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For over 50 years, this has been THE family cake, appearing at every seasonal event and celebration. It used to be made by my grandmother, then my mother, and many years ago it became my job.

There are cakes that are more complicated to make, but this, admittedly, is not as easy as whacking a bunch of ingredients into a mixer and pow! you have a cake. It has some steps which demand that the baker be in a patient, Zen mode. I have absolutely no idea where the recipe came from. For a while my mother called it Dobos torte, but I can be a stickler for details (and a nuisance daughter) when it comes to things like this. I probably annoyed my mother by pointing out that it was in no way an authentic Dobos torte. 

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The signature of a Dobos is very thin layers and a hard, crisp toffee/caramel decorative topping. I suppose I could split each of my four layers in half and make this as an eight layer cake. I'm sure the sponge cake is authentic and Grandma Cake - like Dobos - does have a coffee flavour. When purchased at delicatessens, the pastry cream filling might be the same colour as our cake - or sometimes darker - and some bakeries cover it with a thin layer of chocolate. This is the most favourite cake of Mr. KB who secretly hopes there will be some left after family events (wink).  My favourite thing about this cake is that I convince myself that with all these eggs, I should count it as a protein - not dessert - hehe.

Be forewarned that you will need a fairly large mixing bowl for the last step which combines 10 beaten egg yolks and 15 beaten egg whites (and flour). 

On the day you are making it, start by taking the eggs out of the fridge so they can come to room temperature. Make the coffee that will be used in the icing so that, too, can cool to room temp. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease/flour 4 pans and line the bottom of each with parchment - unless you have "swivel" pans like mine - see photo below. Measure out everything before beginning assembly. Typical of old recipes, the measures provided were imprecise - as in "rounded tablespoons" - in most cases i added what I reckon is the precise measure.

Getting Ready:

  • bring eggs and butter to room temperature
  • measure out dry ingredients
  • prepare bake tins - butter and flour


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Separate eggs - all 15 whites can go into the large bowl of your stand mixer; 12 yolks will go into the smaller bowl; 3 yolks will go into a small saucepan (and will be part of the icing). Egg yolks can quickly form a "skin" so I mix the 3 egg yolks in the saucepan with the 1/2 cup sugar in that step - will get back to that later.
  3. Beat 15 egg whites to soft peaks as outlined below.
  4. Do the egg yolk step as outlined below.
  5. Fold beaten egg whites into egg yolk mixture.
  6. Slowly and gently fold flour mixture into wet mixture.
  7. Bake. If you plan to ice the cake the next day, wrap cooled layers in plastic wrap.
  8. Make coffee cream for icing. If you plan to complete making the icing the next day - this mixture can be kept in the fridge in a sealed container.

12 rounded TB all purpose flour  (about 1 ¼ c.)
1 tsp baking powder

Stir together flour and baking powder. Set aside until needed.

12 eggs (plus 3 more) ~ at room temperature

See my tips page on separating egg yolks / whites.  All 15 of the egg whites will be used for the cake. Three of the yolks will be used for the frosting - see the first step in the icing recipe below re how to handle these 3 egg yolks.

12 + 3 egg whites

Beat in the largest stand mixer bowl, using whisk attachment, until soft peaks form. This is important - it is harder to combine the whites with the yolks if the egg whites are beaten to stiff peaks. Fold whites into yolks a small amount at a time. Do this in a large somewhat shallow bowl - see Tips below.

12 yolks
12 TB rounded spoons of sugar (3/4 c.)
1 ounce oil (2 T)    
pinch salt    

Use the smaller bowl of the stand mixer - the larger one will be needed for the 15 egg whites (above). Combine yolks, sugar, oil and salt / beat in mixer at medium speed - using whisk attachment - until light yellow and slightly thickened - that might take 3-5 minutes.  This yolk mixture will next be combined with the beaten egg whites, so go ahead and transfer the yolk mixture to the large bowl you will use for folding. 

Gently fold flour mixture into the combined egg white /yolk mixture – use a sifter, incorporating small amounts at a time – this prevents flour clumps in the cake. This is the stage that requires some patience. Sifting and folding small amounts of the flour mixture takes some time. Folding in more than a very light dusting of flour will result in clumps of flour in the batter and baked cake. A squeeze sifter helps with this task.

Bake at 350 F until done (15-20 minutes, but check even after 10 minutes); if using two oven racks then switch top/bottom, and rotate pans, half way through. (I rotate the pans at 10 minutes, then take them out 3-5 minutes later.) The usual cake test for doneness is to lightly touch the cake and it's done if the top springs back. For these cakes that can be deceiving so best to test with toothpick - done if it comes out clean. Let cool in pans - they will collapse a bit - this is normal.

Coffee Butter Icing

3 egg yolks  
4 TB strong coffee (room temp)    
½ cup sugar    
½ tsp vanilla    

(I don't usually get around to cooking this mixture until the cake is in the oven or cooling. Egg yolks can surprisingly quickly form a dry skin / film - so here's what I do to avoid that. After separating all 15 eggs, I put three yolks in a saucepan and mix it with the sugar - no heat, no cooking. This prevents a skin / film from forming on the yolks.) 

Back to the recipe - combine all of the above in small saucepan. Ensure that the coffee is no longer hot, otherwise it may "cook" the egg yolks. Cook over medium heat until thick. Cool - must be absolutely cool, to at least room temperature, before adding to icing. (If you are making this in a compressed time period, transfer this cooked mixture to a larger pan and refrigerate. It will cool quickly if it is in a thin layer.) See "Make ahead" tips below. I never know what to call this... coffee cream? coffee thingy?
3/4 lb sweet butter (3 sticks)    
4 c icing sugar

Using paddle attachment, beat butter for 2 minutes.  Add coffee cream and beat for an additional 2 minutes. ½ cup at a time, add icing sugar with mixer on low, then increase speed to high for 10 seconds, then back to medium for a few minutes; scrape bowl after each addition. 

½ tsp vanilla    Add at the end, beating on med/high for two minutes

Add cocoa if/as desired to change colour/taste. I add 1-2 tsp of Dutch processed cocoa. IMPORTANT - to avoid introducing cocoa lumps to the icing press cocoa through a small sieve when adding.

Notes and Tips...

  • Grease pans - I always mean to ask some expert what "grease" means. In my grandmother's day, "grease" meant shortening, and that meant Fluffo (now defunct). Crisco shortening took it's place, and while that, for a while, was considered trans fat hell, it claims to no longer contain trans fats. I have used shortening, sometimes butter. I once tried one of those pan sprays and in the case of this cake the cake layers shrank away from the sides by about a half inch! I do not know the physics involved in that.
  • Pans - as befits an old recipe, I use old pans for this; they are 9" with about 1.5" sides. I am assuming any 9" cake pan would work. Best to use parchment.
  • Soft peaks - the beaten egg whites are going to be folded into the egg yolk mixture so they must not be beaten past the "soft peaks" stage. If the egg whites are too stiff/solid they become little "clouds" in the egg yolk mixture, never fully incorporating....
  • Folding - there are two stages of "folding" - adding the egg whites to the egg yolk mixture and then adding the flour. Both stages require a delicate touch and patience. Here's a video on "folding". Adding the flour is done most easily using a squeeze sifter - and just a light dusting at a time.
  • Folding bowl - for this recipe, I found folding to work best in a large dish with sides that are more shallow than a bowl from a mixer. The bowl I inherited to do that felt just a touch too small and so I got a larger one - 17" diametre. it was a good investment since I use it for mixing my granola, and it makes an appearance in sausage making and more. Nested aluminum bowls are a great investment
  • Strong coffee - this can be prepared any way, but the easiest is to have instant espresso powder
  • Icing - the original recipe handed down to me made icing from only 1/2 lb butter and 1 1/4 cup icing sugar - that was never enough to ice it!? Some may like the colour of the icing as is, but cocoa can be added to make it a tiny bit darker.
  • Cooled cakes / Assembly - not sure why, but when I remove the cake layers from the pans, the underside of the cake has some moist crumbs attached - I just lightly dust those off. I make these ahead of time and wrap them in plastic wrap, and next day when I unwrap them, the top of the layers can be a tiny bit "sticky", gunking up my hands a bit. Best to unwrap each layer just before using it in the icing / assembly stage.
  • Storage - though there is not often a lot of this left, it is best to store it in a cool or refrigerated place.
  • Make ahead - since I make this mainly for family events, the "day of" is always too busy and so this is a "make ahead" - one or two days ahead.
    • If two days: I make the cake two days ahead, let the layers cool completely and wrap each layer individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate. It's fine to stack them on top of each other. The icing can also be made fully two days before and refrigerate. On the day you're using the cake, let the icing come to room temperature and briefly whip it again in a mixer.
    • I also make the coffee flavoured "cream" and refrigerate it in a covered container. (Pretty much have to make that coffee thingy since it is best to use the egg yolks left from the cake right away.)
    • the day before, i take the cake and the coffee thingy out of the fridge; butter for icing out of fridge; make icing and frost cake. The cake does not have to be refrigerated for the next overnight as long as it is kept in a cool place. In the winter, my garage is my refrigerator extension and I put it there under a cake cover.
    • if same day, make cake and coffee thingy early in the day, then icing and frost cake only once it is totally cool.

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