BIENENSTICH

A very traditional German yeast cake with caramelized almonds, a delicious butter cream filling and a peculiar name! Bienenstich means “bee sting”. As a child I always thought the name came from its honey sweetness. But legend says that in 1474 the citizens of Linz planned to attack the neighboring town of Andernach because the Emperor had drawn custom duties from the city of Linz and had given the funds to the city of Andernach. In the morning of the planned attack two baker boys from Andernach walked along the town wall to snack on some honey from bee hives that were hanging along the wall. When the baker boys saw the attackers from Linz they deftly threw the bee hives at them. Stung by the bees the attackers fled. And to celebrate the victory a honey sweet and very special cake was made. The “bee sting”, or Bienenstich. Makes me wonder how the baker boys got away without any bee stings worth mentioning! But I guess it's not relevant to the story. My family loves Bienenstich and I have to guard the buttercream or I would never have enough to finish the cake.  

For the cake:

  • One package of active dry yeast or one cube of fresh yeast
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter
  • zest of one lemon

For the topping:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
  • a pinch of salt

For the butter cream custard filling:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • One vanilla bean
  • 3 large egg yolks at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar divided into two
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons of butter 
  • 2 sticks of butter at room temperature 

To make the cake, dissolve the dry yeast in a bit of warm water to activate it. Or, if you are using fresh yeast, sift the flour into your mixing bowl, press a little hole into the top of the flour, crumble the yeast into the hole and sprinkle the yeast with a little sugar to activate it. Let stand for 10 minutes. 

In the meantime, gently heat the milk together with the butter in a heavy saucepan to lukewarm, just until the butter is melted. Add the sugar, eggs, lemon zest and salt to the flour in your mixing bowl, together with the yeast. This is a sticky yeast dough. I use my electric mixer for this dough fitted with the pastry hook. I set the mixer on low speed and add the milk in a slow stream until the dough is well combined. Then I set the speed of the mixer to medium high and let the machine work the dough for a couple of minutes. If you do not have an electric mixer I recommend that you use a wooden spoon to combine this dough, work it well! It will be sticky. Scrape the dough off the sides of the bowl and cover the bowl with cellophane. Let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

Butter a 9" round cake pan that has tall sides. Pour the batter into the cake pan and spread it around with your spatula to make it coat the bottom of the cake pan evenly. Cover with cellophane again and let it rise for another 30 minutes. Bienenstich is traditionally baked on a sheet pan resulting in rectangular cake bars. I have an adjustable square baking rim that I just love, and I am using it for my Bienenstich set to 9" square. 

To prepare the topping, combine all of the ingredients except for the almonds in a heavy, medium size saucepan. Heat over medium heat and cook for 4-5 minutes to thicken and caramelize. Turn off the heat and add the almonds. Mix well to coat the almonds. Let the mixture cool slightly and spread it evenly over the top of the cake batter. I think I was chatting with my Aunt Margarete on the phone and did not do quite as good of a job spreading the almonds evenly, which is why I got some dimples in my cake. It might not look as polished and professional but it still ended up tasting amazing!

Let the cake rise for another 15 minutes with the topping. Preheat the oven to 350ºF while the cake is rising one last time. Bake for about 30-35 minutes. The cake is done when the topping is nicely browned and a cake tester or wooden skewer comes out clean. 

Let the cake cool for about 15-20 minutes before inverting it upside down on a cooling rack and removing it from the pan. Flipping the cake upside down will help to level the top especially if yours is as dimpled as mine. You might lose a couple of almonds and even a few drops of the caramel but the almonds can be set back on top of the cake when you are done. Let the cake cool completely, then invert it back right side up onto a platter and slice it in half horizontally. 

Vanilla custard

Vanilla custard

Finished custard butter cream

Finished custard butter cream

In the meantime make the buttercream. Split the vanilla bean in half and combine it with the milk in a heavy saucepan. Heat over medium heat. Combine the 2 sticks of butter with 1/4 cup of sugar in the bowl of your standard mixer and beat until light and fluffy for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile make the custard. Combine the egg yolks and sugar in another mixing bowl and whisk vigorously until pale and ribbony. Add the cornstarch and salt, mixing and whisking well. Drizzle in the warm milk, a spoonful at a time, whisking continuously (you are allowed to take a break whisking while you pour in the milk for a second, just work quickly but don't panic). After you have added about half of the milk you may add the rest a little more quickly. Pour the mixture back into a saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking the entire time, until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Remove the pan from the heat. Continue whisking while adding the 2 tablespoons of butter. Let the custard mixture cool to room temperature and then add it to the butter mixture a spoonful at a time, mixing constantly on medium speed. The butter and the custard have to be at the same temperature or else the cream will separate. This will make a lovely custard butter cream that is very authentic to what is used in Germany, but kind of better! Most German recipes just use store bought vanilla pudding mixes that are combined with butter as described above - and that works just fine and tastes pretty good too. Refrigerate the cream if it seems too soft.

bienenstich_8.jpg

Fill the cake with the vanilla cream and serve the same day. I have high expectations about the photography of my food for this blog and I feel like I was not able to really capture the beauty of this cake. It was long gone and eaten before the light was right and I probably should have chilled the cake to slice it more precisely for the picture but that would have compromised the taste. Honestly, this cake tastes best kind of messy and fresh. 

SOURCE: INSPIRED BY TRADITIONAL RECIPES

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