Dobosh (Dobos) Torte is a classic among cakes. With 15 layers, this version of the chocolate torte takes the layered dessert trend to new heights.
For many American families, a Swiss Colony Dobosh Torte is a regular tradition—either as a special-occasion dessert, a gift, or both. The mail-order company has been making the multi-layered chocolate cake since before the Kennedy Administration…but the torte’s history goes back to a more distant time and place.
What Is Dobos Torte?
Dobos Torte (sometimes written as dobostorte or Dobosh Torte) is an old-world masterpiece invented by Hungarian pastry chef József Dobos in 1884, in what was then the nation of Austria-Hungary.
Layer cakes were becoming popular in the 1880s, and Dobos’ creation was in step with the times; traditional Dobos Tortes comprise seven layers of sponge cake alternating with layers of chocolate buttercream. The outside is typically covered with ground nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or chestnuts, which help keep the cake from drying out. After all, Dobos’ main intent was to create a cake that would last longer than others, in an age when refrigeration was limited. Also helping to preserve the cake was its crowning touch…
Also known as “drum torte” (dobos means “drummer” in Hungarian), the original version was topped with a layer of caramel so hard it was said it could be beaten like a drum. In fact, nearly every recipe for Dobos Torte calls for this caramel layer to be scored with a knife into the number of sections desired, in order to facilitate slicing. As you can imagine—and as you will see from this recipe—making (and serving) a Dobos Torte is no simple matter.
Saying the cake is fit for royalty would not be an exaggeration; Franz Joseph I (Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary) and Empress Elisabeth were among the first to taste Dobos’ creation when he unveiled it at the National General Exhibition of Budapest in 1885. Dobos introduced the cake wherever he traveled throughout Europe, but kept the recipe a secret until his retirement in 1906, when he gave it to the Budapest Confectioners’ and Gingerbread Makers’ Chamber of Industry. (Apparently that was a thing in Hungary, where the making of fancy desserts is a national passion.) Dobos Torte became an instant classic, and a necessary item in the repertoire of any serious pastry chef…including a group from neighboring Austria who would showcase their art in America more than 50 years later.
“Colonizing” the Cake
The Swiss Colony had made a name for itself mostly by selling cheese. Being located in Monroe, Wisconsin, the company had access to world-class cheese made largely by the descendants of Swiss immigrants…but founder Ray Kubly was of a mind to expand its offerings to include baked goods that would utilize the local butter and other dairy products. In 1947 he had purchased a company that had pioneered the making of cheese spreads, and its founder, an Austrian named Karl Schwager, became an executive and trusted adviser at The Swiss Colony. In 1958 Schwager recruited a team of meister konditors (master pastry chefs) to relocate from Austria to Wisconsin, and The Swiss Colony Bakery was born. Its very first product was Dobosh Torte…with the spelling Americanized to make it easier to pronounce.
Since The Swiss Colony was a mail-order company, one of the first projects they faced was to adapt the Dobosh Torte so it would withstand the rigors of shipping. Schwager and a konditor named Fred Weisinger changed the cake layers from the drier style preferred in European bakeries to a moister sponge cake that would be both more flexible and more appealing to an American audience. They also increased the layers, from the traditional seven to an amazing 15 layers of moist white cake and chocolate buttercream!
Next, they did away with the brittle caramel topping and ground-nut side coating and replaced them with a more forgiving solid chocolate enrobing that was richer, more delicious, and easier to cut and serve. (The specially blended chocolate used is a darker milk chocolate that falls on the darkness scale between a true dark chocolate and a standard milk chocolate.) They also formed the new torte into a rectangular loaf, allowing it to be more neatly sliced into thicker or thinner servings.
Serving Dobosh Torte
Despite the improvements made to help make it easier to cut a Dobosh Torte, “easy” is a relative term. Actually, it is quite easy; it only requires the right knife, a little hot water, and the patience to use a little restraint (which, admittedly, can be difficult when you know the deliciousness that awaits).
- Knife: A serrated knife, designed for gliding through bread, is the best tool.
- Water: Place the knife blade in a tall glass of VERY HOT water. This will help lubricate the blade and soften the chocolate at the cut.
- Technique: Turn the torte on its side for easier cutting. (This way, you’re cutting with the layers, not through them.) Cut with a gentle sawing motion only until you have cut through the top layer of chocolate, then push the knife gently downward in a single motion. Dip the knife between cuttings.
This simple process will let you serve your Dobosh Torte neatly and attractively, letting you and your guests more fully enjoy the rich, complex texture. Serve it after dinner with a scoop of ice cream (Hungarians prefer a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream), a nice cup of coffee and/or your favorite liqueur, and enjoy a new tradition for a holiday or any special occasion.