Dobos Torta

A Bakehouse Hungarian Specialty and February’s Cake of the Month!

Our take on this famous Hungarian classic is a five-layered, light vanilla sponge cake filled and iced with a dark chocolate espresso buttercream and garnished on top with a distinctive layer of crispy golden caramel. The torta evokes the elegance of Budapest’s late nineteenth-century coffeehouse culture and the pastry traditions of Hungary, a country touted as “the land of ten million pastry lovers,” by George Lang (1924-2011), the renowned Hungarian-born American restaurateur.

Some Hungarian Dobos Torta History

József C. Dobos (1847 – 1924),  Hungarian pastry chef and culinary entrepreneur, ca. 1896. Photo Source: Wikicommons

At the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the second half of the 19th century, Hungarian pastry-making, along with the liberal arts, flourished in the vibrant coffeehouse culture of Budapest. In 1884, József C. Dobos (pronounced doh-bosh), an influential and enterprising pastry chef and culinary entrepreneur, sought to capitalize on Hungarians’ love for elegant cakes and created his iconic Dobos Torta, which he sold out of the well-known specialty gourmet shop in central Budapest he had opened in 1878. The shop, known for its elaborate window displays where the torta would take many star turns, sold an array of high-quality local foods and imported delicacies, including cheese, wine, caviar, spices, and, of course, elegant pastries.

The eponymous torta soon became a local classic, following its debut in 1885 at the National General Exhibition in Budapest. In an elaborate pavilion staffed by over 100 people, Dobos put his novel torta on grand display. There, it attracted the attention and praise of Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. He and his wife, Empress Elisabeth, were among the first to taste the confection, which Dobos served to them personally. Soon afterward, the Emperor gave his stamp of approval and appointed Dobos as a purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court. His torta became so popular that an entire book was published about it that same year.

National General Exhibition in Budapest in 1885 by Róbert Nádler (1858 – 1938). Photo Source: Wikicommons.
Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary (1830 – 1916), ca. 1885, and his wife, Empress Elisabeth (1837  1898). Photo source: Wikicommons.

So what made Dobos’s creation so novel and popular? 

The chocolate buttercream spread between the torta’s delicate cake layers was discovered by Dobos during his travels in France. It was very little known at the time, making it a new addition to Hungarian pastry-making. Most tortes back then were iced or filled with cooked creams, whipped creams, or custards. Also novel was the flat, shiny, unadorned crisp caramel top.

Both these innovations—the use of buttercream and crisp caramel—allowed for a significantly extended shelf life. The torta kept fresh for longer during a time when refrigeration was rare. What is more, the hard caramel top made the torta durable enough to travel. This prompted Dobos to begin touring with the cake, personally introducing it in all the great European capital cities. As its popularity grew, Dobos began shipping the torta in specially designed wooden boxes to pastry-loving customers all over Europe and beyond. The Dobos Torta may very well have been the first mail-order cake!  

Near the end of his career, in 1906, Dobos sought to set the record straight on the authenticity of his creation. To squelch the endless, unsuccessful attempts at imitation, he donated his recipe to the Cukrászokés Mézeskalácsosok Ipartestületének (Confectioners and Gingerbread Industry Association). Pastry chefs the world over now had access to the true recipe and the torta’s popularity spread even further. Today, it would be challenging to find a Hungarian pastry shop or coffeehouse that doesn’t prominently feature the Dobos Torta on its menu of elegant pastries.

A round Dobos Torta made at the Auguszt Cukrászda Farkasrét in Budapest. This bakery/confectionary, family-run since 1870, is the Bakehouse’s key mentor in Hungarian baking. Photo source:

Dobos Torta in the modern day

Nowadays, most Dobos Tortes are round, like those made at the Auguszt Cukrászda in Budapest, home to one of the city’s oldest baking families. Now in its fifth generation, the Auguszt family of bakers have taught us important lessons about traditional Hungarian pastries. Yet, in our research, we found that the older recipes from Dobos’s day called for the torta to be rectangular in shape. So, in keeping with that history, we chose to make ours rectangular as well. The sides of the cake can be left plain or covered in a wide variety of nuts. We decided to use crunchy chocolate crumbs to keep the torta nut-free. 

Stop by the Bakehouse for a delicious taste of Hungary’s delectable past. Now’s the time! Dobos Torta is currently the Bakehouse’s Cake of Month; whole cakes and slices are 20% off all through February. Also, don’t miss out on our other Hungarian specialty desserts. Many are on offer through the end of the month, including Krémes and two other torta—Esterházy and Rigó Jansci.(For some Rigó history, head to our blog.) 


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After a long, established career as a Ph.D. art history scholar and art museum curator, Lee, a Michigan native, came to the Bakehouse in 2017 eager to pursue her passion for artisanal baking and to apply her love of history, research, writing, and editing in a new exciting arena. Her first turn at the Bakehouse was as a day pastry baker. She then moved on to retail sales in the Bakeshop, followed by joining the Marketing Team and becoming the Bakehouse’s designated culinary historian. In addition to her retail sales and marketing work, she’s a member of the Bakehouse’s Grain Commission, co-author and editor of the Bakehouse's series of cookbooklets, and a regular contributor to the BAKE! Blog and Zingerman’s Newsletter, where she explores the culinary, cultural, and social history and evolution of the Bakehouse’s artisan baked goods.

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