The acquisition of my latest cookbook was a month-long adventure culminating in not one, but two copies of what is now my go-to for everything cookie, bar, brownie, or cake. It's not just a book of reliable recipes; I mean, Better Homes and Gardens puts out one of those every year. This is different. This is a transcendent collection of fail-proof compilations that run the gamut from the simple and direct (Peanut Butter Cookies) to the brand new (Root Beer Bundt Cake) to the absolutely sublime (The Baked Brownie, awarded Best Brownie in America by multiple sources, including The Today Show.)
This is no small reference manual, but an arsenal of confectionary weaponry that is to be wielded both carefully and, at times, with reckless abandon. Despite these obviously favorable aspects, I've not yet mentioned the best part, but I'll do that now. The best part is simply that, for a bakery-influenced tome, this cookbook is downright manly. From the brown-orange color scheme to the direct and simple photography to the antler-influenced design elements, this is a man's book. And why shouldn't it be? Authors Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito haven't always been bakers or cookbook writers. These are recent developments in the lives of two daring men who traded in careers in advertising and amassed life savings to open their dream bakery in New York city. These are real, non-trained, non-fussy men who opened a bakery and put their recipes in a cookbook, and I love them for it.
The book is Baked: New Frontiers in Baking (even the title is testosterone infused) and it currently holds a prominent position on my cookbook shelf. I've not tried everything, but everything I've tried has made my taste buds dance. You're not going to find any spun sugar or fussy egg white concoctions, but you'll find plenty of chocolate, butter, peanut butter, pecans, and caramel. They take everything you love about sweets and make it just a little richer, just a little more exciting. Take for example their Peanut Butter Crispy Bars. We've all had Rice Crispie squares four or five hundred times in our lives, and we all have a soft spot in out hearts for them. Lewis and Poliafito take it one better by making a true sugar and butter caramel for the rather thin crispie layer (don't panic, it only takes about 4 minutes) and layering onto it a molten peanut butter chocolate layer and a just firm enough chocolate topping. Rice Crispie Treat has become Peanut Butter Crispy Bar in a rich, decadent, artery-clogging way that you and your friends will never forget. Ever. No wonder it's the best selling bar at the bakery.
I had a similar blissful with the Millionare's Shortbread which is, as they described, a rich-man's Twix bar. I think the description shortchanges the bars immensely, but whatever; it's their book. I'm prepping myself to make The Baked Bar, the famous Baked Brownie, The Root Beer Bundt Cake (Christmas list a Bundt pan for me, will you?), the Raspberry Crumb Breakfast Bar, Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie, and a host of others. Tonight, however, was dedicated to Sweet and Salty Cake, the most requested and best selling item at the bakery. This recipe has some steps. It involves making caramel twice, and the frosting alone has both a pound of chocolate and a pound of butter. Even better, it uses fleur de sel which cannot be purchased within 50 miles of my home, I am sure (I substituted regular old coarse sea salt, and I'm not disappointed.)
MY EXPERIENCES: This recipe looks rather long and complex, and it is, just a bit. I made it over two days, making the cake on day, then freezing it, double wrapped, overnight. Day two brought the caramel, frosting and assembly so that no one day was too overwhelming. It's easily adaptable to your hectic schedule. Also, I would level the cake just so you have a raw top into which the caramel can seep. I had a little caramel dribble in the center when I cut it. I mean, it's no big deal, but it would have been nice if it had soaked into the crumb instead. Last note: don't be afraid of the salt. Use a good, chunky sea or kosher salt (or fleur de sel, of course) and layer it on. The multiple chocolates are rich and dark, and the caramel is extra sweet; the salt is a vital player to make the flavors balance, and I think I skimped a little.
Sweet and Salty Cake
adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
For the Classic Chocolate Cake Layer
3/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups hot water
2/3 cup sour cream
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar (I used regular brown sugar)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
For the Salted Caramel
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp sleur de sel (I used coarse sea salt, but regular table salt is not recommended)
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
1/4 cup sour cream
For the Whipped Caramel Ganache Frosting
1 pound dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa), chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, soft, but cool, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
To assemble the cake
2 tsp fleur de sel (again, I used coarse sea salt), plus more for garnish
MAKE THE CHOCOLATE CAKE
Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour, then knock out excess.
In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder, hot water, and sour cream, and set aside to cool.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until ribbonlike, about 5 minutes. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and mix again for 30 seconds.
Add the flour mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack (or two) and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.
MAKE THE SALTED CARAMEL
In a small saucepan, combine the cream and salt. Bring to a simmer over very low heat until the salt is dissolved. Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the cream mixture so it doesn't burn, in a medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup water, the sugar, and corn syrup, stirring them together carefully so you don't splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer read 350˚F. [Watch carefully because this small amount of sugar spurts through temperature tiers quickly.] They say it takes 6-8 minutes, mine did it in 3-4. Remove from heat and let cool for 1 minute.
Add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Whisk in the sour cream. Let the caramel cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the cake.
MAKE THE WHIPPED CARAMEL GANACHE FROSTING
Put the chopped chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over very low heat.
Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the cream mixture so it doesn't burn, in a medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup water, the sugar, and corn syrup, stirring them together carefully so you don't splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer read 350˚F, 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and let caramel cool for 1 minute.
Add the cream to the caramel and stir to combine. Stir slowly for 2 minutes, then pour the caramel over the chocolate. Let the chocolate and caramel sit for 1 minute, then, starting in the center of the bowl, and working your way out to the edges, slowly stir the chocolate and caramel mixture in a circle until the chocolate is completely melted. Let the mixture cool, then transfer it to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Mix on low speed until the bowl feel cool to the touch. Increase the speed to medium-high and gradually add the butter, beating until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and beat on high speed until the mixture is fluffy. [This part was ambiguous to me, so I went for firm peaks, neither soft nor stiff, from the cream. To achieve that in an acceptable amount of time, I had to put an ice bath around my mixing bowl. Perhaps I'm just impatient, but it worked, so I'm happy.]
ASSEMBLE THE CAKE
Plae one cake layer on a serving platter. Spread 1/4 cup of the caramel over the top. Let the caramel soak into the cake (mine didn't because the cake was already flat and didn't need to be leveled), then spread 3/4 cup of the ganache frosting over the caramel. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt, then top with second layer. Repeat the process, then top with third layer. Spread with remaining caramel. Crumb coat the cake and put the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up the frosting. Remove from fridge, the frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. Garnish with a sprinkle of salt.
This cake will keep beautifully in a cake saver at room temperature (cool and humidity free) for up to 3 days. If your room is not cool, place the cake in a cake saver and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature at least 2 hours before serving.