A Bieninstich Adventure
DISCLAIMER: This post is unlike my others. I went out on a limb and onto a baking adventure. I invite interested readers to send me comments/suggestions in what I’ll call a baking workshop.
I, like legions of other food lovers, enjoy Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen food blog. A few months ago, she posted a Bee Sting Cake. It’s a favorite of her mom’s and harkens back to her German-Jewish roots. Bee sting cake or Bieninstch is one of the most popular cakes in Germany. When she posted it, it drew a huge response from all over the world. Not only because of Deb’s memories of going to the Yorkville section of Manhattan with her mom when she was little and visiting the German Konditoris (pastry shops and cafes), but also for her terrific determination in baking several bee sting cakes throughout the week to get it just right! What a delicious science project!
For me, it immediately took me back to going to the eye doctor with my mom in the Upper East Side of Manhattan when I was a little girl. He would try lens after lens to check my astigmatism, saying, in his thick German accent, “Iz deez bet-tair? (read: Is this better?) Or iz deez bet-tair?” He would confuse and entertain me at the same time. I eventually responded, emphatically saying, “Deez iz bet-tair!”
My mom’s 9oth birthday is here (Yes!) and so I’m doing lots of things in the kitchen with her in mind. Bieninstich is essentially a tender, yeast-based slightly-sweetened cake, split in half with pastry cream in the center with a cooked honey-almond-caramel crunch topping. Wow. My hat goes off to Deb for her grand finale after several tries.
This was my first attempt so I approached it with realistic optimism. Good thing. As a good friend always says, “There are no mistakes. Just learning opportunities.” Well, this was quite the opportunity.
The cake calls for instant yeast, instead of active dry yeast. Instant yeast is also sold as bread machine yeast or rapid rise yeast. The yeast may have been instant but I can’t say the same for our lovely cake.
Cake seemed okay as it headed to the oven…
…but I was concerned about the honey-almond crunch topping. In my excitement, I was probably too hasty. The almonds weren’t brown enough. And I should have figured it out when the topping was on the runny side and Deb had described placing the topping in clumps on the cake. There were no clumps of topping (unfortunately, there were plenty of clumps in the custard). When we (yes, we – no way was I attempting this project without support standing by) flipped the cake, that baby couldn’t take the handling and broke up (I can relate, having had personal experience in the Handle with Care Department).
And now the custard issue. I adore custard. I just don’t have experience making it. Probably because I don’t really want to know how much egg/milk/sugar it has in it.
I figured flour and cornstarch are perhaps not exactly interchangeable. So I used 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in lieu of 3 tablespoons of flour. I didn’t get the floury taste. It tasted fine. But the consistency? I got nuggets. Yes, nuggets. My gut was saying, “This looks like a lot of cornstarch.” Thank you, gut. I should have listened to you. Half the cornstarch to replace flour? Experienced bakers, please advise!!
May not be picture-perfect but it tasted delicious. And definitely best eaten the day it’s baked. A tough one for me, because when I have people over, I like to do as much preparation ahead of time as possible. In any case, I’m baking this baby again.
What follows is the recipe that I pass along to you directly from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen. Click here to view her beautiful images of what her gorgeous cake looked like and to read all her notes. Her detailed play-by-play and her images are terrific! My slight changes are in parentheses in the recipe.
BEE STING (BIENINSTICH) CAKE
2 1/4 t. (or 1 1/4-ounce package) instant yeast (not active dry) (also sold as rapid rise or bread machine yeast)
3/4 c. whole milk, at room temperature (I used low-fat milk)
1/4 c. granulated sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 t. salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 T. unsalted butter, cold is fine
1/3 c. granulated sugar (I used 1/4 c. sugar)
3 T. honey
2 T. heavy cream (I used half & half – did that alter the caramelization process?)
1 1/2 c. (4 3/4 oz.) sliced almonds
Two pinches of sea salt
Pastry Cream Filling:
1 c. whole milk
Seeds from 1/4 to 1/2 vanilla bean, 1 t. pure vanilla extract OR 1/4 t. almond extract (I used almond extract)
3 large egg yolks
1/4 c. granulated sugar
3 T. all-purpose flour or cornstarch ( I used 2 T. cornstarch and it was too much… maybe 1 1/2 T??)
2 pinches sea salt
2 T. unsalted butter, cold is fine
For the cake: Combine all of the cake ingredients in a medium-sized bowl, stirring till the mixture comes together, then stirring for two minutes more. Or use a stand mixer, at low-medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down sides, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free place for 60 minutes, till it’s a little puffy. (It won’t fully double; this is fine.)
Butter a 9-inch round cake pan. Stir the batter a few times to deflate it slightly, then scrape it into the prepared pan with spatula and spread it until it fills the bottom. Cover again with plastic wrap (don’t let it drape in and touch the top) and set aside for another 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the honey-almond-crunch topping: In a small/medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter, sugar, honey, cream and salt until the butter is melted. Bring to a simmer and let it boil for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes a shade darker (it should go from a yellowish tone to a light beige), stirring frequently. Stir in the almonds. Set it aside to cool slightly.
Heat oven to 350°F.
Once the cake has finished its second rise, use a small spoon to scoop out small amounts of the almond topping and distribute it over the top of the cake. It’s going to be a little challenging because it is firm, but I promise, even if it’s not perfectly evenly distributed, it will all smooth out beautifully in the oven. (This didn’t quite happen in my attempt.)
Bake cake on a foil-lined tray to catch any caramel drips, for 20 to 25 minutes, until top is bronzed and toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free. Transfer to a cooling rack and let it sit in the pan for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, run a knife along the outside of the cake, making sure no places are stuck and invert the cake onto the cooling rack. Reverse it back onto another rack to finish cooling, replacing any almonds that fell off right back on top. They’ll merge back with the caramel as it cools.
Make pastry cream: Warm milk and vanilla bean scrapings (if using; if using an extract, don’t add yet) in a medium saucepan. Pour into a small bowl or cup, ideally with a spout. Set aside. Rinse saucepan with cool water, to rinse and cool; wipe to dry. Off the heat, whisk the yolks and sugar vigorously together for a minute, until pale and ribbony. Whisk in flour and salt until smooth. Drizzle in warm milk mixture, a spoonful at a time, whisking the whole time. Once you’ve added half of it, you can add the rest in a more steady stream, again whisking the whole time. Return the saucepan to the stove and cook on medium-high heat until it bubbles, then simmer for two minutes, whisking the whole time. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and any extracts you may be using. Cool custard completely before using, a process that can be sped up in the fridge or whisking it over a bowl over ice water.
Finally, assemble the cake: Once both the cake and pastry cream are fully cooled, place the cake on a serving platter and divide it horizontally into two layers with a long serrated knife. Spread pastry cream over bottom half. Place top half on pastry cream. (Note to self: Must try this whole process again to improve on technique.) Serve in wedges; watch out for bees. (Check out the Smitten Kitchen post for possible explanations on the Bee Sting name.) Refrigerate any leftovers.
Now go for it and good luck!!