Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Toasted German Chocolate Cake



I never forgot about the cake I promised back in September. And here we are in mid-December, with days until Christmas and I'm not wrapping presents or addressing cards because, well, let me be honest, I just order everything from Amazon this week. I have a really great excuse though: 


Meet Emmett, the newest addition to the Splawn family. He eats up every moment of my days and some of my dreams too. We're adjusting to life as four during the busiest, most joyous time of the year. My heart is crazy stupid full and so I, kind of, don't care that we didn't all the decorations put up and that my Christmas cards will probably be late, kind of. 


Here's to finally fulfilling my promise of cake, to filling your holiday with the things that make your heart full, and a some good ole procrasti-baking - from my crazy heart to yours. 


Toasted German Chocolate Cake
Makes one 9 inch layer cake, 10 to 12 servings

You can make the cake several weeks ahead, wrap them well in plastic wrap, and freeze. The buttercream, caramel, and toffee can all be made up to a week ahead. I made the parts of this cake over the course of one week after work and did the final assembly the day of. 

Presuming you have just one full day to prep this cake – it could be done all at once. Bake the cake first so that it has plenty of time to cool while you prepare the other ingredients. Make the caramel and let it cool while you toast the nuts and coconut. Make the buttercream while the cake cools and skip the toffee if you run short on time.

Coconut Pecan Caramel Filling
Makes 3 cups filling – enough for 1 triple layer cake

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 cup full fat coconut milk, at room temperature 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup toasted coconut flakes, finely chopped
½ cup toasted pecans, finely chopped

Combine the sugar, water, and, corn syrup in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Attach a candy thermometer and cook over medium heat, without stirring, until the mixture turns golden amber and is approaching 320˚F. 

Immediately remove from the heat and add the coconut milk, vanilla extract and salt. Return to medium heat and cook until the mixture reaches 230˚F. Pour the caramel into a heat-proof bowl and cool for 20 minutes. Fold in the coconut and pecans and cool completely before storing in an airtight container. The finished sauce can be made up to a week in advance – store in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before assembling the cake.


Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Makes 6 cups of frosting – enough for 1 9-inch layer cake, with extra

1 cup egg whites, approximately 5 large
1 cup granulated sugar
5 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped
1 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extra
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Fill a 4-quart pot about half way with water. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat.

Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set the mixer bowl over the simmering water (the boil should not touch the water) and whisk the egg whites and sugar until the sugar has dissolved completely, the eggs are foamy and the mixture is warm, approximately 5 minutes.

Set the bowl on the stand mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and sugar on high until they reach stiff peaks and the bowl is cool to the touch, approximately 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, microwave the chocolate for 30 seconds on high in a microwave safe bowl. Stir the chocolate and return to the microwave for an additional 15 seconds to melt the chocolate. Set aside the cool while the egg whites whip.

When the egg white mixture has reached stiff peaks begin adding the butter in 4 tablespoon pieces (about a half a stick at a time) with the mixer on low speed. Be sure that each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next. Once youve added about three-quarters of the butter – there will be a moment of panic – the frosting will look as though its curdled or separated. Be persistent and continue whipping and adding the butter. After the final addition of butter turn the mixer to medium high and whip for 1 minute.

Return the mixer to low speed and slowly add the melted chocolate followed by the vanilla extract and salt. Mix for an additional minute and remove the frosting from the mixer. Store the frosting in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days before assembling the cake.


Dark Chocolate Layer Cake
Makes three (9 inch) round layers

2 cups granulated sugar

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup dark cocoa powder, plus extra for the pans

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

1/2 cup vegetable oil
, plus extra for the pans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup boiling water

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Lightly grease three 9-inch round baking pans. Dust the pans with extra cocoa powder and knock out any excess. Set aside.

Whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat with a hand mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Mix in boiling water. The batter will be quite thin. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center of each cake comes out clean.

Set the pans on wire racks and cool for 10 minutes. Then, lightly run a knife around the inside of the pans to help the cake edges release. Flip the cake pans over, one by one, and tap firmly with the palms of your hands. Carefully lift up the cake pan; the cake should release easily. If it doesn't drop right out, drape with a warm wet towel while continuing to tap.

Cool the cake layers completely before frosting.

Assembly
Gather the cake layers, filling, buttercream, toffee, a cake stand, an offset spatula, a piece of parchment paper, a zip-top bag, and a pair of scissors. A clean kitchen towel is helpful too.  I prefer to frost cakes at my kitchen table rather than my counter – its just a little bit more comfortable.

Prepare the cake stand by cutting the parchment paper into a few thing strips and place them around the edge of your cake plate (this will keep the plate clean while you frost).

Put a dab of frosting in the middle of the cake plate and center the first layer of cake on top of it. Fill the ziptop bag with about a cup of the buttercream and snip off one corner. Use the bag to pipe a border of buttercream around the edge of the first cake layer. Fill the buttercream boarder with half of the filling. Top with the second cake layer and repeat, using the remaining filling. Top with the final layer of cake.

Apply a thin layer of buttercream all over the cake – dont worry if it is messy – this step is affectionately referred to as the crumb coat. Professional bakeries refrigerate their cakes after the crumb coat for about an hour – I find about twenty minutes set the thin layer enough to finish frosting the cake. 

Frost the cake with the remaining buttercream: Pile the buttercream on top of the cake and use the off set spatula to smooth the top of the cake while simultaneously pushing buttercream over the edge of the cake onto the sides. Smooth out the sides of the cake.
Press handfuls of the toasted coconut onto the sides of the cake. Remove the parchment paper and top the cake with broken toffee pieces. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Coconut Pecan Toffee & Coconut Caramel Sauce


There will be cake. It may take me a few weeks to share the recipe with you, but I promise there will be cake. Consider these your warm-up recipes - a rich Coconut Pecan Toffee and a Coconut Caramel Sauce with no dairy! Also tips for toasting nuts and coconut. 


I've been a little MIA here and on social media and even a little bit in real life. We've been traveling and working, preparing for a kitchen update and for bringing home a new baby in mere weeks. Weeks, you guys! I'm completely unprepared for a new baby and blogging seemed like reasonable enough procrastination from putting the crib back together.

Truthfully, I'm not sure that I will get back to blogging here regularly until next year at least, or honestly  ever. I have no idea what having two kids, working freelance, and still being a normal human will look like so I'm only promising you cake at this point. A one-bowl-rich-and-moist-chocolate cake, no less. Let's call it Denial Chocolate Cake.

I've been sitting on these recipes for a while, because they didn't seem appropriate for the spring or summer. The weather in the South has finally decided to be fall, which has me ready to bake, carve pumpkins, and find some new boots - basically any fall activity that helps me avoid putting the crib together or crying over tiny baby socks.



Coconut Pecan Toffee
Makes 8 ounces toffee – enough for garnishing one 9-inch cake, plus extra for nibbling

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup toasted pecans
½ cup toasted coconut flakes

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Stir until sugar is dissolved and bring to a boilAttach a candy thermometer to the pot and continue cooking until temperature reaches 300 degrees F.

Remove saucepan from heat and quickly stir in butter, vanilla, and baking soda. Immediately add the coconut and pecans.

Pour onto prepared baking sheet and use a silicone spatula to spread the mixture into a thin even rectangle.

Cool completely on a cooling rack.  Snap the brittle into pieces and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Brittle can be made up to a week before assembling the cake.


Coconut Caramel Sauce 
Makes 3 cups filling – enough for 1 triple layer cake

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 cup full fat coconut milk, at room temperature  
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
½ teaspoon kosher salt 

optional additions
½ cup toasted coconut flakes, finely chopped 
½ cup toasted pecans, finely chopped

Combine the sugar, water, and, corn syrup in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Attach a candy thermometer and cook over medium heat, without stirring, until the mixture turns golden amber and reaches 320 degrees F.  

Immediately remove from the heat and add the coconut milk, vanilla extract and salt and stir carefully. Return to medium heat and cook until the mixture reaches 230 degrees F. Pour the caramel into a heat-proof bowl and cool for 20 minutes. Fold in the coconut and pecans and cool completely. The finished sauce can be made up to a week in advance – store in the refrigerator in an airtight container and bring to room temperature before assembling the cake. 

Toasted Coconut Flakes
Makes 12 ounces toasted coconut –enough for the Coconut Pecan Caramel Filling, the Coconut Pecan Brittle and garnishing the finished cake

1 12-ounce bag unsweetened coconut flakes

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the coconut into an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Stir the coconut and bake an additional 2 to 3 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and cool completely on the baking sheet. Store in an airtight container. Coconut can be toasted up to 2 weeks ahead of assembling the cake.

Toasted Pecans
Makes 1 pound toasted nuts – enough for the Coconut Pecan Caramel Sauce and Coconut Pecan Brittle

1 pound whole pecans

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the pecans into an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Stir the nuts and bake an additional 2 to 5 minutes or until the nuts are fragrant and just begin to brown. Remove nuts from the baking sheet to cool completely before chopping or storing. Store pecans in an airtight container. Pecans can be toasted up to 2 weeks ahead of assembling the cake. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Blondie Swirled Brownies


I read about motherhood a lot. Not just because its relevant to me, but because I find modern motherhood to be particular enthralling. Never before have we had so many choices as mothers - breastfeeding vs. formula, to vaccinate or not, stay at home vs. working mother, exposing our children to technology. And these choices are continually hyped by the media. We're suppose to lean-in, cry it out, find balance, and put a tidy little label on it. 


The last 60 days of my own adventure in motherhood has been challenging. I left full time work in preparation for baby number two, but also to find a better work/life ratio. I won't call it a work/life balance, because 'balance' is a beautiful, mythical unicorn. Anyway, I thought that being a full time mom and wife might be better for our family. The first week I was so gun-ho: making a cleaning schedule, committing to a summer reading program, trips to the library, the park, and potty training (!!!). Basically I was a SUPER MOM. I was also really miserable. I found my threshold for pleasant homemaking, creative toddler activities, and reading Fancy Nancy with enthusiasm is about 4 days. 

A creative person, like myself, with no outlet can be kind of ugly. I spent a lot of time and money on finding curtains, of all things, and maybe I irrationally cried about laundry once. Luckily my husband is incredibly supportive (or terrified of me) - so I started taking freelance work. Recipe development, food styling, and a little project management for good measure. The pendulum quickly swung the other way and I was busier with work than I had been with a full time job and I was still trying to do the SUPER MOM thing. It was silly. 



The struggle, my struggle, was I felt like I needed to be something - if I wasn't a "working mom" then I had to be "stay-at-home mom", right? When I reach these questions I ask myself - "What would I want my daughter to believe"? And I realized something so stupidly simple, something that should be so apparent already (and maybe it is to everyone but me?!) If Ella wants to be a mom, start a family, have a career, become a CEO - I want her to know - she doesn't have to label it. She doesn't have to put her head before her heart just to fit into a tidy little box. She doesn't have to choose between being a homemaker or being a boss. 

I'm still finding clarity on what I am now - I'm still working (at home and sometimes not) but I don't check into a desk each day, and I have the flexibility of taking Ella on a donut picnic anytime I want to. Ella will continue to go to preschool 3 days a week, because I now understand what I need my work/life ratio to be - even if I don't know how to label it. 

Our challenge as modern mothers will be stepping away from clean profile labels and the ever-widening exposure of motherhood to understand ourselves without comparison. We will be stronger mothers without comparison or labels when we can each tell our own stories in real conversations (hopefully over lots of wine). 


These blondies meets brownie bar mash ups are much less about 'not having to choose' than they are about my  procrastination, because I would, of course, feel inspired to bake and write a blog post when the thing I need to be doing is packing my daughter and I up for a ten-day trip. I may take a few of these as gifts of thanks, bribery, or apology for our fellow travelers. Two and 3/4 years old is a very emotionally erratic time, so it either going to be smooth sailing or a complete disaster! Wish us luck. 

Blondie Swirled Brownies
Makes 28 bars

This bars are inspired by Dorie Greenspan's Chipster bar, which is basically a brownie with a chocolate chip cookie baked on top. I was feeling too pressed for time to make a batch of cookies and blondies are always the perfect solution for that! These are rich and sweet, loaded with chocolate and you are absolutely going to need a glass of milk or a strong coffee on the side!


for the brownie layer: 
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour - I used white whole wheat
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped

for the blondie layer:
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour - again with the white whole wheat
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup milk chocolate, chopped or semi-sweet chips

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 baking pan and line with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a large microwave safe bowl using 30 second intervals in the microwave, stirring between each. This should take about a minute and a half. You can also melt the chocolate and butter over a double boiler.  Beat in the sugars. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth. Fold in the flour, salt, and additional chopped chocolate and pour into the prepared pan.

Melt the remaining butter in another microwave safe bowl on high in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Beat in the brown sugar, followed by the egg, flour, baking powder and salt. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

The blondie batter will be slightly thicker than the brownie batter, so I like to scoop the blondie batter in 2 tablespoon scoop over the brownie batter and then swirl with the spoon to incorporate.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the pan comes out mostly clean. Cool for about 30 minutes in the pan before removing a slicing.