Baumkuchen (“tree cake”)

baking, cake, sponge, grill, grilling, German, besthomecook, homecook, home cook, philip friend, philip friend, bake off, bakeoff, GBBO, japaneseweek, japanese week, food, foodie, recipe, Amaretto, orange, nuts, chocolate, glaze,pistachios

Multiple layers of thin grilled (yes, grilled!) sponge, orange and Amaretto liqueur and a chocolate glaze, finished off with pistachios: a wonderful cake that is superb when eaten with a cup of really good coffee.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I confess to having never made a baumkuchen until recently.

I saw baumkuchen pop up on The Great British Bake Off very many years ago in a technical, as well as a couple of years ago on The Great American Baking Show, but I was never really inspired to actually make one: and normally I am straight into the kitchen to try out something that is new to me.

No: I was initially put off by the ladelling of the batter, the grilling, more ladelling, more grilling………many many times over until reaching the top of the tin, thinking that by the time I had got to the top, the weight of it all would give a sponge that harder to swallow than Paul Hollywood’s ego and even tighter than his jeans!

But my fears over the cake were unfounded – this is actually a very light cake that eats all too easily and actually didn’t take that long to make: just under an hour.

I have since made baumkuchen several times, varying the flavour from time to time: I rather like the spiced rum version I have made a couple of times now and my Japanese-inspired matcha version with a ruby chocolate glaze has proved popular: about a teaspoon of proper matcha powder mixed in at the start gives a good flavour.

About the recipe

Pausing when I see the technical instructions on Bake Off is something of a habit of mine (a very annoying habit if you ask my husband!) so I looked back at the scant recipe the bakers were given in the episode on The Great American Baking Show when baumkuchen was made.

So this recipe is essentially a re-hash of the recipe I could see from that technical challenge – with a few of my additions.

As you can see, the lower layers (the first several to be grilled) are fairly similar in colour – but once I got into the rhythm of it all I was able to get alternate layers cooking just that little longer than the previous layer to give more of the tree ring effect.

I have used my go-to mirror glaze to finish off later baumkuchens but I prefer the chocolate glaze below (which is pretty much a firm ganache) as it has more body to it and a more sophisticated chocolate flavour, pushing it almost into sachertorte territory.

Recipe: baumkucken – makes one 6″ cake

Cake batter
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 6 egg whites
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 90g self-raising flour
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 tablespoons smooth apricot jam
  • 1 tablespoon Amaretto or water
Orange and amaretto syrup
  • 100g caster or granulated sugar
  • 300ml water
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 large orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
  • 3 tablespoons Amaretto
Chocolate glaze
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons of the orange and Amaretto syrup
  • 1 tablespoon Amaretto
  • 15og dark chocolate of choice, chopped into smallish pieces
  • pinch of fine salt
To finish:
  • toasted flaked almonds or pistachios or nuts of choice

You will also need a deep 6” loose-bottomed cake tin, oiled and base-lined with greaseproof.

The grill needs to be on its highest setting and has to get fully hot before using it.

Make the orange and Amaretto syrup

(1) Put the syrup ingredients, except the Amaretto, into a pan and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let the mixture bubble away for about 5-10 minutes until reduced a little and slightly syrupy. Stir in the Amaretto and set aside until needed.

For the cake batter:

(1) Beat the butter, sugar, almond extract and vanilla paste to a soft, creamy mixture. Beat in the almonds and then the egg yolks a bit at a time.

(2) Sift the flour over the mixture and fold in gently.

(3) Whisk the egg whites until you have soft peaks. Fold a couple of tablespoons into the cake mixture to loosen it up and then fold in the rest of the egg whites gently until you can see no streaks of egg white.

(4)  Take a tablespoon of the batter spoon it into the base of the tin, spreading out thinly with the back of the spoon. Place under the preheated grill for about 1½ minutes until dark golden.

(5) Repeat with another spoon of the batter and this time grill for about 1 minute or until the sponge is golden.

(6) Repeat with more batter and grill to a dark-golden finish (as with the first layer). The idea is to alternate the layers with light golden-brown and darker golden-brown but you can go for the same colour.

(7) When you have 3 layers cooked, brush the top generously with the orange and Amaretto syrup.

(8) Repeat with the remaining layers, brushing the top with the syrup every 3 layers or so.

NB: as you build up the layers and as the top gets closer to the grill, you will need to reduce the grilling time: later layers can cook in about 30 seconds, so watch it like a hawk!

(9) Brush the syrup generously over the top layer and leave to cool before chilling for a few hours or overnight.

(10) Once chilled, turn out the cake (it turn out very easily!) but keep the cake on its tin base.

Crumb-coat the cake with apricot jam:

(1) Heat the jam and Amaretto in a small pan or in a pot in the microwave. Stir well to loosen it up to give a thick but easily spreadable mixture.

(2) Brush all over the cake and chill it while you make the glaze.

Make the glaze:

(1) Put the chocolate, butter and salt into a heatproof bowl and place over a small saucepan of barely simmering water until melted.

(2) Stir in the syrup and Amaretto and leave it for about 10 minutes or until cooled down but still of a pourable consistency.


(1) Place the cake (still on its base) on an upturned mug standing on a tray lined with clingfilm. Pour over the glaze slowly to coat fully, allowing any excess glaze to drip down: the glaze that falls onto the clingfilm can be scooped back up and poured over if needed or it can be left to set for rolling into small balls and dusting in cocoa powder for simple chocolate truffles.

(2) Decorate with pistachios, almonds or however you wish and leave to set in the fridge. Once set, carefully remove the cake off its base using a large fish slice or palette knife and transfer to a serving plate or cake stand.

NB: if any of the glaze breaks off or smears around the base when doing this, pat a few more nuts to cover up any blemishes.

Author: Philip

Finalist on Britain’s Best Home Cook (BBC Television 2018). Published recipe writer with a love of growing fruit & veg, cooking, teaching and eating good food.

2 thoughts on “Baumkuchen (“tree cake”)”

  1. Harder to swallow than his ego, tighter than his jeans… YOU OUTDID yourself.. (and in the cake too)

    you know I’ve always flirted with trying to bake this – I need to have a non-pandemic time so I can share this with guests, but WOW – saving this tutorial for the future….


I love to hear your comments:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: