Traditionally, these gourmet recipes is made on a spit by brushing on even layers of batter and then rotating the spit around a heat source. Each layer is allowed to brown before a new layer of batter is poured. When the cake is removed and sliced, each layer is divided from the next by a golden line, resembling the growth rings on a crosscut tree. A typical Baumkuchen is made up of 15 to 20 layers of batter. However, the layering process for making Baumkuchen can continue until the cakes are quite large. Skilled pastry chefs have been known to create cakes with 25 layers and weighing over 100 pounds. When cooked on a spit, it is not uncommon for a finished Baumkuchen to be 3-4 feet tall.
Baumkuchen ingredients typically consist of butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and flour. Baking powder is not considered a traditional ingredient. The ratio of flour, butter and eggs is typically 1:1:2 respectively (i.e., 100 grams of flour, 100 grams of butter and 200 grams of eggs). The recipe can be varied by adding other ingredients (such as ground nuts, honey, marzipan, nougat and rum or brandy) to the batter or filling. Additionally, Baumkuchen may be covered with sugar or chocolate glaze. With some recipes, the fully baked and cooled Baumkuchen is first coated with marmalade or jam, and then covered with chocolate.
Baumkuchenspitzen, German for "Pointed Tree Cake," are miniature versions of Baumkuchen that are created from the cake scraps that fall during the cake's creation on a spit. These pieces are typically coated in chocolate and sold separately.
A simpler horizontally layered version of the cake called a "Schichttorte" also exists. It is baked without a spit and thus does not have circular rings but horizontal layers. The horizontally layered version results in a Baumkuchen that is more similar in shape to conventional cakes. It can also be baked in a conventional household oven that has a broiler inside, whereas the traditional spit version requires special equipment normally not available in an average household. However, unlike with the spit variant, the Schichttorte cross section is less reminiscent of tree rings.