classic german pastry: bienenstich

bienenstich translates into bee sting cake and i am not certain that the translation makes any sense in English at all.  however, in my German mind, the name “bienenstich” actually fits this classic German pastry in a very meaningful way: bees and particularly wasps love it! speaking for myself however, i always felt quite ambivalent about it. typically baked in squares, the two layers of yeast dough filled with a sweet custard cream are topped with a deliciously crunchy layer of almonds and honey. not surprising, that i remember as a child observing the busy insects wiggle their way into the glass displays of our local pastry shop to get a taste of it. for that very reason, i found the cake particularly unattractive, especially when watching others trying to enjoy it while constantly swatting away some of the flying critters that were landing on their forks. also, i never liked the bland and overly sweet tasting filling from vanilla pudding and whipped cream very much. plus, the topping lacked the extra crunch it promised. for years, i avoided bee sting cake at any coffee table or bakery, and it never crossed my mind to actually make it myself. only after i started teaching the baking classes and when participants made suggestions for pastry recipes they were interested in, did it occur to me that this might be worth exploring. find the result below.

recipe for bee sting cake aka bienenstich
ingredients for the dough:
500 g all-purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1 package active dry yeast
80 g sugar
250 ml milk, warmed
4 egg yolks
½ tsp salt
125 g butter, melted

ingredients for the topping:
100 g butter
100 g brown cane sugar
100 g honey
6 tbsp heavy cream
pinch of salt
200 g sliced almonds

ingredients for the vanilla custard cream:
500 ml whole milk
scrape out vanilla pod or use 1 tsp vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
100 g granulated brown sugar
4 tbsp cornstarch
4 pinches of salt
60 g butter

prepare the dough: warm milk with one tablespoon of sugar in a saucepan or in the microwave. stir in yeast and let sit until mixtures starts to bubble. use the paddle attachment of the stand mixer: combine flour, melted butter, rest of the sugar, 4 egg yolks and milk – yeast mixture. mix at medium speed until a soft dough forms into a ball and comes off the wall of the mixing bowl. set into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot until dough starts puffing up for about one hour.

preheat oven to 350°F. butter and flour rectangular baking pan ca. 9×13 inches or 9 inch spring form. roll out dough to the size and shape of your baking dish, use fingertips to stretch towards the edges. cover with a damp dish towel and let rise again for about 20 – 30 minutes.

prepare topping: in a small or medium saucepan heat the butter, sugar, honey, cream and salt over medium heat until the butter and sugar have melted. bring to a simmer and cook it for 3 to 5 minutes until the mixture becomes a shade darker (it should go from a yellowish tone to a light beige), stirring frequently. stir in the almonds. set aside to cool down. spread the topping over the dough. bake on center rack for about 25-30 minutes until crust is a bronze color and inserted toothpick comes out clean.

make the pastry cream: warm milk and vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat. pour mixture into a small bowl or cup, ideally with a spout and set aside. in a saucepan, whisk egg yolks and sugar vigorously together for a minute, until pale and ribbony. whisk in cornstarch and salt until smooth. slowly drizzle in warm milk mixture into egg mixture, keep whisking. once you’ve added half of the milk, add the rest in a more steady stream, again continuously whisking. return the saucepan to the stove and heat up on medium-high heat until it bubbles, then simmer for one to two minutes, while whisking to keep it from burning. take off the heat, whisk in butter and vanilla. let custard cool down completely before using, speed up process by covereing it with plastic wrap and putting it into the fridge or whisking it over a bowl of ice water.

assemble the cake: once both the cake and pastry cream are fully cooled, divide cake horizontally into two layers with a serrated knife. spread the pastry cream over bottom half and place the second half on top. Serve in rectangles or squares.

wrapped in a tea towel, bee sting cake will keep in the fridge for up to two days.


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