So, a good friend of mine is moving to Germany in just a couple of weeks. As a going away Treat, I decided to make him an authentic German dessert. You know, because he won't be getting enough of those in Berlin. Anyway, I thought it would be a nice Gesture, so I settled on a Bienenstich Kuchen. That's German for Bee Sting Cake.
I've had it before, at a cute bakery about an hour north of Orlando, FL. A little place called Yalaha Country Bakery. Very cool place. They make all their danish dough by hand, and are known throughout Central Florida for their hearty German breads.
Honestly, the Bee Sting Cake had always let me down. It's basically brioche, custard, honey and almonds. What's not to love? But, every time I ordered it, I was disappointed. The custard didn't have much flavor, and the whole thing tasted kind of Flat. I didn't want to make Henry a boring cake, so I figured that I could Improve Upon the ones that I had eaten at Yalaha.
And I was right. But let me tell you, this little guy takes a Long Time to Make. Especially if it's cold in the house. Most of the time is spent waiting--and waiting--for the dough to rise. Not once. Not twice. But three times. Let me remind you, friends, that this dough is basically a brioche dough. It is jam packed full of fat (eggs and butter). Fat inhibits rising, so that's why you end up having to wait around forever for it to rise, but the trade off is in well-developed flavor because of the long, slow rises.
The Bienenstich is supposed to have honey in it. Hence the Bee Reference. I figured that using more honey would be better than using Less, so I used honey as part of the sweetener in the custard. I avoided the Flat Trap by adding a generous amount of salt, and then upped the flavor even more by using my favorite vanilla flavoring, Sonoma Syrups Vanilla Bean Crush. You can buy it from King Arthur, if you want.
Okay, I'll stop making you wait. You'll have plenty of time to spend waiting around when you make this guy.
For the Dough (based on this recipe)
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1 T honey
- 1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
- 2 large eggs
- 3 oz AP flour
- 2 T sugar
- 1/2 very slightly rounded teaspoon salt
- 4-6 oz bread flour
- 4 oz soft unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup honey, warmed to thin it out
- handful of sliced almonds
Combine milk, 1 T honey and yeast in your mixer bowl. Stir to combine and let sit for a few minutes to get all creamy.
Add eggs, AP flour, sugar and salt. Beat with the paddle attachment for about five minutes.
Switch to the dough hook, and add the bread flour, a bit at a time, until you have a very soft dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If it sticks in the bottom, it's fine, but you do want it to clear the sides. Scrape the bowl occasionally to make sure that everything is mixing in evenly.
Once the dough is at the right consistency, knead on medium speed for about five minutes.
Knead in one tablespoon of soft butter every minute or so (still on medium speed). After all the butter is in, knead for a couple of more minutes. Scrape the bowl frequently. The dough will be incredibly soft but not too sticky.
Place in a buttered bowl, cover it, and let it rise until doubled. It could take as little as 2 hours. It could take as much as five or six hours. Don't sweat it, either way.
Once the dough has risen, gently punch it down and knead it in the bowl a few times, just to make sure the yeast is evenly distributed. Form into a smooth ball, put it back in the bowl, cover it again, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Mine was in for about 14 hours.
Once out of the fridge, let it rise again until doubled. If it has magically risen in the fridge, you can skip this step. Mine just stared at me sullenly when I pulled mine out.
Anyway, once it has doubled, smack it down again and then put it in a buttered 9" spring form pan. Press the dough down evenly all across the bottom of the pan. Cover and let rise until puffed and lovely--this can take between one and three hours, so just keep an eye on it.
Once the dough is puffy and beautiful, gently brush the warmed honey on the dough and sprinkle on an even layer of almonds.
Place in a 350F oven and let bake until deep golden brown, about half an hour. If you're concerned about its being done, take its temperature. It should be between about 195F-210F.
Let cool on a rack for a few minutes and then turn out to cool completely. Split in half horizontally and put the bottom half back in the pan. Spread the custard (recipe follows) on the bottom half and then replace the top half. Put it in the fridge for a few hours to set up and chill.
To serve, take off the sides of the pan and dust with a generous amount of powdered sugar.
For the Custard
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 T corn starch
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- about 1/4 cup honey (or enough for it to be as sweet as you want it)
- 2 teaspoons really good vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 oz butter
- 1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped to medium-stiff peaks
In a heavy saucepan, combine all ingredients except for extracts and butter. Whisk over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil.
Reduce heat and continue to cook/boil/whisk for about a minute. Remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl containing the extracts and butter. Let sit for a minute to melt the butter, and then stir well to combine.
Stir over an ice bath to cool down quickly. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and chill in fridge for a few hours, until Very cold and well Set Up.
Once the custard is chilled and you're ready to fill your cake, whisk the pudding to loosen it up a bit. Stir in a little of the whipped cream, and then fold in the rest. Spread evenly on bottom layer of cake. Press top layer down so the custard is even. Let chill for another hour or two before serving.
So, this guy took about 28 hours, from start to finish. Active time was maybe 2 hours. Maybe. Again, this cake is not for the impatient. I am generally an Impatient Person, so I may have cursed every once in awhile. I might have even pleaded with the sullen dough to Rise Already. Regardless, this was well worth the effort. The brioche had a very light and flavorful crumb, the custard was Perfect, and the whole thing read as light on the palate, even though it was Full of Fat, as Most Good Desserts should be.
And the best news? Henry was thrilled with it, and that's what really matters. Best of luck in Germany, Henry. We'll miss you.