This month marks 12 months of baking breads together and given that’s it’s also a season when there’s a lot of festive baking done in parts of the country and the world, Aparna thought we could bake something special this month. And the choice falls for Bienenstich Kuchen or what’s also known as the German Bee Sting Cake!
Bienenstich is not really a bread but a traditional German sweet yeasted cake that has a baked on topping of crunchy almond toffee-like layer and filled with a vanilla pastry cream. Bienenstich is traditionally eaten as dessert and also served with tea or coffee.
Bienenstich means “bee sting” in German and probably got its name from the honey flavoured topping that it typical of this yeasted cake. There are however some interesting stories connected to it. One story is that the German baker who was creating this recipe came across a bee (possibly attracted by the honey) and was stung by it and decided to name the cake after the incident!
Another story is that a group of German bakers stopped invaders from entering a neighbouring village, sometime in the 15th century, by throwing beehives at them. IN order to celebrate their victory, they created the original version of the Bienenstich.
The Bienenstich is made with enriched brioche-like dough that’s typical for yeasted cakes which means that it contains a lot of butter, some milk and eggs. I have reduced the egg to one in the recipe. If you do use eggs you can use one more (total of 2 eggs) but you might need to add one or two tbsps. more of flour to the dough. On the other hand if you don’t use eggs, please leave it out. It will make a slight difference to the texture but not too much.
This yeasted cake is typically filled with pastry cream which is a mix of custard and whipped cream. I have used an egg-free version that uses custard powder but feel free to use your preferred recipe for custard using eggs.
You may also like to use butter cream, Bavarian Cream or Diplomat Cream. Remember the cake is a bit heavy so your filling should not be runny or too soft or it will not be able to carry the weight of the upper cake layer. You can also add fruit (strawberry, kiwi, mango, etc) to your “cream” layer even though this is not traditional.
I have baked my Bienenstich in ramekins and served individually but you can also bake it in a round or a square tin and cut it out into squares like we do with brownies.
One of the problems of this yeasted cake is making sure the filling is strong enough to take the weight of the upper layer. The other problem is cutting the Bienenstich into slices or squares without the filling squishing out ad making a mess of everything.
The first problem can be taken care of by using a filling that will hold up and not using too much filling. The whipped cream can be stabilized with cornstarch (or agar or gelatin if you use it). You can always thing the remaining fillng and serve it with the Bienestich as a sauce.
The second problem can be taken care of by placing the lower layer of the cake on the serving plate and then makinge a collar around it with a double layer of parchment paper that should be a little taller than the height of your finished Bienenstich. Now spread the filling over the lower layer evenly.
Then pre-cut your upper almond toffee layer into slices or squares depending on the shape of your Bienenstich. Now place the slices/ squares on top of the filling so it looks like the top layer is whole. Refrigerate this for at least a couple of hours before serving. When ready to serve, remove the parchment collar, and use the slices/ squares as a guide and cut through the filling right to the bottom.
Note: If you cannot find sliced almonds where you live (as in my case), you can make them at home. They will not be as thin as the store-bough version but I personally prefer my home made variety.
Blanch almonds by dropping them in just boiled hot water (not in boiling water, but boiling water that has just been taken off the heat). If you boil them, they will cook and become soft. Let them sit in the water for about 5 minutes. Then drain the water off and rinse once in cold water. Strain well. The skins of the almonds should feel a little loose and look wrinkled now. Pinch each almond at the broad end with thumb and forefinger and the skin should slip off easily.
Let the almonds dry out on a kitchen towel in an airy place for about half an hour. Then lay each almond down on its flat side and, using a sharp knife, slice as thinly as you can. There you have your sliced almonds.
BienenstichKuchen (German Bee Sting Cake)
To serve 6-8
Recipe Source- Aparna
For the Pastry Cream Filling:
250ml milk (I used 3%)
3 tbsp vanilla flavoured custard powder
200 ml cream (I used 40% fat)
1 tbsp corn-starch
For the Dough:
1/4 cup milk (I used 3%)
100gm butter, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
For the Honey-Almond Topping:
50 gm butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup almonds, sliced* (see Note above)
Make the custard for the filling first. This can be made the previous day and refrigerated till required.
Keep aside 1/4 cup of milk, and put the remaining milk and the sugar in pan. Over medium heat, bring this to a boil while stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. In the meanwhile, dissolve the custard powder in the 1/4 cup of milk. Add this in a stream, to the boiling milk and keep whisking so that no lumps are formed.
Keep whisking until the custard becomes very thick. Take the pan off the heat and let the custard cool to room temperature. Whisk it on and off so it stays smooth. If it does become lumpy after cooling, use a hand blender to make it smooth. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
Once you are ready to fill the Bienenstich, whip 200ml of cream till soft peaks form. Then add the corn-starch and whip till it forms stiff peaks. Whisk the custard to make sure it is smooth. Gently fold the cream into the custard. If you feel it is too soft, refrigerate for a couple of hours and then use.
To make the dough, heat the milk until it is quite hot but not boiling. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the milk, stirring it until the better melts completely. Let it cool a little.
In the meanwhile, put the flour, sugar, salt and the yeast in the bowl of your processor. Run a couple of times to mix well and then add the egg (leave the egg out if you don’t use it). Run again till the egg has also mixed well. Now add the butter-milk mixture (it should be warm, not hot) and the then knead till it forms a smooth and soft (loose) brioche-like dough that’s just short of sticky. It should come way from the sides of the bowl and be easy to handle.
Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a bowl. Cover loosely and let it rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. This dough will rise quite well but not to double or as much as your regular bread dough.
Deflate the dough, and shape again to a smooth ball. Place it in a8”spring form cake tin lined with parchment. It is important to do this otherwise the topping will make the bread/ cake sticky and difficult to unmould. Flatten the dough a little, pressing down lightly so that the dough fits the cake tin. It doesn’t matter if its not touching the sides like batter does. Let it rise for about 30 to 45 minutes. It will not rise very much and look a little puffy.
Prepare the topping while the dough rises. Melt the butter, sugar, honey and vanilla in a small pan, over medium heat. Keep stirring frequently and it will start bubbling up. Let it cook for about 3 minutes or so until it turns to a light beige colour. Add the sliced almonds, and stir well till the almonds are well coated. Take the pan off the heat and let it cool a bit. The mixture will become quite thick.
Now get ready to bake the bread/ cake. Once the dough has risen, use a spoon take bits if the topping (it will be quite thick, like a sticky fudge) and distribute it uniformly over the surface. If there are small gaps they will get covered once the bread/ cake is baking.
Bake at 180C (350F) for about 25 to 35 minutes until the top is golden brown and bubbling. A cake tester through the centre should come out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for abpout 15 minutes. Then gently loosen the sides with a spatula and unmould. Let it cool completely on a rack.
When it has cooled completely, slice the cake into two equal layers carefully, using a very sharp knife. Spread the pastry cream on the lower layer and top with the upper layer and refrigerate till ready to serve.