• German tree cake (Murdoch Books)Source: Murdoch Books

Apart from being absolutely delicious, this to me is one of the most intriguing cakes ever invented. 






Skill level

Average: 4 (101 votes)

Traditionally, thin layers of batter are brushed onto a rotisserie, creating an effect that resembles the rings of a tree trunk. It fascinates me mostly because I grew up eating the Indonesian version of this grilled, not baked, layer cake. Its true origins are unknown, except that this method of making cakes was already practised in Ancient Greece, and it is speculated that the Germans inherited it from their Roman conquerors. If only recipes could talk…


  • 10 eggs, separated
  • pinch of salt
  • 90 g (3¼ oz/ ¾ cup) icing sugar
  • 280 g (10 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 250 g (9 oz) marzipan, coarsely grated
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla essence
  • finely grated zest of 1 orange or lemon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp dark rum
  • 100 ml (3½ fl oz) thin (pouring) or thickened (whipping) cream
  • 125 g (4½ oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
  • ½ tsp baking powder, sifted

Bits & pieces

  • 165 g (5¾ oz/ ½ cup) apricot jam OR marmalade, mixed with 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 1 quantity Dark Chocolate Ganache (see Note)
  • 25 g (1 oz/ ¼ cup) roasted flaked almonds (optional) (see Note)

To serve

  • 1 quantity Crème Chantilly or Vanilla Crème Fraîche (see Note)

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Grease and flour the side of a 23–25 cm (9–10 inch) round cake tin, then line the bottom with baking paper.

Place the egg whites in a large bowl with a pinch of salt, and whisk with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Add only half the icing sugar, but 1 tablespoon at a time. Whisk well between each addition, until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Combine the butter, marzipan, remaining sugar, vanilla, zest and salt in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on high speed until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well between each addition. Whisk in the rum and cream, then fold in the flour and baking powder. Whisk in one-third of the egg whites to loosen the mixture. Add the remainder, and stir gently with a whisk until combined.

Preheat the oven grill (broiler) for 2 minutes on medium, then spread 125 ml (4 fl oz/ ½ cup) of the cake batter very evenly over the bottom of the tin. Grill until cooked through and evenly golden brown (2–4 minutes). Repeat this process until all the batter has been used up. Keep in mind that, as the cake gets higher, the surface will brown more quickly but might not cook through, so you might have to place the tin on a lower shelf about three-quarters of the way through.

Allow the cake to cool for 2 minutes, before running a paring knife around the edge of the tin to release the side. Turn out the cake onto a wire rack, and, while hot, baste all over with the jam. If the jam’s very thick, water down further with a little more hot water. Allow to cool completely before icing.

To ice the cake, place it on a serving plate. Tuck strips of baking paper under the cake to catch any falling ganache and keep your plate clean. Pour the ganache over the cake, and spread to cover the entire surface. Keep catching any cascading chocolate with a small rubber spatula and scooping it back onto the top of the cake until the ganache sets. Don’t overwork the ganache, or it will lose its gloss and become dull and matte. Carefully remove the strips of baking paper before sprinkling the flaked almonds over the top. Serve with your choice of dolloping cream.


• For finer, processed nuts such as slivered almonds, or pine nuts, reduce the oven temperature to 160°C (320°F) fan-forced. Roast for 7 minutes or until golden brown. 

• To make the dark chocolate ganache, microwave 100 ml thin or thickened cream and 100 g dark chocolate in a small heat proof bowl for 1 minute on the highest setting, then whisk until smooth. Buzz for another 30 seconds if the chocolate hasn’t completely melted, and whisk again. If you prefer, you can heat the cream in a small saucepan until a few small bubbles rise to the surface. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and whisk until smooth. If you are finding the ganache very runny and difficult to handle, allow it to cool down for a few minutes and the fats will set a little. However, be careful when you are slathering it all over your desired cake; if you muck about with it too much, you will lose all its glam gloss and wind up with a matte, grainy-looking finish. The flavour will still be ace, so it’s just a textural compromise. The shine also diminishes if you refrigerate whatever it is you cover in ganache, so it’s best to do it last minute. 

• To make crème chantilly, combine 300 ml thickened cream, 30 g icing sugar and 1 tsp vanilla in a medium mixing bowl, and whisk by hand or with an electric mixer until medium or stiff peaks form. Medium peaks make a nicer texture to dollop and provide moisture to slices of cake. Stiff peaks are more fitting for icing cakes and piping with, as the shape stays put.

• To make vanilla crème fraîche, use the crème Chantilly recipe, but swap out the cream for crème fraîche, and hand-whisk to soft or medium peaks. This will split if you overwhisk it, and the only remedy is to start again with fresh ingredients.


Photography by Alan Benson. Styling by Michelle Noerianto.

Recipe and image from Poh Bakes 100 Greats by Poh Ling Yeow (Murdoch Books, RRP, $39.99). Enter here to win your own copy.