Woodpile CakePosted: January 13, 2014
Here’s a wonderfully different dessert that has the advantage of being almost infinitely customisable. It’s simple, easy to assemble, can be made ahead, and any mistakes can be conveniently covered up with the decoration.
There are many variations out there on recipe sites and foodie blogs, and consequently, this dessert goes by many names. Other variations include Log Cabin cake and Monastic Hut Cake – really not sure Google Translate has really captured the essence too well on that last one – maybe it’s more ‘Hermit in the woods’ than monastery? Anyhoo…..These names all come from regions within the former USSR, and as with a lot of dishes – as the recipes cross borders, they become known by different names and acquire tweaks and nuances specific to a single location.
The name for this dessert that I found most charming was Guguta’s Hat. This originates in a children’s tale written by beloved Moldovan author Spiridon Vangeli, partly due to the description within the story, and partly due to the delightful illustrations that accompany the tale.
The hat he wears is a traditional shepherd’s Astrakhan cap of lambswool, and it is a magic hat, because it can change size, growing big enough to keep friends warm when walking home from school, and even large enough to cover the whole village.
When sliced, this cake does indeed resemble the curls and triangular shape of Guguta’s magic hat.
Essentially, it is of the same family of recipes as the Russian Honey Cake, in that crisp pastry is left to soften overnight under a blanket of slightly sweetened creme fraiche (sour cream in the original recipe). The difference is that the pastry here is filled, and this is how this dessert can be both tweaked to your individual taste and infinitely varied.
Traditionally, the filling is of cherries – the availability of canned ones making it an ideal winter dessert, but it also works with fresh (only attempt if you have a cherry pitter gadget). Alternate fillings are only limited by your imagination – dried fruits macerated in alcohol immediately spring to mind – prunes and apricots would be a nice mix. For added crunch, toss in some nuts, or even ladle in some mincemeat (which I think would be especially delish).
This is not a sweet dish – unless you choose to make it so: Neither the creme fraiche nor the pastry (adding any more sugar will make it lose its shape during baking) have much sugar in at all, and although I tossed the fruit in sugar to help draw out the juice, most of it was left in the bowl. If you have a really sweet tooth, I suggest going to town on sweetening the filling.
The traditional cake has five layers in total, but this makes each slice so huge, they barely fit on a dinner plate let alone a side plate, so I’ve made one less layer and made the tubes of filled pastry a little longer to compensate.
Variations: I’ve read variations where the ‘filling’ is actually kneaded into the dough, instead of being wrapped in it. If you’re short of time, a speedy version could be rustled up using pancakes instead of the biscuit, meaning that the finished cake didn’t need to ‘soak’ overnight. However, in this instance, the creme fraiche should be drained in a sieve for several hours before mixing in the sugar, as this alone will make it more runny. If you’re feeling adventurous, I’ve even seen pictures savoury versions using pancakes and crab/fish fillings.
For the dough:
200g unsalted butter
200g sour cream
60g caster sugar
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tbs white vinegar or lemon juice
500g plain flour – NB You won’t need all of this
- Soften the butter and beat until light and fluffy.
- Mix in the sour cream and sugar.
- Mix the bicarb with the vinegar/lemon juice and add to the mix, stirring well.
- Gradually mix in the flour until a soft dough is formed.
- Tip out the dough and knead smooth. Use any excess flour to dust the work surface.
- When smooth, weigh the dough and divide it into 10 equally-sized portions.
- Roll each portion into a ball.
- Wrap the balls in plastic (or use a large ziplock bag) and chill in the fridge for about 1 hour.
- Prepare fruit (see below).
- Prepare the coating cream (see below).
- When the pastry has chilled, remove from the fridge.
- Drain the fruit well. Count how many cherries you have (if using) and divide by 10. This will tell you how many go into each pastry roll.
- For each piece of dough, roll it out thinly – 3-4mm – into a rectangle.
- Lay a line of cherries down the middle of the pastry. This will depend on how much fruit you have, but if you’re using cherries, it’s easiest to have the same number in each roll.
- Dampen the edges of the pastry, then wrap closely around the fruit. Make sure there is a good seal on the ends as well, otherwise juice will escape during baking.
- When finished, lay all 10 rolls of pastry onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. A sheet with edges is the best choice, in case any juice spills out.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Bake until cooked through and just starting to brown at the edges. This will take 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of your rolls. Turn the baking sheet around after 10 minutes to ensure even colouring.
- Arrange on a wire rack to cool. Don’t worry if there has been juice leaking – everything will be getting covered with an all-forgiving layer of cream, anyways.
- To assemble the dessert:
- Select your serving dish and lay out four biscuits, side by side.
- Cover generously with the coating cream, not forgetting the ends. Seriously. Ladle it on like it’s going out of fashion. Overnight, the pastry will absorb a LOT of the moisture from the cream, and a 5mm coating will shrink down to what looks like a paper-thin layer.
- Repeat with the remaining biscuits, in a 4, 3, 2, 1 pattern, until it resembles a snow-covered stack of logs.
- If you have cream left over, spread it onto the sides and the ends of the assembled cake.
- Sprinkle your decoration of choice over the top.
- Wrap the finished dessert completely in cling film and leave in a cool place, or fridge, overnight.
- To serve: remove cling film, touch up the decoration if required, and slice as needed.
For the filling
100-150 pitted cherries – between 800g-1kg of fresh or 3-4 tins in juice.
60g sugar (only if using fresh cherries)
- If using fresh cherries, remove stones then toss in the sugar.
- Cover and set to steep while the pastry chills.
- If using tins, drain the cherries from the juice.
For the covering cream
1200ml reduced fat creme fraiche
sugar to taste
to decorate: choose from grated dark chocolate, chocolate sprinkles, chopped walnuts, toasted almond flakes,
- This might seem a lot, but you don’t want to scrimp on the cream because your dessert will end up dry, and it’s already the healthier version, because of the aforementioned soured cream!
- Mix in the sugar to taste, probably no more than 3-4 tablespoons. You want to retain that tang in the taste.
- Set aside.