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!