(Chocolate Malt Fudge Cake, recipe in post)
After a long absence, she returns to her keyboard, belly full and fingers ready...
I'm probably flattering myself here, but for those of you desperately wondering why I haven't posted for the past several days, it's because I've been in the Chicago area visiting The Family. It's been a fun-filled, food-filled weekend, but that will all have to wait for some other time.
First, I want to talk about this here cake, and my super-stealth-baking to surprise The Boyfriend for his birthday.
Let me start by saying, I like chocolate. I love chocolate. Chocolate and I, we go way back. It's been there for me through the best of times, and the worst of times. I could go on for ages about how much chocolate means to me, so I hope you'll understand the magnitude when I say: The Boyfriend is more of a choco-holic than I am.
He orders Valrhona and Michel Cluizel, and has it shipped cold-weather packaged so it doesn't get too warm and blossom en route. He (and now I) eat chocolate just about every day, and when supplies are low he's quick to place another order. This is just one of his many wonderful traits.
So, when it came to his birthday, chocolate seemed like the obvious choice. I looked at a few chocolate cake recipes, but the more I looked the more discouraged I became. I've never made a chocolate cake before (save perhaps the boxed variety), and although chocolate cake is all fine and dandy, unless it's really fantastic there isn't anything inherently special about it. It's so... normal.
Then I came across a recipe for a Chocolate Malt Cake. I know I said we eat chocolate all the time... did I mention we also have milkshakes almost every evening? There's always vanilla ice cream in the fridge, and we keep a supply of fresh bananas, strawberries, mangos, etc. on hand to blend in. After doing this for several weeks, The Boyfriend mentioned making malted milkshakes - something I'd never had (*gasp*, I know!). Now we keep liquid barley malt in the fridge, and add it not only to milkshakes but other desserts for a nice change of pace. I knew it would be taking a chance to make something so new to me, but adding malt to the chocolate cake might just do the trick to make it that little bit extra-special.
Because we use such high-quality chocolate, and because the recipe calls for several components (some of which I was able to make ahead of time) there was a bit of forward planning involved. It started with placing my own chocolate order, and having it sent to The Mother's house so The Boyfriend wouldn't know.
We order our chocolate from a place called Chocosphere, which not only has a great selection of brands, but also reasonable prices, quality shipping options, and (as far as I can tell) fantastic customer service. Plus, if you save your packaging material from your shipment and send it back to them, you receive store credit for your next order - bonus!
Once the cocoa order was placed, I went on to make several trips to The Mother's in the week leading up to the big day, all the while smuggling ingredients under The Boyfriend's nose.
I admit I was pretty invested in the dessert turning out, but I tried not to let the cake consume too much of my attention, as there are so many more important things to making someone feel special. Of course, the cake wasn't the only birthday trick up my sleeve... just the only culinary one.
So, on to the cake making!
I first found the recipe posted by Natalie, at Perry's Plate, though it originated from Bon Appetit. Her instructions (and pictures) were well laid out, and made it easy to wrap my head around everything that needed to be done. I highly suggest checking it out at PerrysPlate.com.
I only made a few modifications of my own (such as omitting the mini marshmallows - chocolate all the way!), as I'm not experienced in cake-making, and didn't want to mess anything up.
Because there are three separate components to the cake (a malt fudge sauce, malted milk crumbs, and the three layers of cake itself) I'll list the recipes and methods in the order in which I made them.
Chocolate Malt Fudge Cake
(Adapted from Perry's Plate, originally from Bon Appetit)
The Fudge Sauce:
(Can be made up to 1 week ahead, store in the fridge and reheat in microwave to make pourable)
2 cups chocolate malt mix (the powdered stuff, like Carnation or Ovaltine)
6 ounces (by weight) dark chocolate (I used Valrhona 61% Noir), roughly chopped or in chip form
1.5 tsp. molasses
Big pinch of kosher salt (maybe 1 tsp?)
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup light corn syrup (I was hesitant not to mess up the consistency and sweetness level, but in the future I would absolutely replace this with Barley Malt Syrup)
1/4 + 2 TBSP sugar (I used vanilla sugar, because it's what I had on hand)
Put the malt mix, chocolate, molasses, and salt into a mixing bowl and set aside.
In a saucepan, stir together the cream, corn syrup (or Barley Malt syrup), and sugar - bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and let it sit for a minute to let the chocolate start melting. Stir with a whisk until smooth, then whisk a little faster until the sauce is glossy and the malt powder dissolves in.
I poured mine into mason jars (it perfectly filled four 8oz. jars) and stored in the fridge.
In making the cake, I used 1 full jar between each layer, and then almost two jars poured over the top, leaving just enough left to heat up later and pour over ice cream. Or eat straight out of the jar with a spoon.
(Also can be made up to one week ahead, and stored in an air-tight container in the fridge)
3/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 TBSP sugar (again, I used vanilla sugar)
2 TBSP cornstarch
1/2 tsp. kosher salt (if you're butter is salted, reduce this by half)
6 TBSP (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 275f. and line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.
Toss together the dry ingredients, then pour the butter in and stir/mash with a fork until little clumps start to form. Spread evenly onto the baking sheet and bake until the crumbs are dry and, well, crumbly - about 10 minutes. They'll start to turn golden around the edges of the pan, so you may have to stir it part way through. You don't want them to get dark.
Let them cool completely before storing in a container or baggie. The whole thing makes about two cups, and you only need 1 1/3 cup for the cake - I haven't decided how to use the rest.
Turning the Milk Crumbs into Chocolate Malt Crumbs
(This part I did while the cakes were cooling, but could be done a day or two in advance)
1 1/3 cup Milk Crumbs (recipe above)
3/4 cup chocolate malt mix (powder)
4 ounces (by weight) white chocolate, chopped or in chip form (I used Guittard French Blanc, and suggest at least splurging to the point of getting actual white chocolate. If the coca-butter content is below 20%, it can't technically be called 'white chocolate', and you'll find a lot of generic brands don't sell 'white chocolate', they sell 'white morsels' or 'white chips' because their cocoa-butter content is too low)
Melt the white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl in 20 second intervals, stirring in between so as not to over-heat.
Meanwhile, toss together the milk crumbs and malt mix in a small mixing bowl. Pour the melted white chocolate over the top, and mix/mash it in with a fork until the mixture is pretty evenly clumpy/crumbly.
If you make this ahead, be sure to keep it in the fridge until you're ready to use.
Now, on to the
(This needs to chill overnight before you finish it, so plan to do this the day before you need it)
First, you'll need a stand mixer (or at least a hand mixer, although a standing one will make this much easier for you), and three 8 or 9 inch cake pans, plus a spring-form pan at least slightly larger for assembling the cakes in.
Also, a pastry brush is helpful if you have one.
2.5 ounces (by weight) dark chocolate, chopped or in chip form
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (again, I used Valrhona)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt (if you're butter is salted, halve this amount)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp.
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 TBSP light corn syrup (again, I would replace this in the future with Barley Malt Syrup)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, squeeze a small amount of lemon juice into regular whole milk and let it sit for a few minutes to sour)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk
3 TBSP regular malt mix (powder)
1-2 TBSP espresso powder (this is optional, but was my special little addition to the recipe - coffee and chocolate always go well together, and although the espresso is barely detectable it deepens the overall flavor)
Baking or cooking spray for greasing the pans, and parchment paper - yes, I used both. We don't want any stickage, here.
You'll want the oven at 350f. and the three pans sprayed and the bottoms lined with parchment rounds. You can do it here at the beginning to get it out of the way, or you can be like me and let it completely slip your mind until everything is ready and you're going 'Holy crap! The oven! The pans!' - it's your choice.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, kosher salt, and espresso powder if you're using it. Set this aside.
Crack the eggs into a small bowl, and set aside. At this point I also measured out the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla, and set them aside. (Can you tell I like to have everything within reach when the time comes? I'm like my own sous chef.)
In a small microwave-safe bowl, heat the chocolate in 15-20 second intervals, stirring in between, until fully melted. Set aside.
While the chocolate is melting, put the butter, sugar, and corn syrup/liquid barly malt in the large bowl of your mixer. Turn the mixer on low, so things don't go flying everywhere, then increase the speed to medium-high until the butter and sugar cream together and start to look fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Turn the speed down to low, and add the eggs. Increase speed back to medium-high and beat again until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Reduce the speed to low again, and add the melted chocolate. Let it blend until it's well combined and looks like a chocolate mousse, about 1 minute.
Add the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla, and beat on medium-high for another 2 minutes or so.
Scrape down the beaters and take the bowl off the mixer. Fold in the dry ingredients, just until everything is moistened.
Pour the batter evenly between the three pans, and bake the cakes on the middle rack (mine needed two shelves in the oven, so they got rotated and moved around half-way through baking) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. This only takes about 20 minutes, and although the cakes still seemed very moist I went ahead and removed them from the oven. They finished perfectly while they cooled.
Let the cakes cool completely before continuing.
When the cakes are cool, whisk together in a small bowl the regular milk and malt powder.
Remove one of the cakes from its pan by running a knife along the edge, then setting a flat dinner plate or cutting board over the top of it and inverting the entire thing so the cake comes upside down otu of its pan and onto the surface. From the flat surface, slide the cake, still upside down, into the bottom of the spring-form pan.
Brush the cake (or spoon on) a good 2 1/2 TBSP of the malted milk mix.
While you let it soak in, heat in the microwave the malt-fudge sauce until it's a pourable consistency. I used 50% power and did it in 30 second intervals.
Drizzle about 1/2 cup of fudge sauce over the cake, spread evenly, and then sprinkle about 3/4 cup chocolate malt crumbs on top. Pour another 1/2 cup fudge sauce over the crumbs.
Repeat this with the 2nd cake, removing it from the pan, sliding it upside-down into the spring-form on top of the first layer. Brush with malted milk, then fudge, crumbs, fudge.
Top with the last layer of cake, brush with remaining malted milk mix, but save the rest of the fudge sauce and malt crumbs for later. Cover the entire thing with plastic wrap, and make room in the fridge for it to chill overnight (or at least several hours).
Remove the sides of the spring-form pan (you may have to run a knife around the edge if the cake is sticking) and place the cake (still on the pan bottom) onto a plate/platter/serving stand. Reheat the rest of the fudge sauce and pour over the top of the cake, letting it drip freely over the edges.
At this point you can pile on the rest of the malt crumbs, either under the sauce or on top of it, or reserve them on the side as I did. I was a little unsure, and decided to play it safe - plus, the fudge looked so pretty for the photos!
Let the cake stand at room temp. for about 3 hours before serving.
WHEW! It sounds like a lot, and it was, but doing the fudge sauce and crumbs ahead of time made everything much easier. Putting the batter together was easy with all the ingredients laid out, and baking the cakes went very quickly. A lot of planning ahead, for sure, but not all that much effort.
I made the cakes the night before, at The Mother's house, then took the whole thing with me to finish at The Boyfriend's while he was still at work. He came home to me greeting him, apron on and cake in hand, with one epically stupid grin on my face.
Happy birthday! *imaginary streamers and confetti*
Although the cake looked gorgeous, its time had not yet come. It was back to the fridge for it, as we took off for a fancy birthday dinner, complete with free fancy birthday dessert.
Little did the cake know, its journal had only just begun... it still had to survive an over five hour car ride to Chicago the very next morning.
There was one minor hang-up, in that the cake wouldn't fit into the cake carrier... whoops. This was quickly solved, MacGyver style, with other boxes and packing inserts, which kept the whole thing in place. To my relief, it arrived in near perfect condition.
The cake was so dense, it was difficult just to get the knife through. It was heavy and fudgy, almost more like brownies than cake (no complaints here), and so rich that even a small slice begs to be split with someone. Definitely not a light-weight.
The malt crumbs, which I had been a little hesitant about, added a nice texture to the rest of the fudginess. The cake itself had a good, deep chocolate flavor, but if I make it again I would definitely replace the corn syrup with barley malt syrup - the malt was there, but it didn't seem like a very powerful piece of the experience.
My first chocolate cake? A success to be proud of, for sure. The best part wasn't the cake, though... it was the company, and most of all, who the cake was for. No hunk of delicious, fudgy, malty chocolate could ever be celebration enough - no cards or gifts or words could sum it up, or break it down, because something this big isn't meant to be nutshelled. No matter what I do, I'm still the one with the best gift of all, and that's you.