Polish sekacz is a sponge cake baked above a flame on a rotary spit. As a result of pouring layers of a dough on the spit, thick layers of a bright cake divided with some dark and thin layers of scorched cake are visible, resembling growth rings in a trunk of a tree.
Golden Polish delicacy resembles a pine tree
By JoAnn Jones
Special to The Vindicator
One of the most incredible desserts to come from Poland, the sekacz cake (pronounced seng-kach) is a delicacy that has both a unique shape and taste.
Also known as a tree cake, the cake probably originated in Eastern Europe in the 14th century. It is shaped like a pine tree with layers that end up looking like branches.
Made of a thick batter containing more than 40 eggs, sekacz is cooked on a spit over an open fire for 10 hours or more. As each layer is cooked to a golden brown, another layer is added, developing the spikey forms that resemble branches.
When it is finished, the cake will stand vertically with a hollow center where the baker can place flowers, candy or fruit. As the cake is sliced from the top, the rings from the layers look like the rings in the trunk of a tree. It can be drizzled with chocolate or icing, but many people also enjoy the cake plain.
The size of the cake varies from as small as four inches to over three feet. Skilled pastry chefs have created sekacz cakes that weigh more than 100 pounds.
The Krakowiaki Polish Folk Circle, as part of Polish Youngstown, imports the cakes as a fundraiser and sells them during the holidays. They are able to procure sekacz cakes from the few bakeries in the United States that make them.
However, the Cukierna Zaniewicz bakery in the Podlasie region of southern Poland, is famous for making the cake.
One origin of the cake, according to legend, was in the 16th century — not the 14th — when Polish Queen Bona challenged her bakers to create an extraordinary cake for the wedding of her son, Prince Sigmund August.
The royal bakers created the cake with the usual ingredients of eggs, butter, sugar and flour while adding other ingredients such as lemon rind, rum and almonds.
Because of the ingredients and the labor involved — painstaking turning of the cake on a spit hour after hour — the cake was affordable only to the rich.
Ingredients in the cake vary somewhat from bakery to bakery, as some bakeries insist on keeping their recipes a secret, but the numerous eggs that provide the golden brown layers are the key to the rich taste of the cake.
Because sekacz is so expensive to make, for a long time people ate it only at weddings. Now, however, many Polish bakeries provide them daily. The tree cakes are still popular at weddings, but people enjoy them on Christmas, Easter, and birthdays, too.