Sunday, February 14, 2016

This is my Sistine Chapel, my Everest, my Super Bowl -- but with chocolate

You know how sometimes you just have a craving for buttercream frosting?

No? Just me? Well, me and Monica Geller. And all the rest of you. I am not keeping all these cupcake shops in business by myself.

Well, this week while at work writing about serious and important topics, the craving began. I staved it off with the mental promise to make something for Valentine's Day that had frosting -- a cupcake or a small batch of cookies. Something to take care of the craving and be done with it.

Then this happened.

What is that, you ask? It's a tree! After loggers came through and cut it down. :( I'm making a statement.

Here's what it actually is: nine layers of chocolate cake, separated by either chocolate ganache, chocolate hazelnut ganache with roasted hazelnuts or browned buttercream frosting, covered with chocolate frosting and cake crumbs and topped with a homemade caramel sauce.

Yes, in case you're wondering, your blood pressure did go up reading that paragraph. Possibly out of excitement, more likely because this is so full of ridiculous stuff that it's oozing through the computer. Hopefully the smell of the fresh caramel is coming with it. (I've never made real caramel sauce before, just did the whole brown sugar and butter thing. But this stuff is good.)

I envisioned this as a one person, two nights or two person, one night dessert. It is not. It is very rich (and let's be real, I liberally sampled all the layers as I went along) and I did not eat half of that tonight.

I'm calling it once-in-a-lifetime cake -- either because it's so involved that I'm only making it once, or that I will go into cardiac arrest sometime tonight because it's got so much cream, butter, sugar and chocolate. Should that happen, I'd like the inscription on my gravestone to read, "Worth it."

I was going to include directions for this in case anyone wants to spend several hours recreating it. However, the process was sort of a train wreck, so I'm not sure telling you how to repeat my mistakes is a good idea. I can, however, describe all the moving parts. 

1. Chocolate cake. Make your favorite recipe. You actually only need about half of it, so make two layers and then use the other layer for something else, or just make half of your favorite recipe.



The very helpful aspect of this cake -- you don't need the whole thing, so if it doesn't come out of the pan just right, you're probably OK. You can also avoid this hassle altogether and use parchment paper on the bottom. I use parchment paper for everything, except for things that require me to trace around the pan and cut it out. Somebody should sell 8-inch cake parchment sheets. Except I'm sure that's already a thing and I wouldn't buy them anyway because parchment paper is already pretty expensive, I'm not paying someone else to cut it for me.


When the cake is cooled, cut out three circles using a mug or glass as a measuring device. If you wanted to be super fancy, you could make different sizes. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. When they're pretty well frozen, cut them longwise. I cut each in half and later wished I'm made them thinner by cutting into thirds. I ended up cutting the larger half of each in half, so I got thirds, albeit uneven thirds. Wrap back up, put back in the freezer.

Crumble what's left of that layer and put it aside for later.

2. Ganache. At its most basic, this is cream and chocolate. The recipe I used called for 16 oz of cream and 13 ounces of chocolate. Use good chocolate, and not chocolate chips. They're engineered not to melt. Chop into small pieces. Heat the cream on the stove until it's very hot, pour into the bowl with the chocolate and whisk until it's smooth and mixed through. Stick it in the fridge.

3. Browned buttercream frosting. If you've never used browned butter, you are missing out. I love butter, and browning it manages to make butter even better. I used this recipe from The Tough Cookie but cut it in half. 

4. Toasted hazelnuts. Do not stick these in the oven with a baking potato and forget about them, occasionally wondering why you're smelling something other than potato, until they turn black. I toasted them whole for 3-4 minutes, then chopped them up finely and almost forgot about them, so don't stick them in the corner of the kitchen.

5. Back to the ganache. When  you're ready to put things together, pull your cold ganache out of the fridge, put it in the mixer with the whisk and put it on high.  Have your first few layers out and ready to frost before you do this. This is good to go in about 30 seconds. I got mine perfect, it sort of hardened while I was getting the cake ready so I put it back in the mixer and instantly regretted it. You see, cream, if you whip it for too long, becomes butter. How do I know? I've made butter by accident. So my ganache was not quite what I'd hoped, texture-wise. You can heat a little bit up, either in the microwave (10 seconds) or on the stove, and then mix cold ganache in with the melted part. You won't have the whipped texture, but you won't have the butter texture either. Let it solidify, add hazelnut flavoring if you want to and then spread it on the cakes. Stack carefully, refrigerating every few layers so you don't end up with a Leaning Tower of Pisa situation or, worse, a tumbling to the ground situation.

Do this with the browned buttercream as well. Come to terms with the fact that you will have chocolate ALL over you at multiple points in this process. It's a sacrifice you must be willing to make.

I corrected the Leaning Tower of Pisa situation before putting it back in the fridge. 

6. Frosting. When you've assembled the layers, stick back in the fridge and turn to the rest of it. I also stopped here for a cucumber, as I could fill all the rich ingredients settling in a way that my no-longer-teenage digestive system was super thrilled about. (Sorry, coworkers, I could have the mother of all sugar hangovers tomorrow.) You can make whatever kind of chocolate frosting you like. I usually make basic frosting: butter, powdered sugar, cocoa, vanilla, milk as needed. For this one I turned to one of my seven cookbooks with chocolate in the title (fun fact: I used two cookbooks and two websites to put this together) and found a recipe that actually used butter and cream in the buttercream frosting. It also used melted chocolate instead of cocoa. And it required me to mix for 15 minutes. I wasn't going to, because that seems insane, but I did. I have no idea what would have happened had I not done it, but the frosting was good so I'm not complaining.

7. Caramel sauce. Again, first time I've ever made this. May never go back to the storebought stuff. You basically melt sugar. There's no milk, water, butter, any liquid. You stir for about 10 minutes, thinking there's no way this is going to work, and then it does. Then comes the butter and cream and it becomes a sauce. I used this recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction. It's actually very easy.




8. Frost the cake. I put a thin layer on the top first, then realized I needed to use the top to hold onto while I frosted the seven inches of cake I had in front of me. This was messy. It looked messy when I finished. I'm fine with that. Then stick your cake crumbs along the side. Also messy. Still don't care. Back in the fridge.

9. Spoon a little bit of the caramel on top. It should be mostly cooled but still able to be spooned. I tried to keep this mostly on the top but did really enjoy the artistry of a few of the drops dripping down the side. Sprinkle some sea salt on top. Put it back in the fridge. (I promise, all the fridge time is worth it in the end.

I gave it half an hour, then took it out and took one last picture before I cut it open. I actually took a picture of the cake at every single step of the process because I thought there was a 50-50 chance that at each step I would end up with an earthquake cake situation. Still tasty, yes, but not quite so pretty. 

Then this happened.


You guys. I am so proud of this. It's not quite as perfect-looking as I'd hoped, but, again, I do not care. It reminded me of the best cake I've ever had -- cake that I traveled halfway around to get. (Well, OK, I didn't go to Germany specifically for the cake. At least not the first time. ;)

Right before it tumbled over.
This is best enjoyed with a glass of cold milk and 911 on speed dial.

As I said -- Worth. It.


1 comment:

  1. I hate to break it to you, but you're not supposed to stir the sugar in the caramel. You're just supposed to shake the pan every now and then. Spoons + caramel = bad news.

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