This week's adventure for Tuesdays with Dorie was the Caramel-Peanut-Topped Brownie Cake, chosen by Tammy of Wee Treats by Tammy. What a delicious choice!
First, I have to say that I don't share Dorie's fondness for chocolate and peanuts together. Separately, great! Together, not so much. I used pecans instead. Chocolate, caramel, pecans -- it's a Turtle cake!
For those who've never seen one, a Turtle candy is made of a disk of caramel coated with chocolate, with pecan halves sticking out at the edges. They really do look like a turtle. I loved Turtle candies in my youth and later fell head-over-heels for Turtle sundaes at Michael's Frozen Custard. No doubt they have contributed to my "well-padded" figure.
I made half the recipe for the brownie cake and baked it in a 6-inch round springform pan. Unfortunately, I didn't check on it soon enough. After 35 minutes in the oven, it was well-done in the center and ended up rather dry.
The edges of the cake rose enthusiastically, but the center hardly rose at all. I ended up with a "crater cake." If it had just been a little bit of a crater, I might have gone ahead with it, but with this deep crater I decided to cut off the top of the cake. (The top got crumbled into bits and mixed with extra caramel and pecans. It's now waiting to get mixed into some vanilla ice cream. No wasting of chocolate in this house!)
I toasted the pecans on a pan in the oven and sprinkled on some salt. Drat! The salt didn't stick, so I tossed the warm pecans with just a little bit of softened butter. Hey, that worked! The melted butter coated the pecans and the salt stuck just fine! I made a full 1 cup of pecans because, hey, we can always find a use for some extra pecans around here! Good thing I did, because I ended up putting 3/4 of a cup of them onto my half-sized cake. Let's hear it for more pecans!
On to the scary part -- making caramel. I've never made caramel before. I've made a sugar syrup for an Italian meringue and it didn't turn out so well -- all grainy and crystallized. I decided to make the whole caramel recipe, since Dorie said it was easier that way. I had everything ready in advance -- including a bowl of cold water and an ice pack from the freezer in case of burns. (Very handy things, those flexible ice packs. I always keep a few standing by in the freezer, just in case...and the little plastic "ice cube" thingies are great for very small burns. I don't ever put them in my drinks, though -- something about having little plastic thingies in my iced drink just freaks me out.)
My caramel took a while to turn color. I didn't time it, but it must have been at least 15 minutes, maybe 20. Next time I think I will turn the heat up more at the beginning, then reduce it when the caramel is starting to turn color. The "white plate" test was very helpful -- without it, I would have pulled the caramel off the heat long before it was really done. I think I let it go just a bit too long -- it was pretty dark. I followed Dorie's advice to wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water and then to NOT STIR. It worked! No crystallized, grainy sugar this time!
Oh, what a lovely cake it turned out to be! Small pieces were more than enough. Rich, chocolatey, gooey, sweet, crunchy -- wow.
Conclusion: the topping was heavenly. Gooey-but-not-too-gooey caramel, toasted pecans, salt (it really does go well with caramel). The cake could have been better. Part of that was my fault for overbaking it. Even allowing for that, we both agreed we wanted a denser, fudgier, more brownie-like cake. Not completely fudgy -- that would be too much -- but more. Oh, and we wanted more chocolate. OK, we're chocolate fiends. We admit it.
I can see myself making this cake again, but with a different recipe for the bottom layer. (In fact, maybe I'd better. I need to use up the extra caramel.) I'm so happy about my first caramel-making!
If you want the recipe for this cake, hop on over to Tammy's blog, or better yet, go out and buy the book! And if you want to join in on our weekly baking adventures, better hurry! Membership in TWD is closing at the end of October.