Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sweet and Salty

And bitter! My pal Paul just had a birthday.


I wanted to make him a cake that was interesting and different and attractive and a little bit masculine - you know, the opposite of Paul. I kid, I kid. I love this guy. The Baked cookbook I've been in love with has some great cake recipes, including one for a Sweet and Salty cake.

Even considering my interest in baking things that aren't too sweet, making a salty cake seemed like a risk (especially considering that I've never tried this cake at Baked). It vaguely reminded me of a story that my friend Dustin told me once about his bitch of a neighbor who made him a cake for a party he was having. Apparently, she hated his parties, so when she baked the cake, she unloaded her hairbrush into the batter. The cutting knife sliced through the hair, but peoples' teeth didn't when they put it in their mouths. I guess that doesn't really have too much in common with a salted cake (beyond the idea of tasting something you absolutely don't expect), but I like that story a lot.

Salted chocolate and salted caramel are two very trendy flavors right now. Even Starbucks has gotten on the bandwagon with their "salted caramel hot chocolate." I mean, it makes sense. Good salt really brings out the layers of flavor of dark chocolates and sweet caramels. I'm not fully aware of the chemistry behind it, so for now, I'll just allow myself to think of salt as a "magic crystal."

I felt relatively comfortable making this cake, as I've made caramel before. Remember? That pie was kind of a total disaster, but I made several batches of caramel for it. It's simple to make, but it can be tricky to perfect. Caramel heats up very slowly, until about 300 degrees, then it starts to cook very, very quickly. I don't think mine was perfect, but it tasted really great.

I just cooked some water, sugar, and corn syrup until it caramelized at 350 degrees, then added that simmering cream in the back of the photo below.

Easy. I stirred it for a bit, then threw into the fridge for the night.

I made the chocolate cake using Baked's recipe, which produced a moist, sturdy, very flavorful and very "chocolatey" tasting cake. I'll definitely use this recipe again. I think it might take other flavors pretty well, like espresso, or maybe even chili pepper or cayenne pepper. Hm...

The frosting it calls for uses a really easy, creative twist on a basic ganache that I always make. With ganache, you simply pour hot cream over chopped chocolate, stir it until it melts, then add sugar and butter and whip it till it fluffs up. This was basically the same technique, but instead of adding just heated cream, the recipe calls for making a creamy salted caramel and adding THAT to the chopped chocolate. It was really delicious. The frosting also had 4 sticks of softened butter in it.

Here's what four sticks of soft butter look like.

Here's the prep for the frosting:

And the warm ganache:

(I hate those white bowls.)

So after whipping the ganache and adding the butter, I started assembly. This is really always the most exciting part of the baking process for me. I really love making these things look perfect and pretty. I've always found that, regardless of great taste, if something looks good, people love it. Plus, it's just so nice to see people faces light up when they see something that looks good.

Each layer went like this:
1. Cake
2. Caramel sauce
3. Frosting
4. Tablespoon of sea salt crystals




Eventually, it all gets wrapped up like this:

(Look at how sloppy I was on the cake board under the cake! It looks terrible!! I forgot to line the bottom edges of the cake with parchment. Doh!)

Eventually, the finished cake looked like this:

There were a few execution errors here. I forgot to line the cardboard with parchment, which would have prevented the fat in the butter from soaking into the paper and looking so greasy (not a cute look). The cake came out taller than the tallest box I had, so I had to use that cheap-o Rubbermaid "cake carrier." Since I assembled the cake directly on the cake board (expecting to then slide the cake board and cake into a box), I had to trim the edges of the square cake board to fit onto the round cake carrier.

Oh well. The cake looked nice, anyway.

I was proud of how it looked, and the taste was AMAZING. The crunch of salt on each layer of sweet, chocolatey caramel was sensational. The salt I used (Maldon crystals - expensive but worth it), stayed crunchy and make the chocolate taste extremely savory. Love love love this cake! Paul's party go-ers seemed to enjoy it, too.

In the next month, I'll be working on something new - stenciling. My friend Eddie has a really cool graffiti stencil business called Stencil 1, and has just published a book (which you can check out and buy here!) The book release party is Saturday, December 6, and Eddie has asked me to stencil a whole bunch of cookies and cupcakes and stuff. Fun!! What a cool challenge. I'll be working on several recipes/techniques in the coming weeks, so look out. Should be interesting.

Thanks for reading!


1 comment:

staceys said...

oh thank you for this! I hopped online tonight to research this cake and see if anyone had any tips or pictures so I could a general idea of what things should like (the caramel sauce in particular). after reading this post I just spent an hour pouring over all your gorgeous cake posts.