Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Kristen's Chocolate-Salted-Caramel-Pretzel Cake

This year, my friend Kristen Bonstein offered to make me a birthday cake. Here are the amazing results, with instructions so you can make a cake of your very own. Happy birthday, every one!

I asked Liz what flavor cake she wanted for her birthday bash and she immediately responded "anything with salted caramel!" When I asked whether that should involve white or chocolate cake, without hesitation she replied "chocolate!"  So, I knew if I ran with those two ingredients, we would have a Very Happy Liz on our hands.

Although "tablescapes" are pretty amazing, I'm no Sandra Lee.  I try to make most things from scratch, ESPECIALLY frosting.  However, cake mixes are just so damn easy and good, they are nearly impossible to screw up.  So that's what I did here.  This is a simple, fun (albeit very rich and sweet!) cake, which is made of:

  • 2 boxes of chocolate cake mix of your choice (I used Duncan Hines Devils Food)
  • The appropriate amount of eggs, water and oil as dictated on the box
  • 2 jars of caramel topping of your choice (I used Mrs. Richardson's) - one for the frosting, one for the middle layer
  • 3 sticks of SALTED butter, close to room temp but still cool
  • Up to a pound of confectioner's sugar, depending on your desired frosting texture and sweetness (I think I used a little less than that; you just have to continually taste to figure it out!)
  • 2 bags of chocolate-covered pretzels of your choice (I used dark chocolate mini Flipz) for decorating the cake 
First, following the box mix directions, use 2 half-sheet pans to bake 2 thin cake layers at the same time.

Meanwhile, with an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy with no lumps. 

Add 1/4 jar of caramel sauce. Add 1 cup confectioner's sugar. Repeat the process, tasting in-between additions, until you reach the desired consistency and sweetness level (you may use the whole jar of sauce and the whole bag of sugar; that's fine), then set aside.

Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool.

Once cakes are cool, if cakes are slightly domed, use a serrated knife to slice thinly across the top until cakes are flat.

Pour the remaining jar of caramel sauce over one of the cakes, then turn the other pan upside down on top of the first (caramel-y) cake.  If layers or corners are uneven, use the serrated knife to trim edges.

Frosting the cake: 

Use a silicone spatula to heap large hunks of frosting onto the cake before spreading it with a small, flat knife, pressing down gently rather than side to side.  If you don't do it this way, you will have chocolate cake crumbs everywhere!

Once frosting is evenly spread, use chocolate-covered pretzels to decorate as you like!  For this particular cake, "LIZ!" seemed like the obvious word choice, plus I had extra pretzels to line the edges of the cake.

If not serving cake immediately, refrigerate so frosting stays firm.


Craving more chocolate? Check out Molly's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake or Liz Laneri's Raw Chocolate Pudding.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Rachel's Cupcake Academy

Guest chef Rachel Moliere has a few things she'd like to tell you about cupcakes:

My favorite New Year's resolution this year was to become a better baker. I decided to start with something fairly foolproof - cupcakes! - and perfect my technique. For St. Patrick's Day, TheBashionista threw a dinner party, so I decided to bake her a batch of my new favorite recipe - sour cream cupcakes with green frosting. Naturally.

First, the recipe, then some tricks of the trade I've picked up:

Sour Cream Cake

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
Wilton Green color mix-ins, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix.
Then whisk in flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together milk and sour cream.
4. In a large bowl, add the flour mixture and the milk mixture alternately, beginning and ending with flour. The batter should be thick. At this point, fold in color mix-ins, if using.
5. Line a cupcake pan with cupcake wrappers and pour in 1/4 cup level measures of batter into each one. Bake for 17 minutes. Let cool completely and set aside.

Dyeing Frosting
Ok, so sue me, I used frosting out of the can. But I did use food coloring to make it a vibrant shade of emerald green. Tip #1: When dyeing frosting, be sure to buy a can of white frosting, NOT vanilla, as the vanilla extract will affect the hue.
Batter Consistency
If you're making sour cream cupcakes, you want your batter to be slightly thick - not as thick as oatmeal, and not as thin as soup. Here's what you're aiming for:

Adding Mix-ins
If you're planning to dye your batter as well as your frosting, Wilton makes mix-ins - they look a lot like sprinkles - that you can throw into the batter. The trick is to add them to the batter last, and gently fold them in. If you mix too vigorously, they'll dissolve completely - you don't want that. Rather than dying the whole batter a vague green, you're going for little punches of color.

Applying Frosting
Maybe you already own a pastry gun. Aren't you fancy! If not, you can make one out of a plastic storage bag. Just make a small snip in the corner of the bag, and insert a metal tip. The one I used was a Wilton 2b tip - the kind with a star-shaped opening. You can pick these up at your average kitchen supply store, or possibly your supermarket.  
My favorite trick for loading up the pastry gun? Place the bag in a tall glass, then fill it up with frosting.


In the mood for more dessert? Try Molly's recipe for homemade Vanilla Marshmallows, or Cara's Death by Chocolate Cake.