Sunday, December 6, 2009

Turtle Cake

My father-in-law and sister-in-law have birthdays about a week apart. For their joint birthday party, they asked me for a turtle (chocolate, caramel, and pecan) cake. This is what I came up with.

Turtle Cake
cake and ganache recipes adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York, 2005.
caramel sauce recipe adapted from Simply Recipes.

For the cake:
2 1/2 C. flour
1 1/4 C. dark cocoa
2 1/2 C. sugar
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. salt
2 whole eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/4 C. milk
1/2 C. plus 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 C. warm water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 round baking pans however you like. I like to use Pam for Baking.

In a bowl, mix together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt with a whisk. You could use a sifter, but I don't have one of those, so I use a whisk.

Dry ingredients.

Add the eggs and yolk, milk, oil, vanilla extract, and warm water. Use a rubber or silicone spatula to mix all of the ingredients together, paying special attention to mixing the dry ingredients at the bottom. Martha says to use a mixer for this, but I prefer not to use my mixer unless I absolutely have to, since I have the aluminum attachment that you're not supposed to put in the dishwasher (though mine have been on a few dishwasher trips, I must admit), and baking creates enough dishes to handwash as it is.

Dry ingredients, um, moistened. I think I forgot to take pictures of the batter all mixed up.

Divide batter between the two cake pans. Be sure to reserve enough batter in the mixing bowl to satisfy your husband;s craving for chocolate cake batter. Okay, that second part isn't necessary for everyone, but it's practically the law in our home.

Bake until a cake tester comes out with just a few crumbs. Martha says it'll take about 45 minutes, but in our current oven, it only takes 30. Keep an eye on it to make sure your cake doesn't dry out, is all I'm saying.

Cool cakes in pans set on wire racks for about 20 minutes, then invert the cakes directly onto the racks to finish cooling.

For the caramel filling:
1/2 C. water
1 C. sugar
6 Tbsp. butter
1/2 C. cream
chopped pecans

Measure cream and butter and set near your stove. The caramel-making process moves very quickly, and you'll want both of these at hand.

Pour water and sugar into a saucepan that holds at least 2 or 3 quarts. The mixture foams up, and the higher sides will prevent the very very hot mixture from pouring over onto your cooking surface and/or skin.

Heat water and sugar over medium to medium-high heat. Stir mixture with a whisk or wooden spoon as it heats. Once the mixture starts boiling, STOP stirring. Keep an eye on your saucepan-- it will take a little while for all of the water to cook off, but once it does, you'll want to make sure you don't burn the sugar.

Boiling water and sugar. Pretty, no?

Once the sugar has melted and has turned a rich amber color, add the butter and whisk until all of the butter has melted.

Remove the pan from the heat. Wait 3 seconds, and then pour the cream in a slow, steady stream while whisking it into the sugar mixture.

Continue whisking until the caramel is smooth. Let it cool in the pan for a while before pouring it into another vessel. I used my Pyrex measuring cup because the pouring spout would make it easy to top the bottom cake layer and so that I could reheat it in the microwave if needed.

Warm caramel sauce.

For the ganache:
2 C. heavy cream
1 lb. semi-sweet or other dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Pour the cream into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Add the chocolate, and turn off the heat. Swirl the pan a little to make sure that the chocolate gets covered up by warm, delicious cream. Let the cream and chocolate rest for about 5 minutes.

I know my stovetop looks filthy here. Shut up-- it was a long night of cake-making, okay?

Whisk the mixture slowly until all of the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is a consistent color and smooth texture.

 Almost ready...

That's better.

Pour the ganache into a bowl to cool and thicken.

Does this remind you of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?

*****Now, let's assemble this bad boy.*****

Once the cakes have cooled, use a serrated knife to trim off their rounded tops. I'm not great at trimming my cakes, as you can see, but I do think there is a dramatic improvement from the first layer I trimmed to the second one.

It's a little difficult to see here, but I did a hatchet job on that bottom cake.

Save your cake tops! I have a great, super easy recipe to make use of them (and your leftover ganache) that I will have to post at a later date. Anyway, freeze the leftover cake-- there's no reason to waste it!

Set the bottom layer on a wire rack set inside a jelly roll pan. Pour caramel all over that sucker. I was impatient and poured mine while the caramel was still warm, but I think it might work better to pour half of it while still warm (so that it soaks into the cake) and let the other half cool and thicken and then spread it over later.

There are few things more appealing than caramel dripping off a chocolate cake.

Top the caramel with chopped pecans.


Set the second layer on top of the bottom layer, cut side down.

Use a spoon to pour ganache over the top of the cake, making sure that the sides of the top layer get covered. Then, using the bowl or a spouted measuring cup, pour more ganache over the top of the cake, making sure that the sides are completely covered. You can use the spoon to spot-treat any bits that you miss.

This cake looks like it wants to say something to you. It just needs a pair of googly eyes, doesn't it?


Top with even more chopped pecans.

Refrigerate the entire thing, cake, wire rack, and jelly roll pan for 30 minutes.

Transfer cake onto a cake plate, or in my case, a not-very-pretty cake transporter. I used a fish spatula, a regular spatula, and my husband's help to accomplish this without dropping the cake. I don't know how the pros do it, but I'm sure they have a better system.


The cake carrier makes it look a little goofy, though.

Mmm. That's better.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cranberry Pecan Muffins

Sorry I've been away for so long. I've had a couple of posts sitting in blogger, but was too lazy (I mean, um busy) to get the photos edited and uploaded. Now then, these cranberry muffins are super tasty. Add more or fewer cranberries and nuts according to your taste and dietary restrictions.

Cranberry Pecan Muffins
adapted from Leona Luecking's Cranberry Muffins recipe on

1/2 C. butter, softened
1 C. sugar (or Splenda, whatever you think is best for you)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 C. + sour cream (I'll explain below why you will want to have some extra on hand)
2 C. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground nutmeg (if you don't have nutmeg, you can use whatever spices you think might work. I think 
          I've used various combinations of ground ginger, allspice, and cinamon before.)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 C. chopped fresh or defrosted frozen cranberries
1/2 C. or more chopped pecans (or walnuts, or whatever nuts you have on hand)

2 Tbs. sugar
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. You could do this with your mixer, but since I hate getting my mixer dirty unless I really have to, I just use a fork and mash the two together.

Butter and sugar creamed together. I kind of like to eat a little bit of this bit itself.
Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Fold in sour cream.

It doesn't look like much yet.

In a smaller bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt.

Dry ingredients.

Fold flour mixture into the butter/sugar/egg/vanilla/sour cream mixture just until moistened. Note: this makes a stiff batter, but if yours is not moist enough, add some more sour cream.

Fold in cranberries and pecans.

This is what it should look like. Told you it's a stiff batter.

Fill greased or lined muffin pan with batter. I like to just grease them and not use paper liners-- it's better for the planet and nicer-looking, anyway.

Batter in the pan.

Combine sugar and nutmeg for topping, and sprinkle over muffins.

Hello, pretty.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a cake tester comes out with just a few crumbs.

Mmmm. I made these way back at the end of November. I want more. Now.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I thought I'd kick off this blog with what has become a favorite in my household-- brownies! A classic at bake sales, people love brownies, man. You can eat them with a fork, you can eat them with your hand, kids love them, grownups love them, and let's just admit it, you love them.

This recipe makes a dense, moist brownie with a crunchy top layer.

recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, Clarkson/Potter Publishers, New York, 2005.

1 stick unsalted butter
8 ounces dark chocolate (I like to use Ghirardelli's 60% bars)
1 1/2 C. sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. dark rum (you could, of course, use vanilla)
3/4 C. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

If your chocolate is in bar form, bust it up with your fingers while the chocolate is still in the wrapper. This saves you from having to dirty a cutting board and knife (and from getting chocolate bits all over your counter, if you're like me). It doesn't need to be in teeny-tiny pieces, just do your best.

Put the chocolate and the stick of butter into a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Or use a double boiler, fancypants. I just use the bowl from my mixer. Because it's the only heatproof bowl I have.

My hobo double-boiler. (I know, I know, hobos should be so lucky as to own pots and pans.)

Stir often until the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth.

So dark and smooth and delicious.

Take the bowl off the heat and let cool. I like to put my mixer bowl in its stand so that it has air circulating all the way around it, but you could set it on a wire rack.

Please excuse the clutter-- small apartments call for desperate, uh, clutter.

Once the chocolate mixture has cooled, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Stir the sugar into the chocolate mixture until combined. I added my sugar and eggs in the wrong order, so I don't have any pictures of what that should look like. Mix in your eggs, whisking in only one at a time until combined.

Then, mix in the rum (or vanilla, if you like).

Rum and chocolate. 

Fold in the flour and salt.



Grease your brownie pan in whatever way you prefer. I like to use Pam for Baking, but you could just grease it up with butter, too.

Pour the batter into the pan. If your household is like mine, you will leave a significant amount of batter in the mixing bowl for a certain someone who likes that kind of thing.

It doesn't look like much yet.

Bake for about 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through. You want your cake tester/toothpick to have some soft crumbs on it-- that's when the brownies are juuuuust right. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool. Watch as your loved ones lean in to sniff. Or maybe it's only my loved one who does that. Your brownies might have some cracks. That's okay, mine always do that.


Seriously. He's a sniffer.

  Cut yourself a little slice while it's still warm.


Then add a few scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Even better.

  Then, because you love yourself, add some pecans.


I know that this post is ostensibly about brownies, but here's what we had for dinner: curry joes. Leftover curry (ours is red curry with chicken, corn, cauliflower, and rice) heated up in the microwave and wrapped up in butter lettuce leaves. It's messy, sure, but it's an easy way to do something a little different with last night's curry.