Bienenstich means bee sting in German. I was first introduced to this glorious honey almond caramel crusted, crème pâtissière filled confection at a Danish birthday party, many, many years ago. Freshly baked, its soft cake-y brioche like layers sublime, so utterly indulgent, I had never tasted anything quite like it before.
Unusual and rather exotic, this sweet yeast cake made quite an impression. Particularly so as it also has a rather charming story attached to it. Folklore has it bienenstich was invented by the bakers of Andernach to commemorate a famous day in 1474 when their townspeople successfully repelled invaders from the neighbouring town of Linz by lobbing beehives at them. Stung by the bees the attackers fled, and to celebrate victory a very special honey cake was made. It’s almost ironic that Linz almost happens to be the home of one of my other all time favourite bakes Linzertorte, whose origins date back to 1653 and is widely touted to be one of the world’s oldest cakes. It does strike me that, if the legend is true, the origins of Andernach’s Bienenstich predate those claims by almost 200 years!
Over the years, on the basis of just one delicious yet fleeting memory, I have been on the hunt to rediscover bienenstich. Unfortunately bee sting cake is only rarely found on bakery or cafe menus, and when it does can often be disappointing. The secret to any wonderful cake is freshness. Yeasted cakes, in particular, are best eaten on the day they are made, not left to languish in refrigerators or display cabinets.
Just a fortnight ago, my interest in bienenstich was reignited through an image in my instagram feed promoting Oktoberfest. And so it was, that I have spent the better part of the week researching bee sting cake and cobbling together my version of the perfect trinity of soft, yeasted coffee cake, honey almond caramel and thick luscious crème pâtissière. Granted not an every day sort of bake, but I promise you it really isn’t as complicated as it might seem.
The cake layers require no kneading and come together quickly and easily with the aid of an electric mixer (without a dough hook attachment). Of course containing yeast the cake does need to be proved but can be left to do so overnight. The crème pâtissière can also be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator until needed, or perhaps purchased from a sympathetic bakery. The honey almond caramel is simply stirred together on the stove and baked to burnished perfection in the oven on top of the cake, so couldn’t be easier. For me, I love that the hunt is over and that I can make this cake at home, probably not often, but whenever I please.
German Bee Sting Cake (Bienenstich)
¾ cup milk
2 ¼ teaspoons dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups plain flour
¼ cup caster sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Honey Almond Caramel Topping
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
generous pinch of salt
¾ cup sliced almonds
1 quantity crème pâtissière, prepared in advance (recipe follows)
SCALD milk to blood temperature. The easiest way to do this is to heat ¼ cup milk to boiling point then add ½ cup cold milk. If the milk is too hot or cold the yeast will not bloom correctly.
STIR together yeast, 1/4 cup of the warm milk, and 1 tablespoon honey in bowl of mixer until yeast is dissolved, then let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. If mixture doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.
ADD flour sugar, salt, eggs, butter and remaining milk to the yeast mixture. Beat at low speed until it forms a soft and sticky but cohesive dough, about 5-8 minutes.
SCRAPE down the sides, then cover with plastic wrap and leave to prove and rise in a warm, draught free place for an hour until light and puffy (not necessarily doubled in size).
BUTTER and base line a 20cm round spring-form (removable base) cake tin. Spread mixture in an even layer over the base of the tin. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to prove for a further thirty minutes.
MEANWHILE prepare the honey almond caramel topping. In a medium saucepan, combine unsalted butter, sugar, honey and a pinch of salt. Bring to a gentle boil, then remove from heat. Add ¾ cup sliced almonds. Stir well to combine. Set aside.
PREHEAT oven to 180 C. Line an oven tray with foil or baking paper.
AFTER second proving, pour honey almond caramel topping evenly over the yeasted cake batter.
PLACE tin on lined tray to catch any caramel drips and bake in pre heated oven for 20-25 minutes until caramel is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
REMOVE from oven and place tin on a wire rack to cool a little before loosening sides and removing cake from tin. You may need to gently run a palette knife around the rim, whilst the cake is still warm to loosen any residual caramel.
WHEN completely cold, use a long serrated knife to slice the cake in half crosswise into two layers.
SANDWICH with a generous amount of crème patissiere (recipe follows). Serve immediately or refrigerate until required.
2 cups (500 ml) milk
4 yolks from large eggs
2/3 cup caster sugar
¼ cup cornflour
1 vanilla bean
50 g unsalted butter (optional)
1 tablespoon Cointreau or another favourite liqueur (optional)
USE the tip of a sharp knife to split the vanilla bean lengthwise. Scrape along the cut surface to collect the seeds. Combine the milk, vanilla seeds and pod in a large heavy based saucepan and bring to a simmer.
WHILE the milk is heating, whisk the egg yolks with sugar in a large mixing bowl until pale, thick and creamy. Then add the cornflour and whisk to combine.
REMOVE the vanilla bean pod from the milk. In a steady stream pour in half of the warm milk over the egg mixture and whisk until smooth. The heat will temper the eggs so that they are less likely to curdle when added to the remaining saucepan of hot milk and brought back to the boil.
POUR the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk. Whisk quickly and constantly, over a medium low heat and bring the mixture mixture back to the boil. Remember to pay attention to the edges as you stir so the mixture doesn’t catch and stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
CONTINUE to whisk for another minute to cook the cornflour through. The mixture should be very thick and smooth and a little difficult to stir.
REMOVE the saucepan from the heat. If using the butter, allow the pastry cream to cool a little before gently stirring in a few cubes of butter at a time. The butter will give the pastry cream a richer taste and lovely sheen.
POUR the prepared pastry cream into a clean shallow baking dish and dust with icing sugar to prevent a skin from forming. Cover with cling wrap and cool completely, at least 2 hours. Refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days.
WHEN ready to use whisk the pastry cream to loosen a little. At this stage you can stir in a little liqueur if using. For a light pastry cream fold in a little softly whipped cream with a flat spatula, just before using.