It’s always a challenge to develop a recipe that doesn’t have a clear-cut history. Everyone has “their version,” and wouldn’t think of making it any other way. Seven-layer cake is such a recipe!
It’s unclear how the cake became a staple of North American Jewish bakeries; it seems to be one of those desserts that was always “just around,” a standard part of any Shabbat, shiva or Yom Kippur break fast. There are pareve (non-dairy) versions, and Passover variations made with almond flour, or sheets of matzah in place of sponge cake. But it does have strong ties to Hungarian dobos torte (named after the Hungarian baker credited with its creation) and Polish seven sisters cake (aka “ciasto stefanka,” referring to the cake’s seven layers).
The cake’s shape and filling can vary. It can be round or rectangular, with fillings ranging from coffee buttercream to chocolate buttercream to a chocolate ganache.
And then there’s the question of how many layers the cake should have. One would assume seven, right? But in the case of the dobos torte, there are only six. The seventh layer is covered with caramel, cut into decorative shapes and used as a garnish for the top of the cake.
The recipe I’m sharing today is based on a very strong and fond memory of my Grandma Fay’s cake — one of my very favorites that she used to make. If you search online Jewish bakeries for “Seven Layer Cake,” the results most closely resemble my grandma’s cake.
Sadly, I do not have her recipe, but I vividly recall a yellow sponge cake, layered with coffee buttercream and covered with chocolate ganache. It was most definitely a rectangular shape, and she sometimes gilded the lily with a garnish of slivered almonds.
Many recipes I researched required multiple baking pans to achieve all those layers. To make things more accessible for the home baker, I decided to bake a large single layer cake in a sheet pan (which most people have on hand), and then cut the cake into eight layers. You’ll have one left over, which is not the worst problem to have.
Is this cake a part of your family’s celebrations? What is your memory of it?
Note: Once assembled, the cake will keep in the fridge for up to one week, and in the freezer for up to two months.
For the cake:
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
For the coffee buttercream:
- 1 ½ tsp brewed coffee
- 1 ½ tsp espresso powder
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
For the ganache:
- 8 oz chocolate chips or chopped bitter or semi-sweet chocolate
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Start by making the cake: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a half sheet pan (about 11×17”) with nonstick cooking spray, line the bottom with parchment paper and spray the parchment paper. Coat the sides and bottom with flour, tapping out any excess.
- Place the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk the eggs on medium until they are broken up, then add the vanilla. With the mixer still running, add the granulated sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat till the mixture is thick and pale.
- Using a rubber spatula, fold in half the flour and all of the kosher salt. Add the melted butter and fold again. Finish with the remaining flour. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and use an angled spatula to spread evenly.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The cake is done when light golden brown and springs back when lightly touched. Place on a wire rack and cool completely in the pan.
- While the cake is cooling, make the coffee buttercream: Whisk the coffee and espresso powder in a small bowl until the espresso powder is fully dissolved. Set aside.
- Beat the butter and confectioner’s sugar on low until the ingredients are completely incorporated, then raise the speed to medium-high and beat till light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides, add the coffee mixture and beat again till fully incorporated. Transfer the buttercream to a bowl.
- To assemble the cake, generously dust the top of the cake (still in the pan) with confectioner’s sugar. Use a small knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the cake and place a cutting board on top of the parchment paper. Holding the pan and board together, flip over so the board is now on the bottom. Gently remove the pan from the cake and peel off the parchment paper.
- Using a large sharp knife and a pressing (versus a slicing motion), trim the edges of the cake. Once trimmed, cut the cake into 8 pieces – 2 rows lengthwise and 4 widthwise, for a total of 8 rectangles. For the seven layer cake you’ll set one of the pieces aside and either eat separately or discard.
- Place one of the layers onto a parchment-lined work surface and top with about 1/3 cup of the buttercream. Use a small angled spatula to spread evenly. Continue layering with the remaining six layers, and top with all of the buttercream that remains in the bowl. Use your spatula to spread a thin layer of buttercream on the sides of the cake, and level the top as evenly as possible. Place in the fridge to set, 2 hours or up to overnight.
- Make the ganache: Place the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan till small bubbles appear around the edges. Immediately pour over the chopped chocolate and leave undisturbed for 3 minutes. Whisk till the ganache is smooth and emulsified. Let cool till no longer hot but still pourable.
- Use a large wide knife or spatula to carefully transfer the chilled cake to a wire rack set over a parchment lined baking sheet. Pour the ganache slowly over the top of the cake, using a small angled spatula to spread it over the sides. Scoop any ganache from the parchment paper and return to the bowl. Return to the fridge to set for 2 hours or up to overnight. At this point you can serve the cake or pour another layer of ganache over, for a thicker icing. The ganache may have thickened by this point; to make it pourable again place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring constantly. Once the ganache is smooth and glossy again remove it from the heat and proceed with the second coat. Return to the fridge to set.
- Transfer the cake to a plate or board, cut into slices and serve.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes + 4 hours setting time (or overnight)
- Category: Dessert
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Ashkenazi