Sunday, May 24, 2009

Culinary Conquest Completed: Austrian Tea Cake

As you probably already know, I live near a very small city, and in that small city, there is but one real bakery. Ever since I moved here nine years ago, people have been extolling the virtues of said bakery, but I never could understand why. Almost everything I had there was no better than what you could get at the local supermarket, and in fact, the cakes at Price Chopper were better! There were only two things at this local bakery that I thought were excellent—a pecan coffee ring (kind of like a round Danish) and something they called Austrian tea cake. A friend of mine, herself a very talented baker, told me that she worked at this bakery for one day once upon a time, but she quit after her first shift. She was horrified that much of the products that they used were of poor quality, such as those prefab fillings that you buy in long, plastic tubes. And the cakes were all made ahead of time and frozen for months, then defrosted and re-moistened with simple syrup. When I asked her about the pecan coffee ring and the Austrian tea cake, she confirmed that these were some of the very few things there that were homemade from scratch.

Recently, our local bakery that had been run by the same family for generations was sold to another owner, a Polish baker, as I’ve heard the story told. But I am sad to report that the quality does not seemed to have improved, because the new baker’s philosophy (via a quote in the local paper) is along the lines of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But it is indeed broken, and though he promises some changes over time, they can’t come soon enough to suit me! Of course, I bake my own stuff, so I don’t really have the need to frequent a bakery too often. And there is always Montreal with its endless numbers and varieties of European-style delicacies just an hour away. However, I sure would like to be able to be able to make that tea cake for myself at home!

I have searched online many times for something by the name of Austrian tea cake, but I always ended up finding cookie recipes. Then I ran into a posting on some German baking site from someone in Plattsburgh looking for the same recipe. I emailed her to see if she’d had any luck. Interestingly, she had some sort of relation by marriage to the previous owners of the bakery (everyone is someone’s cousin in Plattsburgh!), but even so, they could not be compelled to divulge the secret family recipe. Boo hiss. But she did discover one important clue…that the cake was soaked in a buttermilk and butter glaze. Ah-ha! The Austrian tea cake was always very moist and rich, having clearly been soaked in some magical solution. But I didn’t know what. A buttermilk glaze—of course! The cake has that characteristic tang that I should have recognized as buttermilk.

So with some additional Googling of various similar cakes finished with a soak of buttermilk glaze, I tried to fashion something close the original. Though I produced a couple of very tasty cakes, they weren’t quite right. So I back-burnered that project for (interestingly) almost exactly one year to the day, when out of the blue, the same nice lady emailed me to let me know that she had finally wrangled the recipe out of the original owner of our local bakery. However, the recipe was on a MASSIVE, bakery-sized scale, and it was written in weighted measurements. It also did not include the buttermilk glaze. So I set myself to task, cutting down the recipe for home use, converting the measurements, and adding a glaze that I thought would work well. Moreover, my policy is that everything can be improved with nuts, so I added some, but you can omit them if you want to stay close to the original cake. SUCCESS at last! This tea cake is quick and delicious—in fact, you don’t even need to dirty your big mixer for this, as it can easily be mixed up by hand. Who needs to go to a bakery, anyway?

Buttermilk and Toasted Walnut Tea Cake

For the cake:
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/8 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cup toasted walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped (optional, but highly desirable!)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars, oil, and eggs until thick and smooth. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Add the vanilla to the wet mix, then alternate the dry ingredients and the buttermilk in thirds. Toss in the toasted nuts, if using, and mix just enough to combine. (Another option instead of nuts would be to add a good amount of poppy seeds. I may have to try that version next time!)

Spray a 9x13 dish with flour-added baking spray. Pour in the batter, and rap on the counter to remove most of the bubbles. Bake at 375 degrees for fifteen minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees and bake for another 45 minutes or until the cake is evenly browned all over, the top springs back when touched, and the edges pull away from the sides of the pan.

Let cool on a rack for a few minutes while you prepare the buttermilk glaze.

For the glaze:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) butter
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, combine the buttermilk, sugar, butter and baking soda. Bring to a full boil (watch out—it will foam up!), and then turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Using a bamboo skewer, poke the warm cake all over with small holes. Spoon the glaze evenly over the cake (start with about half then see if it will absorb anymore--you won't use it all), then let it cool completely on the rack. The cake can be eaten just like this, or preferably, frost the top with your favorite frosting*. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator.

*I used about a half a batch of this recipe (without any Cool Whip).

Follow-Up 6/2/13: This recipe works great (maybe even better) as cupcakes! It makes 24 or 25 with the batter filled 3/4 of the way up two cupcake tins lined with individual baking papers. Bake for 15 minutes at 375, then another 20-25 minutes at 250. Prepare only half the buttermilk glaze, and spoon one teaspoon over each cupcake.


Anonymous said...

Is this what I remember as the Australian tea cake at Rambach's? Hubby and I went in there on a visit and were not impressed by the appearance of anything there, but we tried a piece of this and it was tasty--ever since then I've wanted to make it at home but searched in vain for a recipe. Thanks for doing this!
Gabby in Albany

JoyBugaloo said...

Hi, Gabby. Far be it from me to identify sub-standard bakeries by name, but this is the cake you're looking for (although I added nuts to it). Give it a try! It's yummy! --Gina

Cindy Dominy said...

I totally agree with your description of the local bakery. Just a couple weeks ago and young bride-to-be asked if I could make Austrian Tea Cake for their wedding!
After using my dear friend "Google" I came upon your site.

My first attempt at making the tea cake is in my oven baking at this moment!

Thanks for working out that recipe!

Cindy - West Chazy

JoyBugaloo said...

Well, Cindy? How did it turn out? Was it close to the original? I am awaiting your review with baited breath...


Cindy said...

From the slice and the taste of what I purchased, to what I baked, it was a VAST improvement! Since the bride-to-be liked Rambach's, I did not add the nuts etc. which would have made the cake even better.

Myself I would cut down the amount of glaze a little, cake was too moist for my liking, since that soaks into the cake, I then added an icing. Like the idea of the cream cheese frosting, but again it was for a taste test!

Cindy - West Chazy

Gandalf said...

I have been trying to crack this recipe for YEARS. Like you, I too have scoured the internet looking for clues or similar cakes. On a whim a few nights ago--I had let the search go cold for a while--I searched for it again and imagine my delight to read of your conquest (posted just a few weeks ago!).

The very next day I put the recipe to the test (less the nuts, I wanted a good comparison first). I am happy to confirm: THIS is the cake. I let it cool for quite a while, but couldn't resist trying it before bed. Delicious, but a little soft and fluffy, even while only slightly warm. After a night of standing: firmer and holds shape better when cut. Also a little more of that characteristic tang comes out when completely cooled.

Thank you a thousand times for this and for the story. You have done us all a great service!

JoyBugaloo said...

My pleasure, Gandalf (et al)! Happy to help crack the case at long last (though again, I had help). Happy baking, folks! :-)

Brenda in Berkeley said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! I grew up in Keeseville, but haven't lived there in over 20 years. I now live in Berkeley, CA surrounded by numerous delicious bakeries in a part of the city called "The gourmet ghetto." Although I'm thrilled with the quality of the baked goods at my fingertips, my mind can not escape the Rambach's Austrian Tea Cake I grew up with. I'm so excited to try the recipe! It will be nice to have a taste of home so far away.

Anonymous said...

So delighted to find your blog re this cake - my story also goes a loooong way back! My parents retirement home on Lake Champlain... the times we visited and I had this cake! Mr. Rambach was a friend of my parents and did indeed tell them it contained br. sugar, oil and buttermilk but that is all he said... So I too have been searching for the recipe and I'm so glad to have found your post. Thank you! I am going to try it sometime. I miss that cake now that I live in Canada! I even wrote to Gourmet magazine to request that they try to approach the bakery to get it but I never heard back... Many thanks again!

Laura said...

Gina! You are my hero! I was JUST trying to wrangle this out of the bakery owner and have been FOREVER:) The glaze is the frosting and the moistener right? It is delicious! I miss seeing you at the Farmer's Market w/ your Blueberry Lime Jam, that was phenomenal! Thank you again~
formerly at Clinton :)

Margot said...

Thank you Joy. I have been searching for this recipe for ages. Recently on a visit to Plattsburgh I went to the bakery and purchased a piece of the TEA CAKE not the same as iI had remembered. Boy did you hit this nail on the head.I tried the cake last night and this morning it is delicious. I put less of the glaze on and the rest I thicken a little with icing sugar and a touch of almond extract and bingo this is it. Tks again Margot in Montreal

*HealthyBibliotec said...

Thank you so much for sharing this recipe; My sister and I have been trying to figure out the Australian Tea Cake for ages! I made your recipe for my family over the holidays and everyone loved it! In fact, we even bought a piece from the non-named bakery and did a taste test with the results favoring yours. What a fantastic cake recipe to add to one's repertoire. Much obliged, Laura

expat said...

This was my favorite childhood cake and actually WAS our wedding cake several years ago in Saranac Lake. Servers said they had never seen a wedding cake go so fast with so many plates licked clean. I live far away now and still wish for this cake sometimes. So grateful for the recipe!!!!

Cheire said...

Thank you so much for posting this recipe!! I have a small home bakery and friends have been asking me for years if I could make the infamous bakery tea cake... now I can and have - wonderful!!

For the glaze though, I added 3 cups of confectioner's sugar to the warm liquid and poured it over the top - it worked out great and is very much like the glaze you buy over the top of the cake in the store.

My family is raving over it - thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Cherie in Plattsburgh

Anonymous said...

We were just in Plattsburgh for a visit and had to go to the bakery for some of the tea cake that I remember so well. I have been trying to find this recipe for years, and my wife found your blog and the resule is cooling on the counter right now. I wonder if anyone has had any luck with the icing?? It is almost chewy, looks like it was poured on when warm, and can pe peeled off the cake like a twinkie's frosting can. I really like it, but havent got a clue as to how to make it...any suggestions?

Schizo said...

Thank you! Will give it a whirl, been looking forever :0)
I am sure the owner of the bakery will not be has happy, but I sure am!

Christine said...

Yay! I am glad you posted this!!

Anonymous said...

I believe this is it. I have not made it yet but will soon. Thank you so much for the recipe and comments. We just had the bakery's tea cake. I don't think the frosting is cream cheese. I am going to try the glaze you have and then add a buttercream frosting using lemon juice instead of milk. Thank you again for a delightful find!

Christine said...

I just made this cake with a different frosting and and a few other small changes and boy was it great! I posted it on my site! I hope you dont mind!Thanks for your hard work in finding this recipe!!

Anonymous said...

I am excited to find this online-- every time I visit home (the north country) I go to that bakery and get that cake, but lately it tastes different and not as good as it used to. So I'm going to try this today. Thanks somuch!

Teresa Leonard, Air Force wife said...

The only place I ever had Austrian Tea Cake was at the bakery in Plattsburgh! I can't believe I've found your post. Their cake did not have nuts in it, though. It was dense and moist and tangy and melted in your mouth. I miss Rambach's.

Joy Bugaloo said...

Yeah, I know the original cake does not have nuts...I just love them (as I said in the post).

Thanks for your comment. --Gina

Altenpflege said...

WoW! Thanks for posting this one.=D

Anonymous said...

My sister just found this recipe and shared it with exclamation points! We're from Jersey, but looked forward to R's tea cake (and Parker's syrup) on every visit to family in P'burg. Can't wait to try it. Thanks!

Jenn said...

Thank you, thank you!! I'm from the P'burgh area and have been trying to find this recipe or similar ever since I left 12 years ago! Funny that you posted an update today?!!! Can't wait to make this!!

Anonymous said...

Funny after visiting this bakery today and testing. I too began the search and stumbled upon your site. I will be trying out your recipe soon!....Tia

Anonymous said...

How strange is this? Today's conversation between my husband and myself turned to the subject of bakeries, and how there are basically none left here in Morris County, NJ anymore. Remembered and discussed the Austrian Tea Cake that my girlfriend's mother and her German-born husband used to make at their bakery so many years ago --- how delicious it was, how difficult it was to describe the taste, how moist, and how much I loved it. Came home to Google for a recipe once again (tried several times a long time ago, but gave up), and here you are! I cannot wait to try this!

Question #1: This was made in loaf cake form. Can you give me an idea how to adjust time/temperature for this baked in a loaf pan?

Question #2: The icing was glaze-like. I don't remember it as being particularly 'lemony'. Should I try thickening what's left over of the buttermilk mixture that wasn't needed to pour over?

Thanks in advance for any help you might be willing to provide. I'll be soooo disappointed if I mess this up!

Joy Bugaloo said...

Hi there! Thanks for your comment. I will try to help. I would think that you could split the recipe into two loaf pans. Then I would go ahead and do the 15 minutes at 375, then lower the oven to 250 and do maybe 30 minutes, keeping a close eye on your loaves, then add five minutes after that (and after that) until it looks and feels done.

As for the icing, I think that's a fine idea! Just whisk powdered augar into the leftover buttermilk glaze until it's a desirable consistency and then glaze away! (I hope it's enough for both loaves, though. Try it and see. You can always make more.)


Anonymous said...

Hi, Gina. Our weekly snowstorm is in full swing here in northern NJ, so I thought it was a good day to attempt the tea cake. It's cooling on the island as I type. Probably would have been wise to check here *before* setting out to baking, but...

Since it appeared that the batter would be too much for one loaf pan (I only have one "good" one), I opted for a 9" square instead. Baked it using your exact instructions for the 9x13; the timing was right on, precisely to the minute, even though the pan size was different. Amazing! The cake absorbed all the buttermilk glaze, so I'll make a basic confectioners' sugar glaze once it's cooled. Debating on whether to use a bit of lemon or a bit of almond extract to flavor it. Will search my memory bank for what the one I've been pining for all these years used to taste like as I shovel my own treacherously inclined, pain in the rear driveway. Heading out right now. (Man-oh-man, but this shoveling thing is getting old already.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Gina,
I'm the unmentioned Mr. Rambach. I sold the bakery about the time you came to the area. I agree that Rambachs went downhill pretty fast, I got the idea you believed the bakery you knew was the original. It wasn't. We ran the bakery with pride and professionalism for 28 years. I know you can't please everyone, but we never compromised where quality was involved. I enjoyed reading your column,and especially the comments. It's nice to know that after all these years, people are still thinking and talking about something I brought to the north country.
P.S. Rambachs bakery ion 65 Peru st. Still makes my original recipe. It's owned by a 20 year employee ar Rambachs.

Anonymous said...

I am a lifelong resident of Plattsburgh and have enjoyed this cake ever since Rambach's opened in the 80's. On a recent visit to get some goodies for a piano recital, we grabbed a slice, as we usually do when we are there. My wife and I disagreed on the name: Australian or Austrian. The lady at the counter said Australian.

5th Floor Math Colleague said...

I was searching for the local bakery's tea cake recipe so I could make it for my mother-in-law's birthday. I couldn't believe, but not surprised, that your blog post was the first thing to show up in the search engine. I will have to let you know how it turns out. I might have to stop by the bakery and purchase this, for time's sake, but I hope to have time to make one. Both my mother and mother-in-law share the same birthday...lots of cake to make this weekend and I didn't want to make the traditional birthday cake for either lady.

anonymous said...

This recipe is definitely a keeper. My daughter made this a few days ago, and we absolutely love this cake. It's nice to have a recipe from a popular place that you can replicate right in your own kitchen. Thanks so much. We are sure to make this cake quite often.

Anonymous said...

It is next on my list to bake for hubby. We used to go there after high school and get this cake and NAPOLEANS,,,,,,!! Now there is a goal for you. The cream in those NAPOLEANS was awesome! Can you crack that code too? Thanks again!

jgirl123456 said...

i recently had this tea cake and it was o k from that bakery but it was more greasey tasting to me...........could you substitute butter to make the cake rather than the oil...............but one thing i did enjoy and thought to be excellent was the almond horseshoes.......the dipping chocolate was of poor quality but the cookie was you have the recipe for these almond horseshoes.......thanks

Anonymous said...

Joy, I was overjoyed to find your final quest satisfied! I too have been looking for this recipe and have found only the cookies (BAH!) BUT thanks so much for your persistence! My mother oh so long ago worked for Rambach's Bakery in Wayne, N J. for Mr Jerry Rambach Sr. I think it was the original bakery. It was a delight and the tea cake was certainly a BIG treat! I don't remember the tea cake having an icing. I do remember that there were some sort of a nut in the batter, very fine, but present. It tasted like BUTTER! Moist and buttery. I guess that was the buttermilk? So the message from the "infamous" Mr. R would be Jerry, Jr.? HAH ! I LOVE it! Thanks so much for no only the recipe but for the walk down memory lane.

Anonymous said...

Very simple. I worked there. We made a basic pastry cream with vanilla. Then to make the regular version it was whipped cream, 1-2T. Instant Vanilla Pudding, and then the pastry cream. The chocolate was the same except the addition of 1-2T cocoa powder and NO vanilla pudding mix.