Baumkuchen means tree cake in German, and no, it doesn’t stand up like a pine tree or require power tools to cut. The cake is named for the cross-section resemblance to tree rings.

Whole tree cake

The rings come from preparation on a rotating spindle. Layers of cake batter are added and baked one-at-a-time as the long cylindrical cake rotates in an oven. My six inch cake had fifteen layers, but the cake may have twenty-five. The task of making the cake takes both skill and patience, hence it’s called the “King of Cakes.”

Tree cake production
photo by BMK, Germany, used under license

The rings appear when the long cylinder is sliced into individual cakes. My sample cake was moist and tasty, with a distinct caramel flavor. I’ll bet there is much skill in keeping it moist and uniformly baked. Note the characteristic ridges formed on the outer surface.

Tree cake  slice

My cake could very well have come from an internet source or from a European specialty food shop, but it didn’t. I happened to see it on the shelf in our local Oriental food supermarket here in Northern California. It turns out that tree cake was introduced in Japan in 1917 and remains one of the the most popular baked goods in Japan. The label merits a closer look.

The label shows the brand of the Rokko Oriental Hotel, on Mt. Rokko in Japan. The hotel is shown with the city of Kobe in the distance. The label proclaims, It’s made with such attention to detail because we want the maker’s sentiments to be passed on to you in the form of good taste. Both the taste and sentiment made the trip to California.

Some years ago, humorist Jean Sheppard claimed his neighbor’s kitchen had “more processing power than Inland Steel.” If you want make a tree cake but lack that kind of processing power, there is a variety in which the layers are laid down in a flat pan. The Baked blog provides a recipe

On the web Eitelbach Baumkuchen Pastries, Ltd, offers a selection for shipment. They are in Toronto. Baumkuchen is also offered by and Cardullo’s. Corso is in Germany and will ship to Europe, but not the U.S. Their site has a good description of the cake-making process. A short YouTube video shows a baumkuchen machine in action.