In my world, this is a birthday cake. Holy eggs, butter, sugar, you cannot eat this every day. But, it is perfect if you’re celebrating something special, like a birthday! I made this cake for my birthday-cake-hating boyfriend. I guess when you’re a little kid cake is limited to your birthday and birthday cake is plain white or chocolate cake with super sweet frosting. Having this limited understanding of what cake is can easily make you think you hate cake, but when your cake possibilities widen, it’s clear that it’s simply not the case. The second I spotted this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, I knew this was destined to be his next cake. In fact, I spotted it almost exactly a year ago, a couple of days before his birthday. I already had another Smitten recipe planned (her chocolate-hazelnut macaroon torte, she had me at ‘tastes like nutella’) so this went on the back burner. I guess it’s been on both of our minds for the past year, because as soon as he saw it he said that he would have made it for my birthday next week if I hadn’t beat him to it.
If you’ve never heard of Bienenstich (translated as ‘bee sting’ cake) before, I am not surprised. The only reason that I know of it is from the German bakery that he used to work at years ago (which comes up again and again, clearly the food there was exceptionally delicious). Although there is a ‘cake’ component to it, it is a mere vessel for the almond flavoured pastry cream and the crispy almond topping. Although I was worried that the cake would be overly sweet, it wasn’t too overwhelming, although one piece (per sitting!) was definitely enough.
Not only is this a birthday cake because of the indulgence, but boy, I tried a lot of techniques that I hadn’t ever tackled before: slice a layer cake in two, make a caramel (ish), make pastry cream, layer a cake. There were many moments where disaster could have struck, but it all worked out well, even if it did take some time. If you’re looking to push yourself a bit (but not too much) in the kitchen, this may be a good place to start. Personally, making cakes like this for special occasions is as much for the end product that we all get to enjoy as it is an excuse to experiment a little more with baking.
Birthdays aren’t huge events for us. They usually involve a card, some dinner and some cake. If it’s the same for you (or not), this one is great to treat someone special.
Adapted, barely, from Smitten Kitchen
The flavour of the almond extract is quite prominent in the pastry cream- it tastes like marzipan! If you don't like that flavour, you can replace it with vanilla extract or leave it out completely. We very much enjoyed the almond.
The trickiest part of making this cake (for me, at least) is removing it from the cake pan. Just make sure to run a knife along all the edges and loosen it with a spatula before trying to flip it over. If you aren't using a non-stick cake pan, make sure to butter it well.
Combine all of the cake ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Using an electronic mixer, whisk on low speed for 1-2 minutes, until completely smooth. Alternatively, mix vigorously by hand for 2-3 minutes.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 60 minutes. The batter will be a bit puffy at the end of the hour.
Get an 8 inch square cake pan. If it's not non-stick, butter the pan.
Scrape the batter into the pan and use a spatula (or spoon) to even it out so that the pan is filled evenly.
Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
While the cake is resting for the first time, heat up the milk, over medium heat, in a medium saucepan.
While the milk is heating up, in a large bowl, whisk together eggs yolks and sugar until light in colour and ribbony (about 1 minute of vigorous whisking).
Mix in cornstarch and salt and whisk until combined.
Once the milk has simmered, transfer to a bowl (ideally one that has a spout).
Slowly drizzle the milk into the egg mixture, whisking continuously. Once you are about halfway through the milk mixture, you can pour it in a steady stream into the eggs, whisking the entire time. If you add too much hot milk too fast, the mixture will curdle.
Clean out saucepan (so that the milk residue doesn't burn) and add the milk/egg mixture back in the saucepan.
Over medium heat, heat up milk/egg mixture, whisking continuously until thick (1-2 minutes). Remove from heat and whisk in butter and almond extract.
Transfer pastry cream to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it cool in the fridge. If you want to speed up the cooling process, you can whisk the mixture over an ice bath.
The pastry cream will be quite stiff/thick but it needs to be so that it doesn't squirt out of the sides of the cake.
While the cake is resting for the second time, combine the butter, sugar, honey, cream, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.
Boil the mixture for 3-5 minutes, whisking often, until it starts to darken (to a light brown- the mixture will continue cooking/darken as the cake cools in the oven).
Mix in the almonds and set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 350F.
After the cake has rested a second time, spoon the almond mixture evenly over the top of the cake. It will be a little clumpy but it will even out in the oven.
Place cake in oven and feel free to place a foil-lined baking sheet under the cake tin to catch any dripping caramel topping.
Bake cake for about 20 minutes, until the top is brown and a toothpick comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes.
Run a knife along the sides of the cake to loosen it from the pan. It's very important that the cake is somewhat cool and loosened from the pan so that it doesn't break apart when you flip it out. You can also slide a spatula under the cake to make sure it's completely loosened.
Turn the cake out onto a large plate (the plate should be as large or large than the cake itself). The almond top will be face down, but won't get ruined, don't worry.
Turn the cake from the plate onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
Once cooled completed, use a long serrated knife to split the cake in two, horizontally.
Spread pastry cream onto the bottom half of the cake.
Place the second layer on top.
Serve in rectangular pieces. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers.