Quick Dobos Torte," I made Dobos Torte. I found a recipe on Smitten Kitchen that looked about right, so I went for it. I did follow the recipe they sent me for the filling. And the frosting recipe? Well, I came up with that all on my own.
This was our menu for the party:
Appetizers: Cheese Straws, Guacamole Monterey, Relish Dish, Shrimp Cocktail
Salads: Tossed Greens with Roman Dressing, Tossed Greens with Apples, German Potato Salad, Fruit Salad, Chiffonade Salad
Entrees: Tenderloin Tips, Salmon with Mustard Sauce, Chicken a la Marengo
Sides: Cauliflower Green Resteli, Potato Souffle, Spaghetti Incasiati, Stuffed Mushrooms
Desserts: Scrambled Fruit Pie, Royal Chocolate Layer Cake, Quick Dobos Torte, Peaches Au Gratin, French Apple Pie with Nutmeg Sauce
It was a delightful afternoon of eating and chatting with culinary historians. My tribe!
Dobos Torte Recipe
7 large eggs, divided
3 large egg yolks
455 grams powdered sugar (3 1/2 cups)
94 grams flour (3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
Filling (from Harvey House Cookbook):
2/3 cup whipping cream
1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
And for the frosting, I made up my own:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons sifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
Here's how it's done.
You bake each cake layer separately, five minutes each, on parchment paper. I wanted a 4" x 8" cake, so I drew stencils on each sheet of parchment.
Smitten Kitchen recommends buttering and flouring the parchment. I didn't and it worked out just fine. Just use the reverse side of the parchment. You don't want your batter coming into contact with the ink or graphite or whatever you used to draw your shape.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Separate your yolks from your whites. Since you'll only need 7 whites, I saved three for the next morning's breakfast scramble.
Beat 10 egg yolks on high until pale. Reduce speed and gradually add the sugar, then increase speed and beat until thick and glossy.
(I need a better lighting system when trying to shoot in the evening. This photo does not do justice to the beauty of the batter.)
Reduce speed and gradually add the flour and salt. Increase speed and mix for five minutes. Mix in lemon juice. At this point, you're going to need to beat the egg whites. This is also the point where if you live in a studio apartment, like I do, you begin to worry if the noise is bugging your neighbors. You shrug and continue.
So, about those egg whites—unless you have two mixing bowls, you'll need to transfer the batter to a clean bowl then wash and dry your mixing bowl so you can make magic happen with beating egg whites into oblivion. Beat your seven egg whites until they hold stiff peaks (AKA oblivion). Fold the egg whites into your yolk/sugar mixture. It will be foamy.
Using an offset icing spatula, spread the batter in a thin layer on the parchment paper within your stenciled shapes. It's a little like making a pancake, except a rectangle and completely different batter and you're putting it in the oven. OK, so it's not like making a pancake. But it does resemble one in the photo above.
A quarter of an inch thick is your goal. Don't worry if you go over the edges of your stencil. You'll be trimming them later—squared off edges make this cake look extra cool.
Bake your little cakes in the oven for 5 minutes each. You may want to check after 4 minutes. After all this work, you certainly don't want anything burning. My oven is oh so tiny, so I only had room for two at a time.
I had enough batter to make 11 layers, but I was kinda going way over the edges. Next time, I bet I can get 12 layers out of this recipe.
I made the cake layers the night before and refrigerated them between layers of wax paper. Then stashed the whole stack in a gallon ziplock (with as much of the air removed as I could extract).
Next, make a 4" x 8" cardboard template that you can use to guide your cake trimming session that's about to happen.
Cut out template.
Then carefully trim your cakes, one at a time.
I had to put my cakes away, one last time. I had a busy weekend, so this process was a little disjointed. Look at that precision, though. Makes my heart smile.
You know what else makes my heart smile? Having all the little trimmings left over to make another dessert! You can also see that my cake stack is measuring in at 3" tall, a good height for Dobos Torte. Once you get the filling in there, it raises it up a tad more.
Then be sure to hide behind the cake stack for a silly shot. #funinthekitchen
Now, it's time for the filling! Melt 1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler. I used a Pyrex bowl and a pot of water boiling on the stove. Just make sure the bowl isn't actually touching the water.
While your chocolate is warming up, measure 2/3 cup of whipping cream into your mixer and whip it up. It should be stiff but not dry.
Get your frosting station ready by placing a cooling rack over a tray. This creates a space for any dripping frosting to fall, away from your gorgeous cake. You can scrap up the frosting and use it on the cake if you need to.
Next, make a thin base for your cake so you can easily transport it from your frosting station to your pretty cake plate. I just took the original template I used to trim the cake and covered it with freezer paper, shiny side up. It worked great. You won't even see it once the frosting is on. (If you frost the cake on your pretty plate, you'll likely have a puddle of frosting around the base. Sometimes this is fun, but I felt I wanted a clean plate for this project!)
Allow your melted chocolate to cool down before you mix it with the whipped cream. I transferred it to a fresh bowl to speed up the process. It took about 20 minutes. Just keep checking it. It can't get cold because it won't be spreadable, so find the magic place between this-is-gonna-melt-the-whipped-cream and on-no-it-reached-solid-state-again.
Now, we're ready for the whipped cream!
Fold it together, and voila—this is your filling between your very incredibly thin cake layers.
Using your offset spatula, get to work!
Until you have equally distributed the chocolate whipped cream. I must admit, the filling between layers was not exactly uniform, but it worked out.
Then mix up the outer frosting: 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, 2 tablespoons sifted powdered sugar and 1/4 cup of softened butter. (Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler. Mix in the powdered sugar. Remove from heat. And stir in the butter until it melts.) Let it cool for a couple of minutes before you spread it on your very impressive, mighty Dobos Torte.
Carefully transfer is to your pretty, pretty plate. And refrigerate for at least an hour. It's nice to set the filling and frosting. Besides, who doesn't love cold chocolate whipped cream. Yummy yummy yum yum yum!
And here is my Dobos Torte at the CHSC Fall Member Party, replete with name tag. BTW, in case you weren't paying attention, I did NOT make a Quick Dobos Torte. I made the full-on, full-time Dobos Torte. Eleven separate very incredibly thin cake layers. Who came up with this torture, anyway.
This cake was NOT easy to make. But, it was fun. Yes, it was!
And this was among the silent auction items at the event. How I wish I was planning on attending with seven of my very best friends, a homemade meal by Charles Perry, with the theme of "A Night at the Opera," 19th Century haute cuisine dishes named after operas and ballets. Maybe next year. Until then, I'm going to make another Dobos Torte. I want to perfect my skillz.
Happy very thin cake baking!