Sunday, January 24, 2010

Turtle Cake: Lessons on Half-Baked Cake and Caramel Sauce

Today was a day of experimentation.  And holy cow—it all worked!!!

First off, I made a roast in a big crockpot, something that I've never done before.  Top round boneless beef whatever was on sale at Pick 'N' Save, so I bought a pound and a half plus for $5.  I came home, rinsed it, patted it VERY dry (thank you, Julia), coated it in coarse sea salt, then heated a skillet to very hot and seared it on both sides with a bit of olive oil.  While it was browning on its first side, I stabbed the meat about 10 times with a paring knife and shoved slivers of a garlic clove into it.  I poured just enough water to cover the bottom of the crockpot, then placed the seared roast, four peeled whole carrots, a quartered onion, and three halved peeled garlic cloves in the pot with a heavy grinding of black pepper. I put the lid on and let it go on low.

Now, for dessert. I wanted chocolate, and, remembering the buckeye cake from Christmas, I wondered if I could make one like it—but as a turtle instead.

So...I started the chocolate cake on the Special Dark Hershey's Cocoa Powder container, but I halved the recipe since I only wanted one 9-inch layer.  While is was mixing, I pulled out the cookbook that I bought Chef Reiton for Christmas: Cooking by James Peterson—and looked up caramel.  Peterson says to forgo the water when making caramel and just melt the sugar over high heat. So I did. It turned out beautifully—until I realized that I wanted to make caramel sauce instead of caramel.  The caramel was immediately hardening, and I wanted a soft caramel to layer on top of the cake.  Amazingly, when I cranked the heat back up under the hard caramel, the sugar remelted and I stirred in cream to create a beautiful sauce.  I was a little afraid that the reheating would burn the sugar, but it didn't.

I let the caramel sauce cool on the stove while I put the cake in the oven, then ran upstairs to do some laundry. When I felt that it was almost time for the cake to be done, I ran back downstairs.  In peeking in the oven, I realized with horror that I had turned the oven OFF when I had turned off the timer for the caramel.  With a groan I pulled the cake (which had the signs of just starting to bake) from the oven, reheated the oven, and with a prayer placed the pan back in to bake.

Twenty-five minutes later, the cake was perfectly done. Phew. I cooled it on the rack then flipped it out of the pan (which took some tapping. I need to do the parchment circle from now on, just to make my life easier.).  As it cooled, I barely warmed the caramel to get rid of the skin that had formed on the top, then poured it onto the center of the cooled cake and spread it to the edges with a thin metal spatula.  I let it set, and in the meantime made the ganache: half a cup of cream boiled, then 4 oz. of Ghiradelli bittersweet chips poured in, rested for five minutes, then stirred until velvety smooth. When the ganache had semi-cooled, I poured it on top of the caramel and smoothed it across the top and down the sides with the metal spatula.  A few minutes later I circled the top with pecan halves and then placed the whole cake in the fridge to set.

Here's a slice half devoured:

A slice of Turtle Cake!

Our dinner was delicious.  I made a batch of garlic-buttermilk mashed potatoes and a green salad to go with the roast and actually concocted a half-decent gravy from the pan juices using the 1 tablespoon fat/1 tablespoon flour/1 cup milk and juices ratio.

I am so amazed at how good the cake was.  It wasn't nearly as rich as the buckeye cake was.  I was especially happy that my mistakes were fixable and that each part combined so well to make such a delicious dessert.  Maybe I'll play around with more "candy" ideas...

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