CARRÉMENT CHOCOLAT, THE FANCY CAKE

Hello everyone and Happy Spring! Have you missed me? Well, guess what? I've missed you too.

With (theatrical) shows for early 2015 successful and complete, I'm now enjoying some fantastic time off from the stage, anticipating the start of warmer-weather months. Part of this free time has included marathon binge-watching on YouTube of past seasons of The Great British Bake-Off, which is quite possibly the only reality TV show I could see myself participating in. I really want to meet the great Mary Berry (Paul Hollywood, not so much). Not being a British citizen, that ain't happening anytime soon, sadly. Watching the show typically leads to one thing and one thing only, however: getting my butt back into my kitchen, kicking up clouds of flour and sugar, looking for divine inspiration from St. Honoré

The closest contemporary figure that could perhaps compare to this beloved patron saint of baking might be the endearing and charming Dorie Greenspan. I've long been a fan of Greenspan's, using her masterpiece book, Baking: From My Home to Yours on several occasions. In November, when I visited the Book Larder in Seattle, I picked up an autographed copy of her latest, Baking Chez Moi - another brilliant and much-lauded publication to add to my baking library (bakers alert: I would suggest you purchase one too... here you go). A few months back, I experimented with making her recipe for a Carrément Chocolat, the Simple Loaf: a chocolate loaf cake studded with salted chunks of dark chocolate, based loosely upon Pierre Hermé's Carrément Chocolat cake. While the taste was divine, I struggled with the loaf sinking slightly in the center, so I have bookmarked it to return to in the future. 

Not being thrown too much by the "simple" recipe, the glorious photo of the Carrément Chocolat, the Fancy Cake gracing the cover of Baking Chez Moi tempted me to forge full speed ahead this weekend as I was feeling Bake-Off-inspired.  The recipe itself may look daunting at first glance; like many of Greenspan's recipes, it spans a couple pages and looks involved. Greenspan has a lively and personable tone to her writing, however, that is kindly instructional and keeps the reading fun as you are preparing the recipe. This may also account for the instructions winding up a touch longer. I adore it. I feel as if she is right in the kitchen with me, guiding me along. 

The cake basically consists of a simple, one-layer (8-inch) deep, dark chocolate cake, whizzed up in a food processor, then baked off and split horizontally and soaked with a simple syrup.  Prior to even beginning the cake, I put together the chocolate pastry cream layer that goes between the layers, letting it cool and thicken in the refrigerator. While the cake is baking, bittersweet chocolate is melted down and spiked with slightly less than a teaspoon of delicate fleur de sel, or sea salt. The salted chocolate is then frozen into a brick in a plastic wrap-lined loaf pan in the freezer (to be broken up into shards for a decorative finish on top of the cake). Once the cake is cooled, split and soaked with syrup, the pastry cream is sandwiched between the layers and a fine slathering of seductive chocolate ganache enrobes the entire cake. The salted chocolate is quickly smashed up into shards and scattered across the top (I dare you not to eat a few extra pieces). It's a low cake, but it's stunning and dramatic. A true showstopper for big chocolate fans. 

The taste is really out of this world, surprisingly without being too rich. It tasted like something I would purchase in a French patisserie. I was a bit disappointed that my slice did not cut cleanly, clearly delineating the layers between cake and pastry cream. With more practice and fine-tuning, I'm confident I can get this down. I will probably make two batches of the cake recipe to yield two cleaner layers next time. This would avoid the always unpredictable and sometimes harrowing horizontal cutting of one layer as well.  Nibbling on a thicker shard of dark, salted chocolate at the end was a lovely extra treat, too.  Who would have thought simply adding a touch of salt to chocolate could be so divine? Hermé and Greenspan, naturally. 

If you're a chocoholic like yours truly and are feeling ambitious in the kitchen, you may want to grab a copy of Greenspan's lovely book and tackle this recipe for your next special occasion - or just anytime, like I did. You should really always have something chocolate in your refrigerator, right? You may be surprised at how honestly simple this fancy-looking recipe is. 

(P.S. Out of respect for Ms. Greenspan and for the sake of space, I've refrained from publishing the recipe on my blog. If you do not wish to purchase the book yourself, check your local, friendly library for a copy. Otherwise, a simple search on Google may yield the publication of the recipe on another website. Enjoy!)

Happy Mother's Day!

WINTERMINT CAKE

My first piece of Wintermint Cake - at Baked, 11.19.2012.

My first piece of Wintermint Cake - at Baked, 11.19.2012.

When I first visited - or, I should say, made the trek out to - Baked in Red Hook on my birthday in November 2012, my boyfriend Jake and I were fortunate to spend a good 15 minutes or so sitting and chatting with Matt Lewis over coffee and a few amazing Baked treats.  I think this was probably the best birthday gift I could have received that day.  Matt was exceptionally kind, courteous, and fun, and all of the yummy goodies I ate, paired with outstanding strong-brewed coffee, were incredible.  Needless to say, I had ecstatically reached my baking mecca and with the treats and company, it truly felt like home.  

Perhaps the one dessert I sampled that stood out the most for me was a piece of cake which Matt - after asking if I liked chocolate and mint (DO I?  Um, YES, of course! Do monkeys like bananas?) - pressed upon me to try.  No arguments here!  It was a cake "in development" which they called the Wintermint Cake: a decadent 3-layer affair of deep, dark, moist chocolate cake, dark chocolate mint ganache, and a buttery, ethereal mint buttercream tying it all together.  It was heavenly.  One bite, and I was in love.

As it was still relatively new for them, Baked did not share the recipe for the Wintermint Cake until a month later, when it popped up on the Sweet Paul website.  I promptly printed it off, as I knew I had to have this recipe for the holidays.  I made the cake for my family for Christmas 2012 and 2013 to high praise, and was thrilled to see it finally make its glorious appearance in Baked's new book, Baked Occasions, in celebration of - what else? - the winter soulstice.  (I still like to claim it as a slightly-late birthday cake of sorts for myself!)

History of Wintermints!  Top 2 photos: 2012, Bottom: 2013.

History of Wintermints!  Top 2 photos: 2012, Bottom: 2013.

There are a few steps to making this cake, so it may seem a touch difficult, but the payoff is definitely worth it.  The chocolate cake is light and moist, thanks to sour cream in the batter, and intense in chocolate flavor from dark cocoa.  The crumb is very delicate and tender, so handle it carefully once it is baked and cooled.  As you assemble the three layers, you will slather a wonderful mint chocolate ganache on top of each, followed by a layer of fluffy white mint buttercream.  Finally, the cake is encased entirely in that delicious mint buttercream.  The buttercream is Baked's standard recipe.  If you're new to it, bear in mind that you may need to endure a little trial and error, as it can be tricky.  I've made it enough myself by now to master it pretty well.  Make sure the cooked cream and milk mixture is truly beaten in your mixer to room temp, or slightly cooler, before you add your butter, and the butter should be cold, but slightly soft, and cut into small cubes before you add it.  After you add that butter, don't be afraid to whip the hell out of the frosting.  It's going to look curdled if you're too delicate.  Whipping it up incorporates air into it and makes it nice, fluffy, and easily spreadable. 

This year's Wintermint Cake!

This year's Wintermint Cake!

I chose not to ice the cake ombré-style, as it is in the book and the recipe link.  It's beautiful as such, but - for one thing - I'm not quite sure the buttercream recipe would make enough for this.  If you attempt the ombré, you may want to make 1.5 worth of the recipe, as I usually find that I have barely enough to just ice the cake as it is.  Second, I usually don't feel like getting too fussy with something that is really quite beautiful left white and frosty-looking, decorated on top with some fun holiday nonpareils, crushed peppermint stick or candy cane, and/or sprinkles.  Last year and this year, I followed Baked's early lead with decoration, simply dusting the top edge of the cake with some edible pearl beads and snowflake sprinkles.  Quite pretty and festive!

I am very grateful to Matt Lewis for introducing me to what is quite possibly one of my favorite Baked layer cakes to make - and eat!  

To create your own splendid Wintermint Cake for the holidays, or any time of the year, simply click on the name for the recipe link.  Check out Leave Your Links: Wintermint Cake to feast your eyes on the beauties made by my fellow talented BSM bakers.

I wish all of you a most wonderful and blessed holiday season...  May you enjoy the best of times with family and friends, and most importantly: may you eat many fabulous baked goods and desserts!  See you in 2015!

Next up in Baked Occasions: Hair of the Dog Cake - January 4, 2015


A WHOLE LOTTA BROWNIES GOIN' ON

On Saturday, November 8th, my baking pal Angela Steinkamp and I both participated in Pastry Chicago's 4th Annual Brownie Competition, held at Alliance Paper & Foodservice Equipment in Lombard, Illinois.  

It was fun coming up with just the right brownie to submit for this competition.  I started with Baked's Sweet and Salty Brownie recipe as my base brownie; it has always been a favorite among family and friends, and I pretty much have it committed to memory by now!  I experimented with making a mocha (marsh)mallow swirl brownie with bourbon salted caramel... then a mocha cheesecake swirl brownie with bourbon salted caramel.  Both were good enough, but they didn't have any kind of "wow factor" to them.  I scrapped the coffee flavor completely for my final experimentation, which yielded my entry: Bourbon Salted Caramel Brownies with Caramel Butterscotch Buttercream and Cocoa Nib Brittle.  Angela submitted truly scrumptious Chili Bourbon Brownies with Cinnamon-Chili Dulce de Leche Buttercream; these were so yummy, I knew I already had some pretty stiff competition right there!

There were about 22 entries in the competition.  Brownies were being judged according to the following criteria: 60% Taste, 25% Texture, 10% Creativity, and 5% Punctuality and Professionalism.  While our brownies were being taste-tasted, we enjoyed a live brownie baking demo by a pastry chef from the French Pastry School of Chicago, followed by a little shopping in the store.

The top 5 brownies were awarded - and sadly, neither Angela's brownies nor mine placed.  We may not have snagged the grand prize Kitchen Aid, but we both walked away that day with several compliments on our brownies and huge smiles on our faces knowing we gave it our best shot and had a lot of fun in the process.  Huge congratulations to the winners, and I think I can safely say that I do not care to bake another brownie for a little while...

If you'd like to make your own Bourbon Salted Caramel Brownies, visit the recipe on Recipes page.  Enjoy!