Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chocolate, Coffee, and Toffee Birthday Cake

Difficult: Parts of it
Time consuming: yea, it's a layer cake with lots of homemade components

My birthday was last week and we had a few friends over to drink, watch college basketball, play cards, and of course eat cake.

I spent weeks putting together the perfect birthday cake.  I looked over dozens of different recipes to pull this all together.  From different chocolate cake recipes, to coffee buttercreams, crunchy fillings, caramels.......My mind probably went at least 4 different routes before deciding to make a cake inspired by one of my favorite ice creams: Ben and Jerry's Toffee Heath Bar Crunch.

The chocolate cake I made was from the book Baked (there are 3 of them, all of which I highly recommend, but I don't remember which one this came from, but it was the Sweet & Salty Cake from their cookbook).  It turned out a little dry which was due to overbaking on my part - I have a very temperamental oven.  The batter is split between 3 cake pans and I had to put 2 on one rack and 1 on the other.  After the recommended baking time, all 3 of my cakes were still very wet in the middle.  After about 5 more minutes, they were still a bit "batter-y," so I did another few minutes.  Then they were pushing dry.  Boo.  In the future, I think I will stick to Bakerella's chocolate cake recipe since I made it once and didn't botch it.

I made a coffee flavored Italian meringue buttercream.  I highly recommend Italian buttercream, even though it's a little more work than traditional American style - you have to cook sugar but don't let that scare you away.  The texture is so smooth - my husband always complains that American buttercream tastes "flour-y."  But not this.  And because you use cooked sugar instead of a bag of powdered sugar, the resulting flavor isn't cloyingly sweet.

In this cake, I wanted to include a crunchy aspect, since Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch is full of crunchy bits of toffee.  And I don't know if it was because I was already thinking about ice cream and cake, or if something I saw on Pinterest lodged itself to the back of my mind, but I decided to make the crunchies from Dairy Queen cakes to put in between the layers.  And toffee, too, of course.  Then because I was thinking about ice cream cake, I threw in a layer of fudge ice cream topping, too.

This is probably a multi-day project.  It was for me at least.  I made the chocolate wafer cookies used for crunchies a few days ahead of time, made the chocolate cake the day before I planned to serve the cake, and made the frosting and assembled the cake the morning I planned to serve it.  It can most certainly be done in 1 day, but I got antsy and started making the parts early.

It's a birthday cake.  By no means low calorie.  Definitely an indulgence.  Totally worth all the work. 

The Recipe:

3/4 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup sour cream
1 and 1/4 cup hot water (hottest from the tap is fine)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (1 and 1/2 sticks)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (like Crisco)
1 and 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 and 2/3 cup all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Italian meringue buttercream, coffee flavored
5 large egg whites
10 ounces (1 and 1/4 cup) white granulated sugar, separated
1/4 cup cold water
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter
2-3 tablespoons instant espresso powder, mixed with equal parts warm water 'til dissolved

1 jar of fudge ice cream topping
half of a bag (more or less, I didn't measure) of crushed toffee bits (either Heath or Skor; can be found in the baking aisle by the chocolate chips)
1/4 of a baked recipe (9 ounces) of chocolate wafer cookies or 2 rows of Oreo cookies from a standard Oreo package
1 7.25 ounce bottle of magic shell ice cream topping (found by other ice cream condiments)

1. Cut 3 rounds of parchment to fit the bottom of an 8 inch round cake pan.  Spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray, put in a round of parchment, spray again, then dust with flour to evenly coat.  Repeat with the other 2 pans and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2.  In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, hot water, and cocoa powder.  Whisk to combine and set aside.

3. Combine the butter, shortening, and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the paddle attachment until fluffy and ribbon-like.  While that's going,in a separate bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt; set aside.  Going back to the butter and sugar - add eggs 1 at a time, mix until combined, add vanilla, and mix until combined.

4.  Add flour mixture to the sugar in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with the flour.

5.  Spread evenly between the 3 cake pans.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.  Rotate during baking.  When the cakes are done, let cool in the pans on a baking rack for 20-30 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges, flip out of pans, and let cool on baking racks completely.

*The cake can (and probably should) be made at least a day ahead of time.  Once cooled, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.  "Cold" cakes are easier to slice, which you'll need to do to even the tops before stacking.

6. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on high speed until you get stiff peaks.  Don't over beat, you don't want them to be dry.  Once you get to stiff peaks, slowly add 1/4 cup of sugar in a steady stream to the running mixer.  This is a meringue.

7.  While the egg whites are whisking, gently stir1 cup of sugar with 1/4 cup of water in a 1-quart, heavy bottomed sauce pan.  Heat until the sugar syrup reaches 245 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Don't stir while this is happening.

8.  Once the sugar has reached 245 degrees remove from heat briefly and let the bubbles subside. The meringue should be ready (egg whites whipped, sugar added, stiff but not dry peaks) by now, if not, finish up.  With the mixer on medium to high speed, slowly stream the sugar syrup into the meringue (try to get between the whisk and the bowl - if you hit the whisk you'll end up with hard, spun sugar all around you bowl and not mixed into your meringue).  Whisk on high for 6-10 minutes, until the bowl is cool to the touch (if the mixture is too hot when you add the butter, the butter will melt - not the end of the world but a pain in the butt for sure).

9.  Once the meringue has cooled, continue to whisk on medium to high and add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time.  The mixture may separate and look like scrambled eggs, but just keep going, keep mixing, it will come back together.

10.  Once all the butter has been added, decrease the mixer speed and add the 2-3 tablespoons of instant espresso liquid (more or less to taste).  Increase mixer speed until everything is completely incorporated and the frosting is smooth.

11.  Take 9 ounces of prepared wafer cookies and crush (either in a bag with a rolling pin or in a food processor).  The cookies should be in small chunks, not fine like sand.  Mix with the bottle of magic shell and set aside.

Set aside both the ice cream fudge filling and bag of toffee bits.

Assemble and decorate
12.  Pull the cakes out of the fridge and level the tops.  Put a dollop of buttercream on a cake stand and center the bottom layer of cake on it.  Make sure it's where you want it to be, you won't be able to move it once you get started.  (*Note: I put my cake stand on a lazy susan so that I can spin the cake while frosting and decorating)

13.  Melt the jar of fudge ice cream topping per directions on the label.  Spoon out about 1/3 of the fudge on the cake and spread evenly to the edges.

14.  Put half of the wafer concoction on the fudge and spread evenly.  Add about 1/4 of toffee bits (more or less to taste, I didn't really measure).  Gently press into the fudge.

15.  Spread a thick (but not too thick) layer of coffee buttercream over the cookies and toffee.  Spread to the edges.

16.  Add the next cake, repeat steps 13-15.  Then top with the last cake.

17.  Crumb coat the entire cake by putting a thin layer of frosting over the tops and sides of the cake.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

18.  Frost the cake however you'd like.  I gave the top a nice layer of frosting, then put the rest in a bag fitted with a large round tip.  I dotted 6 large dots up the side of the cake, then used an offset spatula to pull the dot sideways.  Then added 6 more dots vertically over the frosting I pulled from the first set of dots, then pulled them sideways.  And repeat, repeat, repeat, until the side of the cake is frosted. I kinda got stuck at the very end when the last row of dots met the first, so I just stuck that in the back.  The My Cake School blog has a good tutorial with pictures on how to do this technique.

19.  Refrigerate the cake.  Pull out of the fridge at least 2 hours before you serve.  Eat and relish in how amazing this cake is.

 Sweet and Salty Cake recipe from the Cooking Channel (actually from the Baked cookbook)
Italian Meringue Buttercream from Cookstr

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chocolate Wafer Cookies

Difficult: Nope
Time consuming: About 10 minutes to whip up the dough, about an hour chillin' in the fridge, then 12 minutes per round of baking.

These chocolate wafer cookies are the cookies you can use to make a variety of yummy things with.  For starters, whip these up if you want a great icebox cake (the Nabisco box of chocolate wafers can be hard to find and is kinda pricey).  Or fill them with an Oreo cream frosting for copy-cat Oreo's.  The rich chocolate taste pairs well with almost anything (like home made marshmallow fluff or peanut butter buttercream, just to name a few...I did have to try the cookies, just to make sure they weren't accidently poisoned or anything.  At least that was always the excuse growing up).

Or you can make them for the same reason I did: ice cream crunchies.  Ya know, that amazing crunchy layer in Dairy Queen or Carvel ice cream cakes.  Yea, those.  Except I'm making my crunchies to put in between the layers of my birthday cake, which is gonna be a doozy :P

Note: this recipe yields about 20 ounces of finished cookies. A typical nabisco box is 9 ounces, so halve the recipe if you are following an ice box cake recipe that calls for a box of wafers. If you are making them to put in between layers of birthday cake (like I did), you can quarter the recipe and have just enough. But extra cookies never hurt anyone :)  Also, this dough is egg free, so if you happen to eat some, well, accidents happen :P

The Recipe:

6.75 ounces all-purpose flour (1 1/2 cups)
2.4 ounces unsweetened cocoa powder (3/4 cup) (I used Kroger brand because it was what I had on hand and I thought they tasted super, but better quality cocoa powder like Valrhona will produce better chocolate tasting cookies since chocolate is the star flavor)
1 1/8 c sugar
1/4 t salt
1/4 t baking soda
14 T (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
3 T milk
1 t pure vanilla extract

1. In the bowl of a food processor or stand mixer, pulse or stir together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda.

2. Cut the butter into tablespoon sized chunks and add them to the bowl. Pulse or stir (with the paddle attachment) until the butter is in pea sized chunks (this will take a little longer in the stand mixer, and you shouldn't mix faster than the lowest speed or you will poof flour everywhere).

3. Add the milk and vanilla in a steady stream to the running processor or mixer. Continue to mix until the dough clumps around the blade or paddle.

4. Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead a few times so that all the flour is evenly mixed in and the dough ball is cohesive. Roll the dough into a log no smaller (bigger?) than 14 inches long and about 1 3/4 inch wide. I wanted smaller cookies so I rolled mine to about 24 inches long. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and have the racks positioned in the upper and lower thirds. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the log of dough into slices no thicker than 1/4 inch, but thinner if you'd like. Place 1 inch apart on baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Rotate the pans front to back, top to bottom, halfway through baking.

6. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 4-5 minutes, then transfer to baking racks. If the cookies aren't crisp when cooled, put them back into the oven for a few minutes. They should not be soft when cooled.

Store in an airtight container for 2 weeks or freeze.

To make the ice cream crunchies, crush 9 ounces of cookies (about half of the above recipe) and mix with one 7.25 ounce bottle of magic shell.  Don't make this ahead of time, because once the magic shell hardens on the cookie, that's it, that's the shape you're stuck with.  Although I haven't tried it, I suppose you could just microwave it 'til the magic shell softens then you can reshape it.

And if you wanna be even more extra special, you can home make your magic shell.

Also, I had leftover crunchies after I put them in my cake, so I pressed them into muffin tins to make "cookies."  I popped them in the fridge to harden, then stored in a bag in the freezer.  They are great to eat out of hand or served with a dish of ice cream!

Chocolate wafer cookie recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Homemade Twix Bars

Difficulty: medium to hard (you gotta be comfortable making caramel
Time consuming? Moderate

First and foremost, happy New Year! I know I've been a little MIA recently, so sorry everyone :/  I hope everyone had a good holiday season and lots of successful baking.  I'm still eating Christmas cookies, ha!  I've been a little baked out recently - I did make some cupcakes for New Year's and some cookies for a meeting at work.  I think I'm resting up until I bake my birthday cake for a party this weekend! It's gonna be a chocolate heart attack - everything a birthday cake should be.  But that'll be for a later post ;)

But anyways, onto the good stuff...onto the Twix bars!

A friend of my husbands got his US citizenship not too long ago and had a party to celebrate. I wasn't thinking about bringing anything because we lent his family folding tables, chairs, and cornhole bags. But of course, day of, I changed my mind and wanted to bring a dessert. I mean, I'm always looking for a crowd to bake for. I had to forgo showering and getting ready for the party, writing progress reports for my job, and writing an IEP to get this done. But ooooooh my they are totally worth it.

The homemade shortbread has ground rice (not rice flour) to make it extra crispy. The homemade caramel is freaking amazing and will probably be my go-to caramel recipe from now on. The chocolate on top is only enhanced by a sprinkling of sea salt. I love when everything in a recipe is homemade.

This recipe is easier done one component at a time, but if push comes to shove, you can easily make the caramel and shortbread simultaneously, but I wouldn't recommend it because it's pretty easy to lose track of checking the candy thermometer on the caramel.

The recipe:
yields a 13x9 inch pan


11 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground rice (process in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, sift threw a fine mesh sieve to remove chunks)

2 cups sugar
3/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate topping
12 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
4 tablespoons butter

+ sea salt to garnish.


1. Make the caramel first, it'll need to cool some anyways. Before you start, check your candy thermometer: boil water and make sure that the candy thermometer reads 212 degrees when the water boils. If it starts boiling at 202 degrees, then you'll know to subtract 10 degrees from all the temperatures mentioned. And vice versa.

2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan. Turn on the heat, and don't stir again. It will start to bubble. When it starts to turn golden brown, stick in your candy thermometer and continue to boil until it hits 300 degrees. Remove from heat and wait for the boiling to stop (less than a minute). Add cream and whisk to combine - be careful because it will bubble up and steam a lot. Add sweetened condensed milk (you'll have 6 extra ounces of the S/C milk, I'll explain later how this didn't go to waste) and salt and mix until combined. Put back on heat and whisk continuously until it reaches 240 degrees. Remove from heat, set aside, and start making the shortbread crust.

3. Line a 13x9 inch pan with parchment or foil and spray with cooking spray. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

4. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly add flour, rice powder, and salt. Mix until combined. The mixture may be crumbly but should hold together when pressed. Press into the prepared baking pan. It will be thin. Bake for 22-27 minutes, rotating once during baking. It should be golden brown on top.

5. Pour prepared caramel over shortbread and sprinkle with sea salt. Pop into the fridge or freezer to help it set - this can take as long as 2 hours.

6. Once the shortbread and caramel have cooled, make the chocolate top. Combine the chocolate chips and butter in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds at 50% power. Stir. Repeat until chocolate is melted. Pour over caramel layer, sprinkle with more sea salt and pop it back into the fridge/freezer until set.

Don't cut into the bars until everything is cooled or you will have a runny mess. Cut into desired sizes and enjoy!

*I used the extra sweetened condensed milk in 2 ingredient ice cream, adjusting the ratio of heavy cream to account for the extra S/C milk.

From Not Without Salt.