Romanian Harlequin cake – tiny layered cake squares with tangy jam, a perfect recipe for the Holiday season.
The cake Harlequin – Prajitura Arlechin – is a very old Romanian recipe, which you will probably find in every Romanian grandmother's recipe notebook.
It is the first cake I ever remember eating, actually, the only cake I have ever eaten as a small child. I love the fact that although the cake is sweet, that sweetness is somewhat attenuated by the tanginess of the jam. Just make sure to use a tangy jam.
Tips for making Harlequin?
This cake is not particularly difficult to make, but unlike other easier cakes, it does require a bit of time and dedication on your side. You do have to roll the four layers of dough, but after that, everything couldn't be easier.
The best tip: Use a digital kitchen scale to measure the ingredients, especially the flour and the butter.
Make in advance:
- The Romanian layered cake has to be made 2-3 days in advance, better 3 than 2. You will wrap it well in cling film and let it rest in a cool place before unwrapping and cutting.
- The layers of dough will be very dry at first, but after being covered with jam and spending a few days nicely wrapped in foil, they will become deliciously soft and tender. So this is really not a step you can skip.
- When rolling the layers of dough, make sure to work on a floured surface or, even better, roll the dough directly on baking paper. And don't forget to flour the rolling pin as well a few times in between.
- When rolling the first layer, you will probably curse me and think I am crazy for posting such a recipe. Rolling the second layer will be much easier, and you will probably begin to smile a bit and think I am not that crazy after all. The third one will really put a big grin on your face, and by the time you roll the last layer of dough, you will pat yourself on the back and call yourself an expert. 🙂
- It works better if you have a small rolling pin, which you can hold in one hand while you hold the baking paper with the other hand. If you only have a regular-sized rolling pin, maybe someone can hold the baking paper for you, or you can fix it down with some tape.
- Try to push the edges of the dough with a butter knife or your fingers in order to make them a bit neater and to prevent them from being thinner than the rest of the rectangle so that they will not get excessively dry when baking.
- However, the edges do not have to be perfect; you can cut them straight and nicely after the cake has rested for the necessary two or three days.
- I always make the Harlequin cake with plum and apricot jam, two layers of plum, and one layer of apricot (or the other way around). These sorts of jams are very aromatic and tangy.
- An even tangier jam to use would be redcurrant jam, but that is something I have never seen in a Harlequin cake in Romania, so I prefer to use the traditional sorts of jam.
- However, you can use whatever jam you like; just make sure it is a tangy sort.
- I make the glaze with raw egg yolks.
- To be perfectly safe, make sure you use pasteurized eggs.
- I am not sure if the name of the cake, Harlequin, refers to the cake's colorful jam layers or to the colorful sprinkle topping.
- Many people top it with chopped nuts or chocolate sprinkles, so the name might not have much to do with the colorful sprinkles.
- However, I have ever only eaten Harlequin topped with colorful sprinkles, and that is the way I make it myself all the time; I have never tried it with nuts or chocolate. But, so you know, you have a choice if you are not into the sprinkles.
Other delicious Romanian layered cakes:
- Caramelized Walnuts Buttercream Cake
- Lemon Cake - Lamaita or Alba ca Zapada
- Greta Garbo Cake
- Egyptian Hazelnut Cake (actually very Romanian recipe)
- Layered Chocolate Vanilla Cake - Televizor
- Chocolate Poppy Seed Cake - Tosca
- Romanian Regina Maria
Harlequin Cake Recipe – Romanian Layered Cake
Dough layers (Note 1):
- 250 g unsalted butter at room temperature 8.8 oz/ 1 cup
- 2 eggs
- 85 g smetana/sour cream 3 oz/ ⅓ cup
- 150 g granulated sugar 5.5 oz/ ¾ cup
- 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 525 g all-purpose flour 1.2 lb / 4 ⅓ cup
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 400 g plum jam 14 oz/ 1 ¼ cup
- 200 g apricot jam 7 oz/ ⅔ cup
- 4 egg yolks pasteurized eggs, Note 2
- 100 g icing sugar 3.5 oz/ 1 cup + more if necessary
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 150-200 g colorful sprinkles for the top layer, 5.3 - 7 oz
- The cake has to be made at least two days, preferably three days in advance.
- Cream ingredients: Place the soft butter, eggs, smetana or sour cream, sugar, and vanilla sugar or extract in the bowl of the food processor. Mix until creamy.
- Mix dry ingredients: In another bowl, mix the flour and the baking powder. Add them to the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
- Refrigerate dough: Turn the mixture on the lightly floured working surface and knead shortly to obtain a smooth dough. Wrap the dough in cling foil and refrigerate for one hour.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.
- Divide the dough into four equal parts. Cut four large pieces of baking paper. Flour the rolling pin.
- Roll: Flatten the first piece of dough on one piece of the baking paper to get a rough rectangle, and then roll it to a rectangle of about 23x30 cm/ 9x12 inches. It works better if you have a small rolling pin, which you can hold in one hand while holding the baking paper with the other hand. If you only have a regular-sized rolling pin, maybe someone can hold the baking paper for you, or you can fix it down with some tape.
- Trim edges: Try to push the edges of the dough with a butter knife or your fingers to make them a bit neater and to prevent them from being thinner than the rest of the rectangle so that they will not get excessively dry when baking. However, the edges do not have to be perfect; you can cut them straight and nicely after the cake has rested for the necessary two or three days.
- Bake first dough layer: Carefully place the dough on the baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes or until the edges of the dough rectangle start to get brownish. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
- Bake remaining layers: While the first cake layer is in the oven, roll the second one and so on until all four cake layers are baked.
- Layer cake: When the cake layers are cool, layer them with jam. Stir the jam well before spreading it on the cake layers.
- Assemble the cake: Choose the nicest cake layer and set it aside to use it as the top layer. The first layer should be smeared with plum jam, the second with apricot jam, and the third one with plum jam again. Place the last cake layer on top and press gently.
- Mix the egg yolks, icing sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract in a small bowl.
- Prepare for glazing the cake: Place the layered cake on a large baking tray or wooden board. If using the wooden board, place that in a baking tray as well. This is necessary because some of the glaze will run down the sides of the cake.
- Start spreading the glaze on top. If the glaze is excessively runny, add more icing sugar until you obtain the desired consistency. If you need to add more icing sugar depends on the size of the egg yolks.
- Top the cake with colorful sprinkles. The cake can also be topped with roasted and chopped nuts of any kind or with chocolate sprinkles.
- Leave the cake to rest on the counter until the glaze is dry.
- Wrap the whole cake very well in clingfilm/plastic wrap, including the wooden board it sits on (or the baking tray/ casserole dish it sits on). I make a double layer and ensure there is no hole or anything.
- Leave the cake to rest for 2 or 3 days in a cool place. It doesn't have to be the fridge, but make sure is cool. I always keep it in the cellar.
- Cut the edges of the cake straight. Cut the cake into small squares.
- Keep in airtight cookie tins with baking paper between the layers of cake.
- Always use a digital kitchen scale when measuring the ingredients for a cake, especially when measuring flour and butter. I don't recommend using cup measuring to make the dough; there is too much room for mistakes (Amazon affiliate link).
- I make the glaze with raw egg yolks. To be safe, make sure you use pasteurized eggs.