Monthly Archives: February 2012

Dream Dessert: Cinnamon Caramel Ganache Layer Cake

I think everybody has a dream dessert. Some people have several. Buttermilk panna cotta with caramelized sugar and sectioned blood oranges is my very favorite. I also love Roasted Clementine and Chocolate Tart. On my birthday though, what I really want is cake.  On their birthdays, my kids can invent whatever cake they want, anything, and I will try to make it. Siri loves chocolate cake with white chocolate peppermint ganache filling and elaborate fondant decorations. Alistair likes a moist vanilla cake with milk chocolate frosting. Make no mistake, I will not forget that it needs to be moist and milk chocolate. And Leo, who’s only 4, just wants a volcano cake that actually erupts. (I’m working on it and if you have any ideas on how make it erupt and also edible I would love to hear about it.)

Of course every year, I have every intention of making Martin an incredible birthday dessert extravaganza, but on the past few  birthdays, I have to admit, he’s been short changed, at least by my standards. Last year I convinced him that what he really wanted was a Meyer lemon curd tart with a macadamia nut crust. I am sure there is no one on the planet who is crying for Martin, who did not suffer in the least eating that tart. The truth is though, I got really busy with the three kids and the dog and a bunch of school commitments, so I used a tart shell I had in the deep freezer left over from the holidays and the Meyer lemons I had in the bottom of the refrigerator. I was looking for some excuse to use them up and I didn’t have the energy to get creative. It felt a little shabby. I tried not to think about the fact that Martin is not really a lemon kind of guy.

This year, the day before his birthday, I was still scrambling for ideas. I looked at recipes on the Fine Cooking website and found one I thought might work. Then I consulted my favorite dessert cookbook. I made mental lists of ingredients I know he loves  (chocolate, caramel, hazelnuts, orange rind) and tried to invent a dessert on the fly. Too much at the last minute. I texted  him from the grocery store:

Walnut Cake?! Chocolate!? At store need ideas for direction…cheesecake?!

He texted me back:

Chocolate please. Or fun cheesecake.

This is me again:

How about Chocolate Caramel Cinnamon Ganache?

And he says:


I wasn’t too sure about the cinnamon. The only place I really like it is in my Granny’s Rice Pudding. I don’t even use it in apple pie! Martin didn’t give me too much to go on though, so I went ahead. It turns out, there’s just a whiff of cinnamon – and it’s perfect. This is a truly wonderful cake!

Cinnamon Caramel Ganache Layer Cake

from Alice Medrich, published in Fine Cooking

I took this recipe straight from their website and I wouldn’t change a single thing – except maybe the name. I feel that the name calls too much attention to the cinnamon when this cake is really all about chocolate caramel flavors. You can make the filling a day ahead of time and I would imagine the cakes too, if you keep them well wrapped over night. The frosting needs to be made the day you assemble the cake or it will be too stiff to spread.

For the Filling:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3-inch cinnamon stick, lightly crushed
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 4-1/2 oz. semisweet chocolate (up to 62% cacao), coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
For the Frosting:
  • 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70% or 72% cacao), chopped medium fine
  • 2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 Tbs. light corn syrup
  • Pinch table salt
For the Cake:
  • 1-1/2 oz. (1/2 cup) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 6 oz. (1-1/2 cups) cake flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 4 oz. (8 Tbs.) slightly softened unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten and at room temperature
  • Easy Bittersweet Chocolate Shards, for garnish (optional)

Make the filling:
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, cinnamon, salt, and 2 Tbs. water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Off the heat, cover and steep for 15 minutes.
  2. Put the chocolate in a medium bowl and set a fine strainer over it.
  3. Pour 1/4 cup water into a heavy-duty 3-quart saucepan. Pour the sugar in the center of the pan and pat it down until evenly moistened (there should be clear water all around the sugar).
  4. Cover the pan and cook over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves, 2 to 4 minutes. Uncover and cook without stirring until the syrup begins to color slightly, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, swirling the pot gently if the syrup colors unevenly.When the caramel turns reddish amber, 1 to 2 minutes longer, take the pan off the heat and immediately stir in the cream mixture.
  5. Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramel is completely dissolved, 1 to 3 minutes.
  6. Pour the caramel cream through the strainer onto the chocolate and discard the cinnamon. Whisk until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth.
  7. Scrape into a wide, shallow bowl, cover loosely, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 4 hours and up to 3 days.
Make the frosting:
  1. Put the chocolate, butter, corn syrup, and salt in a heatproof bowl set in a skillet of barely simmering water.
  2. Stir gently until the chocolate melts and the mixture is perfectly smooth.
  3. Off the heat, stir in 6 Tbs. cool water.
  4. Let cool and thicken at room temperature without stirring for at least 3 hours. The consistency should be like chocolate pudding.
Make the cake:
  1. Line the bottoms of three 9×2-inch round cake pans with parchment.
  2. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven if the three pans will fit on it. Otherwise, position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
  3. Heat the oven to 350°F.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk the cocoa and 1/2 cup lukewarm water.
  5. In a liquid measuring cup, mix the buttermilk with 1/2 cup cool water.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt and sift them three times onto a sheet of parchment.
  7. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 15 seconds.
  8. Add the sugars gradually, beating until the mixture lightens in color and appears sandy but fluffy, about 5 minutes total.
  9. Dribble the eggs in a little at a time, taking a full minute to add them. Continue to beat for a few seconds until the mixture is smooth and fluffy.
  10. Stop the mixer and add the cocoa mixture. Beat on medium speed just until combined.
  11. Stop the mixer and, using the parchment as a chute, add about one-quarter of the flour. Mix on low speed just until incorporated.
  12. Stop the mixer and add one-third of the buttermilk. Mix just until blended.
  13. Repeat, stopping the mixer between additions and scraping the bowl as necessary, until the remaining flour and buttermilk are mixed in.
  14. Divide the batter evenly among the pans.
  15. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes (if baking on two levels, rotate the upper and lower pans halfway through baking).
  16. Cool the cakes on racks for 5 minutes and then turn onto the racks, remove the parchment, and cool completely.
Assemble the cake:
  1. Beat the chilled filling in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment at medium speed until it’s very thick and stiff enough to hold a shape but still spreadable, 1 to 2 minutes. Don’t over beat.
  2. Put a cake layer upside down on a cardboard cake circle or tart pan bottom.
  3. Spread half of the filling evenly all the way to the edge of the layer.
  4. Top with a second upside-down layer and gently press in place.
  5. Spread with the remaining filling.
  6. Top with the third layer, again upside down. Smooth any filling protruding from the sides.
Frost the cake:
  1. With an offset spatula, spread a very thin layer (about 1/2 cup) of frosting evenly over the top and sides of the assembled cake to smooth the surface, glue on crumbs, and fill cracks. (Stirring the frosting more than necessary dulls the finish and makes it set up too hard.)
  2. Spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides of the cake, swirling the surface with the spatula if desireTop with the chocolate shards (if using) and serve at room temperature.
Martin totally loved his birthday cake, in case you were wondering!

Butterfly Birthday Cake, Chocolate with White Chocolate Peppermint Ganache Filling, May 2005


Rarified poached egg on toast

If you were walking down Federal Avenue last Friday, and you happened to look up through the windows of my dining room, you would have seen a solitary woman at the table, eating lunch a tad more ceremoniously than one might usually when eating alone at home. That was me. It was a cold bright sunny day and I was taking this lunch seriously, some might say with intent, on a proper plate with a linen napkin. (Often my lunch is peanut butter and bitter marmalade on whole wheat toast, eaten standing up at the kitchen counter.) Mary Alice, who is beyond generous, brought over half a dozen, warm, very fresh eggs from Gumbo and Kebab, her chickens. Finally, I could recreate the poached eggs on toast with roast asparagus, satiny folds of prosciutto, and truffle butter I had last spring at the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma, on another sunny, much warmer, day in California.

In preparation for the eggs, I spent just a few minutes adding truffle oil and sea salt to softened french butter. Mashing it in, then tasting. Too much oil? Too much salt? When is it delicious enough? Oh, the sacrifices I make! Spending the morning making and tasting truffle butter indeed! If you remember lunch from the Girl and the Fig, you probably remember the truffle butter. You only need a tablespoon. It is easy to make and the oil is pretty easy to come by. Roast asparagus takes one minute of prep, four minutes in the oven. No problem there. The bread and even sometimes Prosciutto di Parma you can buy at the supermarket.

What aren’t so easy to come by, unless you have your own chickens, are fresh eggs. I hate to say it, but to enjoy this lunch, you have to have a very fresh egg. Even though the sandwich (somehow this really doesn’t feel like the right word!) is very simple, it is one of my top ten meals. I feel very lucky. Everyone should have a friend like Mary Alice.

Poached Egg on Toast with Prosciutto, Asparagus and Truffle Butter

  • 1 slice excellent bread with some whole wheat and a little rye if possible, a scant 1/2″ thick
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 very fresh egg
  • 1 slice prosciutto di Parma
  • 4 asparagus spears, rinsed, woody ends snapped off
  • 1 tbsp french butter, or cultured butter, at room temperature with a few drops of truffle oil and a small pinch of kosher sea salt mashed in, to taste
  • several pinches of kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  a skillet and a little metal pan you can put under the broiler.

Perfect poached eggs

  1. Set the broiler to high. Raise the oven shelf to the top rail.
  2. Heat up the skillet for a few minutes over medium high heat.
  3. Add 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. When the butter stops foaming, add the bread. Let it sizzle but don’t let it burn. It should be deeply golden and crisp before you flip it over. Toast both sides. Place the toast on a nice plate.
  4. Lay a slice of prosciutto over the toast.
  5. Wipe out the skillet and fill it with water. Heat the water over high heat until it simmers. Add a tsp of salt. When the water is simmering crack the egg into the water. You may need to lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. If you have never poached a very fresh egg before, you’ll be amazed to see how the white holds together in a perfect oval! Now I know why the eggs I typically poach look so sloppy. Cook until the white is firm, about 5 minutes. Don’t let the yolk harden. That’s your sauce.
  6. Just as soon as you crack the egg into the water, toss the asparagus on the metal broiler pan with 1 tbsp of olive and a big pinch of kosher sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Put the asparagus under the broiler for 2 minutes, then turn them over, they should be crisp and a little brown. Set them back under the broiler for 2 more minutes. When they are browned but before they become floppy and overdone, remove from the oven. Take them off the pan and put them right on top of the prosciutto. You don’t want them to continue to cook on the hot metal pan.
  7. Remove the egg from the boiling water with a slotted spoon if you have one, and carefully lay it on top of the asparagus. Dab the heaping tbsp of truffle butter on the side of the plate.
  8. Sit somewhere quiet and hopefully tidied up, with a large clean linen napkin and a glass of mineral water. Eat your lunch peacefully, without rushing.

After the asparagus and prosciutto and most of the toast and egg were gone, I found myself chasing tiny crisp crumbs around the plate with my knife, carefully scooping them up against the blade and then dipping the tip into the truffle butter. Some of the large grains of sea salt caught in the buttery crumbs adding mineral crunch and tang.  Then of course there were the traces of molten yolk that got scooped up too. I licked the end of knife. That was such an excellent lunch.