dessert, ridiculous food, salted caramel ding dong cake, this is why we're fat

Salted Caramel ‘Ding Dong’ Cake

Sometimes I get these fanciful ideas in my head — like the notion that I went through more than one semester of baking classes or that I had proper pastry training when I prepared desserts for a local restaurant many years ago.  Truth is, my baking is always part recipe and part prayer, like so many home cooks. Bon Appetit brought this recipe to my Facebook page and I gave in to my gluttonous lust for salty caramel and gave it a whirl at home, using the Tahitian vanilla beans from our Marx Foods Challenge. One note before you even start–this is an all day affair, and it’s recommended that you let the cake sit overnight before topping it with the final layer of ganache, so make room on schedule to accommodate a good amount of–mostly inactive–prep time.

Salted Caramel ‘Ding Dong’ Cake
adapted from Bon Appetit

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup hot strong coffee
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs

Caramel Ganache ingredients:
9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/8 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling and Assembly ingredients
1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Special equipment
Two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides; a 9-inch-diameter springform pan

Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat the cake pans with nonstick spray, line the bottom of the pans with parchment-paper rounds and then spray the paper with more nonstick spray. Putthe cocoa powder and chocolate in a medium bowl and pour the hot coffee over. Let stand for 1 minute then stir, making sure there are no lumps. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and put the bowl aside. 

Whisk the cake flour, baking soda, baking powder in salt together in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream the sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing fully between additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the dry ingredients to this bowl in 3 additions, alternating with the chocolate mixture in 2 additions. Begin and end with the dry ingredients. Divide the batter evenly between the pans and smooth the tops with an offset spatula.

Bake the cakes until a tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let the cakes cool for about 10 minutes (they will deflate slightly). Run a butter knife around the pans to loosen the cakes and invert the cakes ontothe racks. Peel off the parchment and let the cakes cool completely. Flip the cakes over.

If needed, trim the cakes–using a long serrated knife–to remove any bumps or imperfections.

Caramel Ganache:
Put the chocolate and salt in a medium bowl. Stir the sugar and 1/4 cup water in a medium deep saucepan over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium and cook without stirring. Swirl the pan occasionally and brush down the sides with a wet pastry brush. Cook until rich amber in color, about 9 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually add the cream (the mixture will bubble a lot). Stir over medium heat until the bits dissolve. Pour over the chocolate in the bowl and add the vanilla. Stir until the mixture is smooth then cool slightly.

Place 1 cake layer in a springform pan then  pour 1 cup of ganache over. Chill inthe refrigerator until set, about 30 minutes. Cover the remaining ganache with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature on the counter.

Filling and Assembly:
Place 2 tablespoons of cold water in a small heatproof metal bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over. Let stand until the gelatin softens, around 10 minutes.

Pour a bit of water– around a 1/2-inch–into a small skillet set over medium heat. Transferthe bowl with the gelatin to the skillet. Stir until the gelatin completely dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside.

Place the chilled cream and powdered sugar in a large bowl and scrape in the seeds fromthe vanilla bean. Beat the cream until soft peaks form and add the gelatin. Beat the mixture until stiff peaks form.

Spoon the cream filling over the chilled ganache on the cake layer in the pan and smooth down the top. Very gently, place the second cake layer on top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill until the cream layer is set, at least 6 hour–but, overnight is preferred.

Remove sides from springform pan. Using a knife or offset spatula, scrape off any filling that may have leaked out from between cakes and form smooth sides. Transfer cake to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet.

Rewarm the remaining ganache until just warm. (I set a metal bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water until just warm, not hot.) Pour the ganache over the cake, using an offset spatula to help spread the ganache, if needed, to cover the sides of the cake. Chill until the ganache is set.
(The cake can be made 2 days ahead.)

Sprinkle the cake with flaky sea salt.

(originally posted with 37Cooks)

panna cotta, strawberries, strawberry balsamic jam, summer harvest, summer-o-rama, this is why we're fat

Summer-O-Rama: Strawberries

Apples and Bananas were always the fruits du jour in my house growing up. Oranges came juiced, in plastic jugs or concentrated in cardboard tubes. Fruit salad was a cocktail and, like cranberries, came in cans with ring tab pulls. Strawberries were served with whipped cream between two layers of sponge cake, a favorite birthday choice for my mother and sister. Later, I enjoyed them chocolate dipped or on ice and blended into a daiquiri. Yet, I didn’t want them on my cheesecake or in my ice cream. I’d pass on the jams, jellies and preserves as I was raised a strict Welch’s Grape Jelly girl. But, like so many other foods, living in Maine has changed my opinion of the strawberry.

In the land known for blueberries, for me, it is the strawberry that has come to represent summer in Maine. I think this is due to the fact that their appearance at the Farmers Markets signals the true beginning of the local produce season. The single hue of greens is finally broken by the brilliant pop of red berries at nearly every stall.

It’s also a food whose local season I abide by. While I tip my hat to the California and Florida producers who provide berries to our supermarkets throughout the year, I have not had one that compares. Sure, a quart of locally grown berries will set you back an extra dollar or so, but the quality and flavor remains more than worth it. Where I use to shrug off the strawberry, I now find myself a bit of a snob.

So, when it came time to celebrate the strawberry for the latest round of ‘O-Rama,’ I wanted to do it justice. I wanted to show the berry a bit of love.

The idea for the jam came first and was originally intended to be paired with a torchon of foie gras.

Strawberry Balsamic Jam

8 cups washed and hulled strawberries (about 1 1/2 lbs), halved if large

5 cups sugar
½ tsp unsalted butter
5 tbsp balsamic vinegar

  1. Pour strawberries into a large, deep, heavy pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once the strawberries are boiling, add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved. The sugar tends to burn on the bottom, so keep it moving until it is thoroughly dissolved. Bring to a boil and then add the butter. (The addition of butter keeps the foam volume down.) Turn the heat down to medium-low and boil the jam gently for 40 minutes, until thickened to a loose, soft jam. Stir in the balsamic vinegar.

  2. Bring 6 half-pint jars and their bands to a boil in a large pot of water fitted with a rack. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jars with tongs. Simmer new lids in a small pan of hot water, to soften the rubberized flange. When the jars are dry, but still hot, use a slotted spoon to fill the jars with strawberries, leaving 1/2 to 3/4 inch of headspace. Wipe the rims, set on the lids and screw on the bands fingertip tight. You can water bath the syrup the same way you do the jam.

  3. Place the jars on the rack in the pot and cover by at least 3 inches of water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to medium and gently boil the jars for 10 minutes. (If you use pint jars, process for 15 minutes.) Remove the cover and then, after about 5 minutes, remove the jars. Allow them to rest on a dish towel for 6 hours. Check the seals and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

However, various issues came up and I switched over to something just as rich but where the ingredients were already on hand: Panna Cotta.

Spring Panna Cotta

Nonstick spray, for greasing ramekins

1 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup superfine sugar

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

4 strips lemon peel* I used orange

1 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin

1/2 lemon, juiced*again, I used orange

1 1/2 cups creme fraiche, room temperature


1 Grease 4 (1-cup) size ramekins with nonstick spray to evenly coat the insides.

2. Begin by adding milk, cream and sugar to a pot and set over medium heat. Add vanilla bean and seeds and 4 strips of lemon peel (try not to get any of the white pith). Bring to a simmer. Once the mixture begins to bubble, turn off the heat.

3. While the mixture is heating, combine the gelatin and lemon juice, whisking as you go to avoid lumps. Temper the gelatin with about 1/2 cup of the heated milk/cream mixture and whisk back into the remaining mixture. Strain cream mixture using a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and discard the vanilla pod and lemon peel. Add the creme fraiche and gently whisk to combine the mixture. Distribute evenly among the ramekins and place in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours or until they are set.

It was the classic pairing of strawberries and cream: rich, tart and sweet. It was indulgent until the very last bit was gone.

While the jam was a bit syrupy, it would have been wonderful with the foie. Too thin to spread with peanut butter, I could easily see it being used instead of syrup with french toast or even to sauce a rare cooked seared duck breast. The yield, just over three pints, and canning method provides us with a stash of Maine strawberries to enjoy long after the last one has disappeared from the markets. Which, sadly, will be right around the corner.