Drømmekage is a genoise sponge beneath a layer of coconut caramel – a plain cake made glamourous with a baked-on topping. This one is from a recipe by Signe Johansen, from her cookbook ‘Scandilicious’. It belongs to a class of Scandinavian baking that seems to be closely linked to German traditions of Kaffee and Kuchen – Swedish Toscakaka and German coffee-cakes with streusel toppings. There is a Danish word for the togetherness of coffee and cake, hearth and home: hygge. (It also appears on this excellent map of untranslatable non English words. These are cakes designed to be sliced and shared through an afternoon, not squirreled away in a tin for later. It was certainly devoured by my work colleagues last Friday, and generated not a little happiness.
A cake with a baked-on topping is a great thing. A plain cake, but with a little something extra. They strike a nice balance between the slight austerity of a very plain Madeira or pound cake, and the over-the-top elaborateness of a piled high cupcake or layer cake. Whether its flaked almonds on top of a bakewell tart, or a handful of granola on the top of a muffin, they provide not just decoration but a contrast in texture and flavour.
In this cake, the cake is too delicate to add the topping before it is baked, so the solution is to bake the cake, then add the topping and bake again to brown it and merge it with the cake beneath.
This makes it especially important to know when the cake is done – adding the topping too early will (as a Danish colleague warned me) sink the cake, collapsing the sponge into a dense layer. It’s also important to recognise when the caramel is thick enough to top the cake without sliding off.
I’ll give you the recipe, reproduced with very kind permission from Signe’s book, then discuss what’s happening behind the recipe – what are the critical steps?
Drømmekage – Danish Coconut Dream Cake
from ‘Scandilicious – Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking’ by Signe Johansen, Saltyard Books
(and if you like this and live in London, you should definitely consider attending Signe’s Scandi brunch and supper club).
- 4 medium eggs
- 300g golden caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 150g butter, melted
- 150ml buttermilk (or a mixture of yoghurt and milk)
- 300g plain flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 200g butter
– 200g light brown soft sugar
– 150g dessicated coconut
– 100ml whole milk
– 1 heaped teaspoon vanilla sea salt (I used a scant teaspoon sea salt plus half a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste)
Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan/gas mark 5. Line a 20x30cm deep rectangular cake pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2 inch overhang to help remove the cake later. It helps to have the paper extend above the sides of the tin a little to contain the topping later.
Melt the butter and leave to cool a little. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, and mix with a whisk to distribute the baking powder.
Using an electric mixer beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together until thick and pale, the batter should form a ribbon when the whisk is removed from the bowl. This will take several minutes on high speed. If you’re not sure whether it’s thick enough, give it another minute.
Pour in half the melted butter and buttermilk and sift half the flour onto the batter. Fold the batter together with a large metal spoon, trying to incorporate as much of the flour, butter and buttermilk without knocking out the air from the eggs.
Pour in the remaining butter and buttermilk and sift over the remaining flour. Fold the batter as above.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 20 minutes or until the cake has doubled in size, looks light golden brown in colour and is firm to the touch. A toothpick inserted into the cake should also come out clean. You want to be sure it has baked thoroughly and will bear the weight of the topping to come.
Whilst the cake is baking make the topping by adding all the ingredients into a medium saucepan set over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent the sugar from burning. Cook for 5 minutes until the mixture has thickened and some of the liquid has evaporated. It will reduce a little and also change colour to a slightly darker shade of brown. You want something thick enough that it will spread over the surface, and not run too much.
Once the cake is out of the oven turn the temperature up to 220C/200C fan/gas mark 7. Spread the topping evenly over the cake, return to the oven and bake on the upper-middle shelf for 5–10 minutes until the topping is a toasted deep golden colour (I found this step took more like 15–20 minutes in my oven). Cool in the tin before cutting into squares to serve. As the topping had set into a lovely chewy caramel in some places, I found it easiest to turn it over onto a board, topping side down, and slice with a serrated knife.
Behind the recipe
So what’s going on behind the recipe? Where are the critical steps? I think there are four steps that are particularly important:
Whisking the eggs well enough to support the rest of the cake
What makes this a genoise-type of sponge is that it is based on a first step of whisking the eggs and sugar together until thick, rather than the more usual process of creaming together butter and sugar. This thick mixture is known as ‘taking it to the ribbon stage’, as the mix should form a thick ribbon as it trails down from the whisk into the bowl. Once this is done, the other ingredients – in this case, flour, melted butter and buttermilk – are folded in.
Eggs and sugar whisked together – whether just egg whites or whole eggs – will form a pretty stable foam that can hold lots of air, even when deflating ingredients like butter and flour are folded in. It’s almost impossible to over whisk eggs once a substantial amount of sugar has gone in, so if you want to err on the safe side, just keep going with the whisk a bit longer. This is one of those times where you will give up your right arm for an electric mixer – the handheld ones work really well and are not expensive. I used my Kitchenaid with a whisk attachment.
Baking until firm enough to support the topping
In order to support the caramel topping, it’s important to bake the cake until all trace of liquid cake batter has disappeared, and the cake is fairly firm. The recipe gives the baking time as 20 minutes, but given all the variations in oven temperatures and baking tins, you should always check for doneness before the time is up, then at five minute intervals until it looks close. The first thing I check for with a sponge, whether genoise or creamed, is whether you can still see a wobbly lake of batter in the centre. If a gentle shake of the tin reveals there is still a puddle under the surface you can safely give it another five minutes. Once that has gone, you might want to check more frequently with either a skewer, cocktail stick or small paring knife to see that crumbs rather than liquid batter sticks. To test whether it is firm enough to support a topping, lightly pressing the surface with your finger, to see if it will resist and spring back, is another good test.
Cooking the caramel on the stove
The recipe asks for the caramel mixture to be cooked in a saucepan before adding it to the cake. Caramel is a really temperature sensitive thing, and the thing to know about caramel temperatures is that it won’t start to rise much above 100C until almost all the water is removed from the mixture. This is (I presume), why the mixture is first boiled on the stove – to remove most of the water, and create something that will readily form a set caramel in the oven. I found that the volume reduced quite a bit, and the colour changed from a pale gold to a darker shade.
Baking the caramel to caramelise it further
The aim of this final stage is to convert the sugar from a runny caramel to a chewy toffee-like topping. This means baking it in the oven long enough to caramelise it further and ensure it sets in place. I had difficulty with this stage, as my tin wasn’t deep enough, and as it baked, the topping overflowed the paper lining and spilled over into the oven. Having a very even surface to the cake will help make sure the topping browns evenly, and if you know your oven has some hot spots, keep checking and turn it around periodically, so that it evens out (I put my tin on a baking sheet at this stage to catch any overflowing topping, and also to make it easier to turn around).