Ah, baking! I love baked goods – perhaps not to the extent that my spouse loves them, but I do like them a whole lot, nonetheless.
Unfortunately, baking has never been my strength. While I have had an interest in cooking since early childhood, baking has always eluded me. Sure, I have tried my hand at various recipes, but in the end, the one thing that all of my attempts had in common was that the result was less than stellar.
As a child in Germany, I would quite frequently ask my mother to bring home a slice of bee sting cake from the local bakery – and she would happily oblige. Bee sting cake has, thus, long been part of my history.
While I had all but forgotten about this delicious treat in the years since my childhood, it recently popped up on my radar again. I had read an American recipe that tried to recapture a cake that was utterly popular among early German immigrants to the United States, particularly if they settled around Manhattan's Yorkville area. While the cake has essentially disappeared from the American landscape, it is nonetheless a part of our history.
What, you might ask, is bee sting cake? And why in the world is it named after such an unpleasant experience that usually causes swelling? Well, there are quite a few myths surrounding the name – mostly having to do with the very ingredients that make up this particular treat. You see, bee sting cake is essentially a dense yeast dough, sliced in half, filled with a sweet vanilla custard, topped with the remaining yeast dough, and topped yet again with toasted almonds in honey. Yes, it's quite decadent.
The name reportedly stems from a sting the originator of this cake received upon applying the almond-honey topping. Allegedly, the topping was so sweet as to attract a lot of bees. In his/her effort to finish the cake, the baker swatted at the bees to get them out of the way, and was subsequently stung. The cake had just gotten its name!
With all this in mind, I set out to experiment a bit – all in the hopes of creating the very cake I used to enjoy as a child. Rather than go with the American recipe I had read, I decided to go to the horse's mouth – so to speak – and try a few German recipes. I'll spare you the details, but let it suffice to say that my success was very, very limited.
Next, I thought that I should probably try the American recipe – after all, it would have been adapted to U.S. Measurements and U.S. ingredients. While I liked some aspects of the resulting cake, it was clear to me that I would best be served by changing a few key ingredients to make it truly delicious.
If you, like me, are not truly a skilled baker, please be advised that baking, unlike cooking, requires you to stick to the recipe exactly! The dough and topping come from Cook's Country. I strongly disliked their filling, though, and have opted for something much easier, much faster, and much tastier. Something that requires no skill at all!
¾ cup Milk.
2 Egg Yolks.
2 ¾ All-Purpose Flour.
¼ cup Sugar.
2 ¼ tsp. Rapid-Rise Yeast.
½ tsp. Salt.
8 Tbs. Unsalted Butter.
4 Tbs. Unsalted Butter.
¼ cup Honey.
2 Tbs. Sugar.
1/8 tsp. Salt.
2/3 cup (blanched) sliced Almonds.
Vanilla Pudding Mix.
I prefer Dr. Oetker Organics Vanilla Pudding but have had very good results with Jell-O Cook and Serve Pudding Desert.
Let's get started:
Bring out your stand mixer with the dough hook.
Add milk, eggs, and egg yolks to a mixing bowl and whisk together until well combined. Set aside.
Add flour to the bowl of your stand mixture.
Mix together on medium speed – about ten seconds or so.
Lower the speed of the mixer to low and slowly pour in the milk mixture.
When everything is well integrated, return speed to medium again.
Scrape whatever accumulates on the sides into the bowl.
Knead dough for roughly 5 minutes until it is clearly cohesive.
Now add the butter, 1 Tbs. at a time.
Knead on medium for another 10 minutes.
Turn mixer off and dust the dough with a bit of flour.
Also dust a work surface and keep some of the flour on your hands, too.
Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on the dusted work surface.
Knead the dough with your hands until it is very smooth and forms a ball.
Slightly grease a large work bowl.
Place the dough ball in the work bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
Place the bowl with the dough in a warm area and let rise.
In my experience, you can speed up the process by providing gentle warmth the bowl. Thus, I either position it close to a heater or heat vent (if it's winter) or I fill an even larger bowl with hot water and place to bowl with the dough inside of the larger bowl so that the dough is exposed to gentle heat.
In the summer, I simply leave the dough sitting out in my kitchen or, if the a/c is on, I place it outside in the shade.
The dough will need to rise for 1 to 1 ½ hours.
When it is done, prepare a 9-inch round spring form by lightly greasing it.
Line the spring form with parchment paper.
Grease the parchment paper.
Remove the dough from the work bowl and transfer it to the spring form.
Slightly press the dough into shape so that it fills the spring form completely and evenly.
Use a fork and puncture the dough all over.
Loosely cover the spring form with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for another 30 minutes to 1 hour – you will easily be able to tell if and when the dough has risen.
Note: Do NOT put your spring form in a bowl with water – the bottom will let the water through and ruin your dough. I know it sounds funny – perhaps condescending – but I have seen it happen!!! I'd hate to have you ruin all your hard work.
If you purchased blanched almonds, skip the first three steps below!
Bring a small pot of water to a boil.
Add the sliced almonds and blanch for 30 seconds.
Remove the almonds and place them on a paper towel.
Put a small sauce pan over medium heat.
Add the butter, honey, sugar, and salt.
Bring to a boil.
Once the mixture comes to a boil, add the blanched almonds.
Turn the heat off and remove the pan from the stove.
Heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Spread the almond mixture evenly on top of the dough.
Bake on center rack for 15 minutes.
Rotate the spring form to ensure even baking.
Bake for another 15 minutes.
If the almond topping has turned a deep golden brown, skip the step below.
If it's not ready yet, give it another ten minutes – but keep monitoring the topping until it looks right to you.
Remove the cake from the oven.
Do NOT remove cake from spring form. Instead, let the cake and spring form rest on a wire rack for two hours until it is completely cool.
Prepare the pudding according to directions but use one big bowl rather than individual serving bowls.
I like to adjust sugar content since I like it quite sweet. Feel free to do so as well.
Let the pudding cool down completely.
Assembling the bee sting cake:
Remove the cooled cake from the spring form and place on a work surface.
With a large bread knife, slice the cake in half – horizontally – so that you end up with two large round layers: One simply being the base, the other containing the almond topping.
Set the piece with the almond topping aside.
Put the base onto your serving platter.
With your bread knife, cut the base into eight equal pieces but keep them together to maintain the perfectly round shape.
Do NOT cut the layer with the topping. Simply cutting the base will make serving the cake easier while also maintaining a beautiful and cohesive appearance.
With a pastry spreader or large knife, add the pudding evenly to the base.
Carefully place the layer with the almond topping on the pudding (almonds up, of course).
Serve and enjoy!