Da Baum

Maya Silver |

At Glaze bakery in Denver, a 2,200 pound crimson oven capable of reaching 800-degrees perpetuates a tradition dating back to the 14th century. Nicknamed the Red Dragon, this specially-designed piece of equipment is dedicated to the creation of baumkuchen—the art of creating baum cakes over a rotisserie grill.

That's right—rotisseries are not just for cooking chicken or gyro meat. They also produce baums, a multi-layered cake originally conceived of around 1581 in Germany. The original equipment was simply a hand-cranked spit over a coal fire. The watershed baum moment came when a World War I Prisoner of War in Japan began selling baumkuchen. And when a Japanese company manufactured a highly technical rotisserie baum oven, the pastry catapulted into popularity.

Until recently, you’d be out of luck if you wanted to try a baum in the states. You might come across an imported one on the shelves of a Japanese grocery store. But over a year ago, Heather Alcott, a Denver entrepreneur, who discovered the baums while living abroad in Singapore, convinced the Japanese company to ship her the first oven to operate in the U.S. or Europe.

Alcott and her team worked with a Japanese “baum maestro” to painstakingly craft a process befitting of Denver’s climate and Glaze’s unique ideas. The recipe is also adjusted seasonally to account for variables like the water content of an egg, which increases in the summer when levels of hydration in chickens increase.

First, almond flour, cage-free local eggs, and other ingredients are gently combined to make a batter achieving a specific density. The batter is then warmed in a trough-like component of the oven as spits are mounted onto a rotating disc within. The spits are dipped in the batter to create the first layer. After the initial coating is cooked, another 12 to 20-plus applications of batter ensue, forming concentric cake rings reminiscent of those in a tree trunk—the literal meaning of the German word, baum. Consequently, the baum is a symbol of longevity, and makes a great cake for celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, and other milestones.

Finally, the chefs wrap the cake to rest, then cut it into rings, and slide them off the spit. Twenty-four hours later, you have a tour de force of the dessert discipline—delicate, texturally complex, and visually stunning, evocative of an edible form of spin art.

Baum cakes at Glaze come in many varieties, but amongst the most popular are the Matcha Green Tea, the Mount Baum, the Original—with almond flavoring and a robust rum glaze—and the Pumpkin Mount Baum, which Food & Wine Magazine listed amongst their top pumpkin desserts in the US.

At Glaze, you’ll also find award-winning macarons, Illy coffee, and the first open-air bakery space in the U.S. And in other Denver area restaurants, at Whole Foods in Denver and San Francisco, at Dean & DeLuca, and online, you’ll find the legendary baums.