Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ding-Dong--Your Cake is Done!

This cake turned out to be a hefty investment of time, labor, and dirty dishes. But when I saw the recipe from Bon Appetit, "Salted Caramel Ding Dong Cake," how could I not give it a whirl?

As a kid, I never used to get Ding Dongs or Ho Hos or Twinkies in my lunchbox--my mom usually baked her own desserts--which meant that these desserts were incredibly exotic to me. I loved the smoothness of the thin chocolate coating of a Hostess cupcake or the careful edges of a Ding Dong, exactly like a hockey puck. Never mind that the actual desserts always had a kind of chalky, brittle flavor.

On the other hand, this gourmet version of the Ding Dong tastes sweet yet rich, earning a bit of edge from a coffee-flavored chocolate cake and a salted caramel ganache glaze that gets poured over the top.

If you do attempt this at home, pace yourself. There are quite a few steps, and a good deal of cooling, cooking, and chilling. The good news is that once the cake is done, it will last a while in your fridge--I'd say a week.

Begin with the cakes. Then prepare the caramel ganache. When you're ready to begin assembling, set one layer of cake in a springform pan, then pour a cup of the ganache over it. Chill to set. Next prepare the marshmallow fluff filling, spread over the cake, and set the second layer over that. Chill that at least 6 hours, and probably better overnight.

I told you this takes a while.

The last step is to cover the entire cake with the ganache and chill once more to set, about an hour. Garnish with flaky sea salt. Take a nap. Then slice and enjoy.

Salted Ding Dong Cake
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:
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:
1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)


For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat cake pans with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pans with parchment-paper rounds; coat paper. Place cocoa powder and chocolate in a medium metal bowl. Pour hot coffee over. Let stand for 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Stir in buttermilk and vanilla; set aside.

Whisk cake flour and next 3 ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl. Beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with chocolate mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Divide batter evenly between pans; smooth tops.

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

If needed, use a long serrated knife to cut off bumps or trim dome from top of each cake to create a flat, even surface.

For caramel ganache:
Place chocolate and salt in a medium bowl. Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in a medium deep saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and cook without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until sugar is deep amber, about 9 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over medium heat until caramel bits dissolve. Pour over chocolate in bowl. Add vanilla; stir until mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly.

Place 1 cake layer in springform pan. Pour 1 cup ganache over. Chill until set, about 30 minutes. Cover remaining ganache and let stand at room temperature.

For filling and assembly:
Place 2 tablespoons cold water in a small heatproof glass or metal bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over; let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes.

Pour water to a depth of 1/2" into a small skillet set over medium heat. Transfer bowl with gelatin to skillet; stir until gelatin dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove bowl from skillet. Set aside.

Place cream and powdered sugar in a large bowl. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. Using an electric mixer, beat cream until soft peaks form. Add gelatin; beat filling until firm peaks form.

Spoon filling over chilled ganache on cake layer in pan; smooth top. Gently place second cake layer on top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill until cream layer is set, at least 6 hours or overnight.

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

Rewarm remaining ganache until just pourable. (Microwave in a microwave-safe bowl, or set a metal bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water until just warm, not hot.) Pour ganache over cake, tilting cake as needed to allow ganache to drip down sides and using an offset spatula to help spread ganache, if needed, to cover sides of cake. Chill until ganache is set, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Cake can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with a cake dome; chill. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.

Sprinkle cake with flaky sea salt.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Revisiting the Tart of Death

Three years ago, I attempted this nectarine tart, a.k.a., the Tart of Death. It's from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, and it requires you to thinly slice about 8 nectarines, and then wind the slices into rosettes and place them in a pre-baked tart shell. Which is about as easy as trying to mold live worms into tulips. Slimy, sticky, stubborn nectarine slices simply do not make great candidates for rosettes. In fact, in my frustration at trying to create the rosettes, I actually sliced off part of my finger.

And yet there is something daunting about this tart that I've never forgotten. If a team of Martha's minions could make nectarines into rosettes, then so could I! And so, three years later, I attempted this recipe once more, with success.

A few things to keep in mind.

When slicing your nectarines, slice them as thin as possible. Choose one of the thinnest slices you can find and wind it into a cone shape for the center of your rose. Then quickly wind a few more thin ones around it to form a somewhat stable core. Pinch the core together and quickly transfer it into the pie shell, then keep winding more nectarine slices around that one to keep it in shape.

If you don't drive yourself crazy, you may actually succeed in doing this. Leave yourself a lot of time.  Put on some good TV in the background.

Another key for this recipe:  You need to make a brown-butter/egg filling to pour over the rosettes and then bake it.  Double the filling that Martha calls for and use almost but not all of the doubled filling.  The first time I made the tart, I could barely taste the filling, but this time, I had the right amount.  I also think it might be nice to sprinkle some turbinado sugar on top to add a bit of crunch.

I have defeated the tart of death!

Nectarine Tart of Death:



2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.

2. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

3. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

4.  Roll out and fill an 8 inch tart shell pan.  Prick dough and blind bake (cover dough in parchment and pie weights) at 350 for 20 minutes, until firm and just golden, then remove pie weights and parchment and continue to bake another 20 minutes until deep golden brown.  Remove pie shell and cool.

Filling: (This is Martha's original recipe, but I doubled mine.  The choice is yours)

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Chambord or brandy (I used Grand Marnier)
1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour 
1/4 tsp salt 
8 nectarines

1. Make and pre-bake a tart shell in an 8-inch tart pan.  Set aside to cool completely. 

2. Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat, whisk occasionally until butter solids begin to brown, about 5 mins. Remove from heat, set aside. 

3. In medium bowl, whisk egg, sugar, lemon juice, Chambord and salt until light in color and double in volume, about 2 minutes. Add flour, salt, and reserved brown butter, whisk until well combined. 

4. Slice nectarines into 1/8 inch slices. Make roses by loosely coiling a thin slice of nectarine for the center, then wrapping each additional slice around it, offsetting each slice from the previous one. Make and transfer enough roses to fill tart shell, filling any gaps with extra nectarine slices. 

5. Whisk filling briefly, pour evenly over fruit, using a spoon to fill empty spaces. Bake at 375F, rotating tart halfway through, until filling has slightly puffed, about 40 mins.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Not So Unhealthy Valentine Treat

Why is it that January is our unofficial go-on-a-diet/New Year's resolution/lose-the-hoilday-weight month, while February becomes let's-stuff-ourselves-with-chocolate month because of Valentine's Day.

Either you're in a relationship, so you have to provide and consume sweets to celebrate, or you're not, so you have to simply consume sweets on your own to comfort yourself! And let's not forget the day after Valentine's Day, when all that candy that didn't get purchased goes on sale, so that we're tempted to indulge even more.

If you're looking for a chocolate treat that won't break your calorie bank, here's one that I've found, which if you follow this Chocolate Sweet Hearts recipe, is less than 50 calories per cookie. Yet it tastes rich enough to satisfy any chocolate-lover's craving.

The downside is that these chocolate heart cookies don't have a really long shelf life (or maybe that's a good thing--as they won't hang around long enough to tempt you after the holiday).  You get, three days tops before they go stale.

And if you feel frisky, you might drizzle them with melted white chocolate or dip them into melted dark chocolate.

NOTE:  I made these with a tablespoon of my secret chocolate weapon, black cocoa powder. Any chocolate recipe becomes far richer and more intense with a bit this magic stuff substituted for part of the cocoa powder called for in the recipe? It's the stuff the Oreo people use to make their cookies. I get mine from King Arthur's...

Chocolate Sweet Hearts
Adapted from Everyday Food


1 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (or 3 tbsp regular cocoa powder and 1 tbsp black cocoa powder)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg


1. In a bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water, place chocolate, butter, and brown sugar; stir frequently until almost completely melted. Remove from heat, and stir until completely melted; let cool slightly.
2. Add egg to chocolate mixture. With a mixer on low, beat until well blended. Gradually stir in flour mixture (dough will form a ball).
3. Divide dough in half; roll out each half on a sheet of parchment paper to a 1/4-inch thickness. Transfer each half (still on paper) to a baking sheet; freeze until firm, about 20 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Working with one half at a time, flip dough onto a work surface; peel off paper. Using a 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out cookies; place, 1/2 inch apart, on two baking sheets. Bake until firm and fragrant, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool. If desired, drizzle with melted white chocolate.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Cookie Blowout!

This year, I decided to go a bit crazy with the holiday cookies. In addition to usual suspects like lemon gingerbread trees, jam-filled cookies, and homemade girl scout thin mints, I wanted to try a few new recipes like red velvet whoopie pies (the season's big hit with my friends) or banana bars (my personal favorite).

When you're making this many cookies, a good game plan is key. It begins right after Thanksgiving, when I go through cookbooks, magazines, and clippings I've been saving, and even websites to find the right mix of cookies. I'm going for different colors, flavors, and textures.

Beginning in early December, I make the doughs, two a day, and freeze them until I'm ready to begin baking. I start with cookies like girl scout thin mints that freeze really well and finish with more fragile cookies, like spritz cookies, that don't. The day before I plan to serve, I do all the glazing, frosting, filling, and decorating, so that when I'm ready to serve, all I have to do is arrange them on plates, which is the fun part.

Here's the full list of what I did this year.  A few of these recipes are already on my blog.  I'll update others in the future:

Girl Scout Thin Mints 
Chocolate pistachio checkerboards
Vienna almond cookies with royal icing
Frosted banana bars
Lemon tea cookie sandwiches
Lemon cookies with candied ginger
Cinnamon log slices 
Colored dough sugar cookies
Red velvet whoopie pies 
Lime tassies 
Cranberry-cherry swirl biscotti 
Butter spritz cookies
Coconut macaroon trees

Friday, July 26, 2013

Chocolate Blackout Cake

I recently made this New York classic for my nephew's birthday. It's a variation on a variation.

Chocolate Blackout Cake usually consists of a chocolate cake, split, with pudding between the layers as well as on the outside of the cake, and then covered in the cake's crumbs as a decoration.

This version, which I found on the Food Network website, replaces the outer layer of pudding with two layers of ganache. Not bad.

For the cake, I used my go-to chocolate cake recipe, One-Bowl Chocolate Cake, from Martha's Cooking School, which couldn't be easier or tastier. Also I doubled the filling recipe, just to be sure I had enough.

A serving tip:  store this in the fridge, but serve it at room temperature.

Chocolate Blackout Cake
Adapted from Food Network Magazine

For the filling:
2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

For the ganache:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream

For the cake:
One-Bowl Chocolate Cake, baked and cooled (recipe follows)


1.  Make One-Bowl Chocolate Cake as directed.  It’s best to do this in advance and chill the cooled cake in the fridge, as cold cake is easier to work with.  (You can even freeze the cake.)

2.  Make the filling: Bring the milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and egg in a medium heatproof bowl until smooth. Gradually whisk half of the hot milk into the sugar mixture, then return to the pan with the remaining milk. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture boils and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl (strain through a fine-mesh sieve if it looks lumpy), then stir in the chocolate until melted. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour.

3.  Meanwhile, make the ganache: Put the chocolate and salt in a large heatproof bowl. Bring 1 1/2 cups heavy cream to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat; pour over the chocolate and let sit 5 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Pour 3/4 cup of the ganache into a liquid measuring cup and set aside at room temperature. Refrigerate the remaining ganache in the bowl until thick but not set, about 1 hour.

4.  Assemble the cake: Put 1 cake layer on a platter; spread the filling on top, stopping about 1/2 inch from the edge. Top with the second cake layer and press down gently.

5.  Add the remaining 2 tablespoons heavy cream to the chilled ganache and beat with a mixer on medium speed until just fluffy, about 1 minute (do not overbeat). Frost the whole cake with the whipped ganache. Pour the room-temperature ganache on top, letting it drip down the sides. Let set before slicing, about 30 minutes.

One-Bowl Chocolate Cake
(adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School)

Yield: 8-inch 2-layer cake

You can’t get much easier than this luscious cake, in which all the ingredients are thrown into a large mixing bowl and mixed by hand.  

1 ¼ cups unsweetened cocoa powder (if you can find black cocoa, use a ¼ cup of it here plus 1 cup of regular)
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 ¼ teaspoons table salt
2 large whole eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 ¼ cups warm water
1 ¼ cups buttermilk or sour cream (I prefer sour cream)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 ¼ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1.     Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two standard muffin tins with cupcake liners or for cakes, coat two 8 x 2-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray.  Line bottoms with parchment paper rounds, then spray parchment.

2.     Whisk together all dry ingredients in a LARGE bowl.  Then whisk in all wet ingredients until smooth and combined, about 3 minutes.

3.     Bake until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out just clean, about 35 minutes.  Transfer pans to wire rack to cool 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment, then reinvert cakes and cool completely.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Cinnabons at home

If there's one mass market food I love, it is the Cinnabon.

Walking through an airport or shopping mall, I get hit with that sweet smell of cinnamon and cream cheese frosting and it's all I can do to keep moving, avoid giving into the temptation of stuffing my face with sticky, syrupy dough. With an extra shot of frosting.

If you troll the Internet, you can find various recipes that claim to have cracked the code of Cinnabon's top secret recipe. I'm not sure this one has it exactly, but it comes close.

Give yourself a good bit of time and lots of room on your countertop to make these. Also, I find that creating a "hot box" in your oven (meaning setting it to 400 degrees for  a minute, then shutting it off) to proof your dough makes it rise faster.

Here's the recipe I used, adapted from Lauren's Latest:

Homemade Cinnabons


For dough:
3/4 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast {use the fast acting kind!}
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 egg
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 1/2-5 cups all purpose unbleached flour

For filling:
1/2 cup softened butter
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cornstarch

For frosting:
2 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup softened margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar


1.  Make the dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, pour in water, yeast and 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar. Stir and proof 5 minutes. Once mixture looks bubbly and frothy, pour in remaining sugar and salt. Stir on low for 15-20 seconds. In a small bowl, measure buttermilk, oil and egg. Whisk ingredients together until egg is incorporated to other two ingredients. Pour contents into the water and yeast mixture. Stir another 20 seconds in the mixer. Pour 2 cups of flour into mixer and stir on low until incorporated. Sprinkle flour in by 1/4 cup increments until dough cleans the sides and bottom of the bowl. Dough should be sticky but not sticky enough to stick to your hands when touched. Once it has reached this stage, turn mixer on and knead for 5 minutes. Remove dough from bowl, grease and replace back into same mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel. Let rise 1-2 hours or until dough has doubled in size.  (This will go faster with a hot box.)

2.  Fill and cut rolls.  In a medium size bowl, stir brown sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch together until combined. Set aside. Punch down dough. Flour a large clean table liberally with flour. Lightly flour dough as well. Roll dough out to be a 20x30 rectangle {or as close to that as possible} while moving dough around to ensure it's not sticking to your work surface. If it's a little short or uneven, feel free to cut off the edges to even it all out. {FYI-I cut off some dough on one side and filled in a spot that needed more dough on the other side to make a more even rectangle.} Spread softened butter over dough, being sure to go right to the edges leaving a 1-inch strip untouched on one of the longer sides of dough. Dump brown sugar mixture onto the middle of the dough and spread with your hands, creating an even layer over top of the margarine, still leaving that 1-inch strip of dough untouched. If you have any filling that falls off the sides of the dough, use a bench scraper to replace. Lightly press the sugar mixture into the margarine using a rolling pin. Roll the dough up into a tight log, finishing with the plain dough on the bottom to seal the entire thing together. Cut off the uneven ends to even out the log. Score log every 2 inches and then slice your rolls using those marks. Place into parchment paper lined, margarine greased pans. 12 into a 9x13, 3 remaining into a loaf pan, or 8x8 with the small ends. Cover pans with plastic wrap and dish towels. Let rolls rise another 1-2 hours or until they are touching and have risen almost double. My rolls always spread out more than up, so just be aware that they will most likely spread out more than up. Bake in a preheated 350 degree for 17 minutes, or until tops start to brown. Watch them carefully!!

3. Make frosting.  While the rolls are baking, whip cream cheese and margarine together. Stir in vanilla, corn syrup and lemon juice. Scrape sides and mix again. Pour in powdered sugar and stir slowly until it starts to incorporate. Then mix on high for 5 minutes or until frosting starts to lighten in color. Scrape sides and mix again briefly. Once rolls have been removed from the oven, frost using half the amount made. Then after they have cooled a few more minutes, frost again with remaining frosting. The first frosting will melt down into the rolls and the second layer should stay put. Serve warm.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Summer Flavors in a Cookie

These cookies have a lot going on in each bite. There's lemon zest, candied ginger, chopped mint, not to mention butter and sugar inside. On the outside, a light coating of crunchy turbinado and vanilla sugar mixed.

If your taste buds aren't as inclined to the sweet side of things as mine are, you could omit the sugar on top, though I would miss the satisfying crunch it provides.

The recipe itself was submitted by reader Debra Satterthwaite of Carmel, Indiana to Everyday Food, and is a great way to use up that runaway mint growing in your garden. (I've just planted my first herb garden and am learning how quickly and copiously mint spreads!)

It's also very, very simple to put together, and the perfect mix of flavors for a summertime tea.

Lemon Ginger Cookies with Mint
(adapted from Everyday Food)


1 cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves (about 20 large), finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger (about 1 ounce)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1/4 cup coarse sugar, for rolling (can be a mix of half coarse, half vanilla sugar)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, mint, ginger, lemon zest, and baking soda. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter, granulated and brown sugars, vanilla, and egg yolk on medium until fluffy, about 8 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat just until combined.
2. Place coarse sugar in a small bowl. Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into balls and gently roll in sugar to coat. Place, 2 inches apart, on two parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets. Bake until edges are slightly brown, 14 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

Yield:  36 cookies