Spit cake. OK, we know it doesn’t seem all that appetizing, but trust us it’s so much better than it sounds. Made of a milky batter and spun on a spit for hours, the spit cake is considered a delicacy in many regions of Europe. Where it originally came from, however, is an entirely different story. We ventured out to discover how this cake is made, and, more importantly, where it actually comes from.
Our first step in cracking this mystery was locating a group of bakers who call themselves the experts of spit cake. Known as the brotherhood of the Gâteau à la broche, the group has been baking the hollow cake for centuries. Getting to them, however, proved to be a complicated task.
Right in the middle of the Pyrenees Mountains sits the sleepy town of Arreau. On the southern tip of France, close to the Spanish border, this small town is extremely picturesque—and very hard to access. With a river on one side and the Pyrenees National Park on the other, it’s hard to believe that the recipe of the spit cake could have ever made it through the Pyrenees Valleys. But this is where the recipe landed, nearly 200 years ago.
We’ll let Joseph Lost, the president of the Brotherhood of the Cake on a Spit in Arreau, take it from here: “Well, the history of the cake on a spit—or the little we know of it—is that Napoleon’s soldiers, 200 years ago, bought it over when they were retreating from Russia.”
As the soldiers headed back through Europe, they picked up the recipe from several Eastern European countries and brought it all the way to the Pyrenees Mountains, where Joseph and his brotherhood have kept the baking going.
So what’s exactly in the cake?
“One hundred and twenty eggs, 3 kilos [6.6 pounds] of butter, 3 kilos of sugar, 3 kilos of flour, 2 liters of rum and one big glass of Ricard,” explains Lost. It is then mixed into a batter and poured on a mold over a fire for over four hours, while someone spins it the whole time it’s baking.
It’s quite the task, but for Lost and his brotherhood of bakers, keeping the tradition going is so worth it. The brotherhood bakes around 50 spit cakes a year—it has become quite the fixture at major family events. And for good reason. Not only is the cake interesting to look at (think, a hollowed-out Christmas tree), each bite tastes better than the last.
In the end, where the cake exactly originated from is still a bit of a mystery but, thanks to the brotherhood and their dedication to this tradition, at least the cake will live on.