I started experimenting with some of the recipes in European Desserts for American Kitchens. I first made a Dobos Torte, and then I moved on to a dessert—Crepes Saint Martin—that featured a delicious, rice-pudding-like filling. I finally saw that the book contained a recipe for one of the "triple crowns" of Lithuanian baking: "Baumkuchenas" (the other two "crowns" would be "Napoleonas" and Nut Torte ... at least at our house).
A homemade Baumkuchenas, of course, would not feature the typical "branches" or dough spikes created by baking the cake on a turning rotisserie over an open flame. If you want a Baumkuchenas with the typical appearance, then order one (the mail-order cakes are quite good). The recipe in European Desserts for American Kitchens, however, tastes almost identical to the traditional, branched cake, and I've been making it since 1972. A few years had passed since I made one, so yesterday I got ambitious.
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Here's how I adapted the recipe:
1-1/2 cups (7.2 ounces) potato or cornstarch
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8.4 ounces) granulated sugar
9 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
9 egg yolks, room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons freshly-squeeze lemon juice
Adjust the oven rack to about six inches below the broiler element. Preheat the oven—on the broiler setting—to 475 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper and the sides of the springform pan with butter. Dust the pan with flour and shake out the excess.
Sift the potato or cornstarch and set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, begin mixing the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt and low to medium speed until the egg whites begin to get foamy. Gradually increase the speed to medium-high and then high. While beating, add about 4 tablespoons of the granulated sugar to the egg whites. Continue beating until the meringue is stiff and holds its shape. Set the bowl with the meringue aside.
In another bowl of the electric mixer, with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the remaining sugar. This should take about 5 to 6 minutes, and the mixture should be very light and pale in color. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the lemon rind and the vanilla extract.
On low speed (or by hand, using a spatula), mix in about one-third of the potato starch. Gently fold in half the meringue. Then, add one-half of the remaining potato starch and the rest of the meringue. Finally, fold in the remainder of the potato starch.
Before beginning to bake, place the bowl with the batter, a trivet, and a large spoon or ladle near the oven. Using the spoon or ladle (or a small, offset spatula), spread about 1/4 cup of the batter in the bottom of the prepared pan. Place in the preheated oven and bake until the layer is lightly browned. The first layer may take about 2-1/2 to 3 minutes. When the first layer is done, remove the pan from the oven, set it on the trivet, and spread another 1/4 cup batter over the first layer. Continue in this manner until you have used up all of the batter. In our oven, the layers take about 2 to 2-1/2 minutes each, and you should end up with about 14 or 15 layers. The baking process is tedious.
Remove the cake from the oven and let it rest, in the pan, on a wire rack for about one hour. Run a knife around the sides of the pan and remove the springform. Let the cake rest until it is completely cool, about two hours.
Before serving, whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice and spread it on top of the cake.