My mom bought us each copies of the new Essential New York Times Cookbook, which I now read in bed. It’s that fun. The tome’s main quality is that it is readable–a page-turner of history and taste and kitchens and aspic. Its only drawback is that it’s annoying to read in bed because it weighs about eight pounds.

When I read the recipe for baumkuchentorte (what does that mean? something cakey cake?), I got excited. It looks a lot like gateau de crepes, a big favorite around here. When I told my mom about it and its labor-intensive profile, she sighed. “Oh…I saw that…and decided NEVER to make it.” I, having nothing better to do than stand around the broiler for half an hour, was intrigued.

The assembly is fussy. You smear a couple tablespoons of batter in a cake pan, broil it for 45 seconds, and then repeat. A few dozen times. Sound like fun? I had a good time, actually, though I messed with the recipe at every step. In order to avoid cake fatigue, I halved the recipe, which involved finding a new pan (loaf) to replace the original (9” springform). I meticulously fashioned a parchment liner for the entire the loaf pan–warning! Do not do! Paper + broiler = fire. This is a rum-free household so I replaced the rum with almond extract (no drama there). I wanted to top the cake with an almond praline–more fire, as I tried to caramelize sugar that already had (flammable, as it turns out) almonds in it. But it was fine. And because of my experiments I now feel confident in telling you that the best way to top this cake is to broil a dusting of sugar–plain sugar–on top, and then serve slices of the crunchy-topped, golden, layered cake with whipped cream and chopped, roasted almonds.

adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook
serves 5-6

The original recipe claims to serve 8. I’d say, based on what I made, that it probably serves more like 10. If that’s your audience, double the recipe I’ve written here and make it in the 9” springform. Some of the measurements are bizarre, but not challenging. And when’s the last time you used this much cornstarch in one go?

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C plus 1/3 C sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 1/2 t almond extract
3/4 C cornstarch
7 T all-purpose flour
1/4 t kosher salt
extra sugar, roasted almonds, and whipped cream for serving

Butter a loaf pan thoroughly. Line the base with a piece of parchment paper cut to size, and butter it too once it’s in place.

Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add the egg yolks and almond extract, then the cornstarch, flour, and salt. In a separate large bowl, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold them into the batter. I found this step challenging–the batter is pretty stiff at this point and lightening it takes patience. Add a third of the egg whites at first and just stir them in–don’t bother being careful. Then dump in the remaining egg whites and fold them in carefully with a plastic spatula. The batter will be lighter, but it won’t be as light as you may have expected. Cast away your anxiety.

Turn on the broiler and position the oven rack 6-8 inches from the fire.

Using a spoon, plop a couple tablespoons of batter in the loaf pan (2-3 T I’d say). Spread out the batter with the back of the spoon until it’s thin and covers the bottom of the pan. Stash it in the oven for a minute or so. (As you go you’ll figure out exactly how long each layer takes to cook–mine were perfectly golden at 45 seconds and a little burny at 60. If you have a stopwatch you should use it here.) Remove the pan from the oven and smear another two spoonfuls of batter on top of the first one. Because the pan is now hot the butter-rich batter will start melting as you spread it. This is fine. Back in the oven.

As you make more layers you may find that they need less time to cook–now they’re closer to the fire.

Repeat until there’s no batter left. Let the cake cool, run a knife around the edge, and invert it onto your hand and forearm. Place it right-side-up on a heat-proof plate.

Move the oven rack to its highest position. Sprinkle a layer of white sugar all over top of the cake and broil until the sugar has caramelized. (You can do this with the oven door open, your head peering in, so that you can watch the sugar melt.) Take it out the oven.

Alternately, if you don’t feel like burning sugar today, just dust the whole thing with confectioners sugar and call it a day.

Slice and serve with whipped cream and a handful of chopped almonds.