Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cake Weekend Day 1





Okay, enough of that. Here's the documentation.

Day 1: Saturday

Saturday began with Raymond driving over with a George Foreman desktop rotisserie. We had determined the night prior that finishing the full-size cake oven would definitively be impossible, as we had yet to find a satisfying balance of light weight, low cost, and sufficient strength. We settled for making a smaller oven using a readily available rotisserie assembly—as a prototype, mind you, and nothing else—and perhaps a tiny cake.

It looks like a cheap temperature sensor, but hey, it goes all the way to 300°C (571°F) which is great for an application where the optimum temperature is 240-260°C (464-500°F). Oh geez it's displaying Fahrenheit whoops how did that happen.

Tinsnips! This is to make a hole for the temperature sensor.

Pieces folded back, hole punched with an awl.


Well, let's see what's inside.

Oh hey look at that, the oven's reassembled! It's all ready to go and we can see at what temperature the rotisserie peaks. If we can easily get it up to 250°C, we are good!

Oh geez it's still reading Fahrenheit.

The oven peaked around 207°C (405°F), which is NOT YET HOT ENOUGH.

Well, if we can fit another heating element in there, it should get to 250°C just fine, right? Raymond shows me that bending a heating element (such as the one in the bottom right corner of this picture) shorts it out and renders it useless. My bad. I guess we need something more compact...

The solution is more George Foreman! $5 and a quick trip down the block lands us the Lean Mean Something Something.

Here it's been gutted and the heating elements extracted.

These compact little guys will be mounted, one on each side wall of the oven. Did that make sense? I mean here:

...and here:

To fasten them on, we create little aluminium brackets which will be screwed onto the sides shown above.

Side view of bracket.

At this point, it was kind of late and time for Raymond to depart. And neither of us will have much time for cake weekend on Sunday, so it looks like cake weekend is a bust. Well, significant progress was made, I guess. Good thing I still have half a store-bought 'kuchen in the fridge.

Partial success!

Things to remember for next time
  • Raymond. Dude. Check your tyre pressure.

  • That's about it, really. The rest of this is more or less flyin' blind with no preparations.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What the engineering profs have to say

Here's the feedback I've gotten recently:

  • It must be electric. Amateur gas pipes mean propane will accumulate at the top of the box, which is way bad.

  • Ceramic bulbs for heating and fireclay for insulation. YES.

  • Depending on the motors being used, it may be best to connect the motor to the spit with a bike chain? It is not difficult to cut sprockets for those so speed control should be much simpler this way. Watch your fingers.

  • One of the traditional recipes I had been looking at (I should make a post for traditional recipes later) is extremely bitter tasting and should not be trusted at all.

  • With fireclay, weight will be an issue, especially with mobility.

  • Safety features! Digital temperature sensors are apparently pretty simple to implement? Also there absolutely must be emergency vents if the oven area gets too hot or any of the structural integrity is compromised.

  • Make many more drafts and don't get too attached to any of them.




Oh, that helps. It like a primal war-cry to get me back into the cake mood. For the last two months or so I've been on an ice cream tangent, making flavours like vanilla, ginger, bacon...mostly bacon. So now, I'm back.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Not dead

In college, not trusted with the wood or metal shops here yet. I think I started this blag preëmptively, because it's been almost six months and I've yet to build anything that really helps with cake.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Today I converted two people to the Cult of the Rotisserie Cake, or Drehspießkuchenkult, and drafted a new image. It has no bottom, so batter drips fall and be caught and reused. It's made of refractory cement, electrically heated (optimally), and has extra space on the top to accommodate a ladle full of batter. Refractory cement definitely seems like the best solution. Way better than steel. Though a steel skin on the outside is good.

Mmm, Kultkuchen.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


...And I'm back from a month in Spain. Is the cake project alive? Yes. Has progress been made? Not really, no.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

This seems doable, guys

This is a delightfully simple baumkuchen rig. And it's from Los Angeles!


I have some errata on the early posts. Regarding Preparatory Research, has changed its catalogue and presently offers only the UA-343 model. Regarding my introduction, there are people who make rotisserie baumkuchen at home. At the very least, there is one person who does. I now know of a friend's friend's mother who makes the cakes on an antique German contrivance. However, reports on the quality of her 'kuchen has been less than stellar. Clearly something is wrong. Nevertheless, she will be my best new source of information when she returns from holiday this August!

...Crap, I can't wait that long. I'll continue flyin' blind in the meantime.

EDIT EDIT EDIT: About ten minutes after writing this post, I recalled that I hadn't actually searched for antique baumkuchen ovens for more information. Lo and behold, I'm already Google's #1 stop for baumkuchen antiques. Is this a victory for me or a failure for mankind?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Genuine progress!

So I got and dismantled a camping stove. Now I have a variable propane regulator and a decent burner! Unfortunately, it's only about 16 inches long, so it needs a smaller case. I'll look for a small metal drum.

Now I have a good idea for spinning the spit! Imagine two rubber wheels on each end, outside of the oven itself, spinning slowly in the same direction. The wooden spit can rest on top of them and spin at a similar rate. This way I don't have to worry about hooking gears into the spit itself; all the chains and necessary things are attached to the wheel rig. However, I'd have to make two wheel rigs, one for the oven and one for applying batter.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Another interlude: 15-minute chocolate cake

I made a cake in the microwave. It took about 15 minutes, and it was so good that my cooking instructor literally stole the recipe from me so she can make it for her family. I take that as a good omen.

It's based off of this recipe but there are a few glaring changes. For example, I tripled the quantity of sugar used. This is not a typo.

So, ingredients:

  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup regular granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 7 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream

So, you melt the stick of butter and add the sugar and stir well. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Let the butter and sugar cool a little bit so the eggs don't cook when you add them in. Mix in the eggs and the sour cream. Add all that to the dry ingredients and mix until as smooth as possible.

Pour into a microwave-safe bowl that's been buttered and floured on the sides or something, some measure to prevent sticking. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and then cut some slits to allow steam to escape. Microwave it for 3-4 minutes. I ran mine for 3:30 and it turned out beautifully.

Oh, and be sure to let it cool before you take it out of the bowl or else it will crumble and you will be sad.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Interlude - Kek Lapis Sarawak

It's finals time and I've almost graduated from high school, so baumkuchen machining has been shelved for now. However! I have made minor progress. I now have a working propane camp stove which, despite having a lame burner, might have the regulator I need. I also learned that one of my Internet Friends has a grandmother with an antique German baumkuchen oven that she still uses from time to time. More will come of these developments later.

For now, however, I have an interlude. You see, baumkuchen isn't the only cake baked in a special way. It's not even the only cake baked on a rotisserie: similar or nearly identical cakes exist in Serbian, Croatian, Swedish, Lithuanian, and Czech cultures. Other cakes not made in the traditional manner (I really need a better term for that, don't I?) include cakes resembling flatkuchen or cake-rings molded to make giant cake cornucopias with fruit inside. Even others, such as Vietnamese bánh, are steamed or fried.

But possibly the most impressive untraditional cake (Hey, "untraditional cake". That's kind of an okay term. Maybe I'll think of a better one before the end of the post.) is the Malaysian Kek Lapis Sarawak. It is many precisely cut layers of cake cemented together to make a smartly arranged pattern or picture. The woman responsible for making these famous, Rabiah Amit, has already published three recipe books. They're all in Malay but dammit, it is tempting to buy them! If I could learn to make these and good baumkuchen I could become an untraditional cake messiah.

(Original image from

How does it taste? Well, I'm assuming it tastes similar to its simpler English variant, Battenberg cake, a tea cake which I have made a few times and which I can assure you is terrific. It bodes well for Kek Lapis Sarawak.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Dream.

I envision a day where I could have a baumkuchen oven in the back of, say, a Chevy Astro.

You know, like an ice cream truck, except selling cake instead of drugs.

Bakeries/pastry shops seem like they would be pretty easy to make portable; one could use a similar vehicle setup for regular cakes, hotcakes, cookies, breads, &c. These would probably be better suited for a confined space like a van because the ovens can be smaller, but I still think this would be the best way to introduce baumkuchen to the most people.

There's not much content I can add right now. Craigslist has offered up a few potential parts sources that I will check out this weekend.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rough drafts

Every time I make a new draft, I look at my old ones and think, "Holy hell, that's stupid and way too convoluted." Each new version is simpler than the last, but I still haven't settled on one to make.

Version 1 I made as similar as possible in appearance to the Japanese machines I saw on YouTube. I envisioned a sliced-open metal drum with the gear motor and rotisserie on that axle. The pipe in the back is a gas starter pipe like those in fireplaces. Huh. I forgot that I had originally wanted gas heat.

The next version was very similar, but only moved on one axis. In retrospect, this is really worse than the first draft, because it has to slide and makes more moving parts. There's no gas pipe shown, but I'm sure I was still thinking gas heat at this stage.

Then, somehow, I got obsessed with this shape:

I started making plans for a hollow trapezoidal prism with electric heaters on the inside of the three rectangular faces. In smaller models, this could be picked up and placed over the rotisserie, which would mean no axle needed.

This was also a dumb move, just because the shape is so awful. Now, my current line of thinking is a rectangular prism and propane burner.

(Not shown: Rails to hold the rotisserie bar in place) One day, that will surely look hella stupid too.

Friday, April 18, 2008


As explained on, baumkuchen can be made at home. However, instead of a log with rings, it looks like a stack of flapjacks.

It's made in a springform pan on the top rack of an oven set to "broil." An esteemed compatriot and I created one such flatkuchen in early April, or perhaps late March. Despite our overly casual approach to baking, it came out an entirely delicious learning experience.

Our version was slightly different than the one featured above, however. For one, we used no almond bits nor lemon rind; also, the end result was covered in chocolate icing rather than apricot jam. Additionally, we had no electric mixer. Rather than beating stiff eight egg whites by hand, I confess that we stuck them in a blender for a few minutes and then folded that mess into the rest of the batter. Shockingly, it worked!

We learned some things from the experience:
  • The inner layers do not need to turn golden brown. This will only dry out the cake unnecessarily.

  • Heating the batter up a little will make it run better, which makes it easier to deliver thin, even layers.

  • Even if there are uneven lumps in the cake as it forms, one must cover the previous layer entirely or else it will get burnt and nasty.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Preparatory Research

So I obviously needed to figure out what I was building before I built it. This was surprisingly difficult because the vast majority of the information presently on the internet is in Japanese. Baumkuchen is a very popular pastry in Japan and as far as I tell can only be found in Japanese markets in the United States.

The first place to check is Wikipedia! I don't know what to say about Wikipedia except that reading it first is the best introduction to the cake.

The closest things I could find to cake oven plans were this video and this video. They display how the batter is applied and shows the rotors spinning at about 40 rpm.

I also found two recipes: a Japanese one here and a simpler German one here. I can't read the first link, but I've made the second one as a delicious flatkuchen (which will be explained in a later post as well).

I also did hunt for professionally-made baumkuchen ovens for inspiration. Again, I was handicapped by my being monolingual. A friend helped me contact several Japanese companies to ask for price quotes. Koyo Machinery Co. sells a behemoth that apparently makes 12 baumkuchens at a time, but they would not respond to my e-mails. Fuji Syokai has what I think is the best oven for noncommercial use, but they are rather enigmatic; I could not locate a website or even an e-mail address. I sent them a fax request for a price quote and received nothing back. At the very bottom of its catalogue page, shows two of the three oven models they sell. The one not displayed, UA-431, is presently out of stock. They would not give me any information on MA-111. UA-343 is 680,000 JPY before shipping costs.

Edit: Oh man, I just noticed that UA-343 is, in fact, manufactured by the mysterious Fuji Syokai and sold by Sweet!

After that, I started designing ovens. But first I had to make my own flatkuchen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Introduction

Sometime around October 2007, I discovered baumkuchen through Wikipedia's list of cakes. It instantly attracted my attention because of the novelty of baked goods on a rotisserie. Plus, it's theoretically infinitely scalable: with the right equipment one could potentially make a cake as long and as thick as desired.

I finally tasted baumkuchen on January 3, 2008. I got a slice from some Japanese marketplace in Sydney, and hot damn, it was incredible. Surely I would have to get my own baumkuchen oven.

I found a few ovens for sale (links will come in a later post), but most of the manufacturers would not talk to me. The one studio that did give me a price quote listed their cheapest model as ¥680.000 sans shipping. That seemed insane for an Angelino such as myself; the only option was to make my own oven.

Now, I'm not very good at designing simple things. My mind is always in terrible disarray, with half-baked ideas flying every which way. That's the reason why I started this blog: to organise my thoughts and provide direction in a hobby I believe I am pioneering.

Of course, I could be completely wrong about the "pioneering a hobby" bit. I know next to nothing about baumkuchen and the other related rotisserie cakes, nor their place in European and Japanese cultures. Maybe people make the rotisserie versions at home somehow? Perhaps there are millions of people out there who would fall over laughing at my naïveté and ignorance.

Ah well. Here's to a successful baumkuchen oven! Eventually!