What is Baumkuchen?

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  • Written By: Debra Durkee
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2019
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Baumkuchen is a traditional German cake that dedicated bakers have been crafting for several centuries. The name literally translated into English means "tree cake," a reference to the thin layers that are visible when the cake is sliced. True baumkuchen is extremely labor-intensive, and requires special equipment to prepare.

Rather than being simply placed in a pan, a baumkuchen is baked on a spit over a heat source. Bakers drip the cake batter onto the spit, where it turns and allows the cake to cook slowly and evenly. Once the layer has turned to a golden brown color, another layer of batter is brushed on top of that. The process repeats until the cake is finished, when it is covered with chocolate, marmalade, sugar, or glaze. Creating a baumkuchen in the traditional manner takes skill and practice.

When removed from the spit and sliced, each golden layer can be seen and distinguished from the next as it is separated by a slightly darker yellow line, much like the rings of the cross-section of a tree. Three-foot (0.9 m) baumkuchens weighing up to 100 pounds (45 kg) with 25 layers of cake have been made by extraordinarily skilled pastry chefs. These are a rarity, though, and difficult to make.


The history of the baumkuchen is foggy, as the process of making one was a closely guarded secret for some time. The German town of Salzwedel is said to be the birthplace of the baumkuchen, although this is the place where the layered cake rose to fame rather than the place where it was first developed. Its popularity skyrocketed in the mid-19th century, when King Frederick William IV of Prussia first tasted one on a trip through Salzwedel. He requested that the leftover cake be taken with the royal caravan, cementing its notoriety. After the royal visit, more bakers began making the difficult cake.

While true baumkuchen is nearly impossible to make in the home kitchen, there are a number of recipes that allow the household baker to come close to the German dessert. These recipes usually include traditional ingredients like butter, sugar, rum, almonds, flour, and lemon. There is no right way to glaze the traditional or homemade baumkuchen, though a thin glaze of chocolate, melted fruit jams or almond paste is common. In the home oven, a spring pan can be used to contain the batter as it is spread in layers and cooked in a way similar to what German bakers have been doing for centuries.


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