caramel apple cake

the weather is a little crazy.  yesterday it was in the 50’s in the morning and by early evening, it was raining, sleeting and snowing all at once.  it changed over to snow, we got our annual dusting and the temperature dropped like a rock!  it is 9 degrees outside right now…

before all of this crazy weather started, a few of my fellow master gardeners gathered to begin planning our big urban gardening festival.  a caramel apple cake seemed like the perfect choice for a meeting.

a quickly mixed and spicy cake that is chock full of chunky apples and pecans.  it is one of my favorite cakes to bake and share with friends; it makes regular appearances at meetings and in the garden.

the recipe has been posted before and this is a link to it.  for this one, i used pecans rather than walnuts and that bag of arkansas black apples in my fridge came in handy; i used two of them since they were so large.  for the caramel drizzle, use 1 cup of your favorite caramel sauce-preferably homemade.

to decorate the cake, allow the cake to cool about 15 minutes in the pan.  invert the cake onto a rack and place the rack over a sheet pan to catch the drips.  using a spoon, carefully drizzle half of the caramel over the warm cake.  let the cake cool completely then drizzle the remaining caramel over the cake.  if a lot runs off and collects in the pan, scoop it up and drizzle it again.  the cooler the cake and the caramel, the less likely it is to run off.  just make sure it is pourable or it will form thick globs on the cake-not very attractive, trust me on this.

arkansas black apples get their name from the deep red color of the skin.  it is such a dark red that it will almost look black at a quick glance.  the flavor is a bit floral in comparison to other apples and it they are wonderful for pies and sauce and just as tasty sliced up and eaten raw.  it is a true southern apple and we have a small tree in our yard and maybe this year we will get a few before the squirrels eat them all.

ice box cake with homemade wafers and caramel cream

some time ago, while walking through midtown manhattan with a friend, we passed by magnolia bakery.  in the front window of the shop, a cake decorator was assembling icebox cakes, something they are famous for.  she made it look so easy.  i wanted to make one at home to take to a pot luck dinner.  honestly, i was too lazy to go to the store(s) to look for the chocolate wafers; i made my own.

the recipe i used is from my second book and is the cookie used to make chocolate short stacks, a series of cookies and chocolate whipped cream that is stacked and layered with raspberries.  the cookies are easy to make, i made mine in the food processor.

when i roll out cookies, i use wooden dowels to keep the dough thickness consistent.

they bake up crispy but that changes when they sit with the cream.

to make the cream part, i used some homemade caramel sauce and whipped cream.  the tough part is not to over whip it but to leave it a little glossy so that it spreads smoothly.  also important, use a 40% cream that is not ultra pasteurized since that will have the best texture.

all dressed up and ready to go.  another hint, work quickly, whipped cream does not like to sit out on a hot summer day-it gets a rough texture, just look at the top of the cake.  not a problem for the group i served it to, all i got back was a dirty plate…

caramel icebox cake
serves about 12-16
chocolate wafers
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 sticks (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
coarse sugar
preheat the oven to 350 F. line 3-4 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
place the flour, confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend. sprinkle the butter cubes over the mixture and pulse to cut it in. add the vanilla and process just until a smooth dough forms.  add a teaspoon or two of water if the dough does not seem moist-it should be soft and pliable but not crumbly.
remove the dough from the machine and form into 2 thick disks. on a lightly-floured surface, roll out each disk about 3/8 inch thick. using a 2 1/2-inch round cutter, cut out at least 60 circles. rework the scraps once or twice and roll out a couple extra. place the wafers about 1 inch apart on the prepared pans. prick them a few times with a fork and sprinkle the tops with the coarse sugar.
bake for about 12 minutes, rotating the pans after 6 minutes, until crisp. let set on the sheet for 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before using.

caramel cream
4 cups heavy whipping cream, preferably 40% fat and NOT ultrapasteurized
1/2 cup good quality caramel sauce or dulce de leche

mix the ingredients in a bowl and whisk lightly to melt the caramel.  on medium speed, whip until almost stiff peaks form, it should be a little glossy.  assemble the cake and allow it to sit for at least 4 hours before serving.

to assemble the cake
make a ring of 6 cookies on a serving plate, place one in the center.  dollop about 1/2 cup of the cream on top of the ring and carefully spread it out to the edge of the cake but do not let it go over the side.  in the spaces between the cookies, position another ring of cookies around the layer of cream and also place one in the center.  again, top the layer with a 1/2 cup dollop of cream and spread it to the edge.  repeat this with the remaining cookies, alternating the placement of the cookies so that each layer is placed in the spaces between the cookies of the previous layer, you should have 9 cookie layers.  use the remaining cream to make a generous layer on top.  decorate with a couple crumbled cookies or some chocolate shavings.  refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

ringing in the new year with a chocolate mousse pie, #5 of 52

this last week has been a bit of a blur. time flew and before i knew it, it was new year’s day. we have had a bunch of rain-something not in short supply here and the weather has made it a bit gloomy. darry decided to make a nice dinner for the girls and me to celebrate the new year. for dessert, i made a chocolate mousse pie in a coconut crust with a drunken banana caramel sauce. just what we needed to warm up the cold and gloomy day.
chocolate mousse pie in a coconut crust with a drunken banana caramel sauce-serves 10
as always, i pulled out the biggin-my favorite rolling pin and i found my marbles. the dough was made in the food processor, pressed into a thick disk and chilled for a few hours. when it was time to roll it out, i let it come to room temp and lined a glass pie dish-this one is a big pyrex dish and it is deeper than most. the crust is allowed to rest in the fridge for an hour to minimize shrinkage when baked. the crust must be completely baked since the pie filling is a mousse and will not be baked.
coconut crust-1 (9-10 inch) pie crust
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
3-4 tablespoons coconut milk (unsweetened)
place the flour, powdered sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a food processor. pulse a few times to combine. sprinkle the butter cubes over the mixture and pulse until it resembles coarse meal. add 3 tablespoons of coconut milk and pulse until the mixture comes together and forms a soft dough-only add the extra tablespoon of coconut milk if it seems dry and does not come together. form the dough into a disk and chill it for a few hours or overnight. can also be made in advance and frozen for up to a month. allow the dough to come to room temp before rolling out
preheat the oven to 350. roll out the crust, carefully transfer to a pie plate and flute the edges if desired. line the crust with coffee filters or parchment paper and fill with weights. bake until lightly browned around the edges and the bottom (on the inside of the shell) is no longer shiny. remove the weights and prick the bottom a few times, return to the oven and allow the bottom to bake a little longer.
chocolate mousse pie filling
to make the mousse filling, plan on at least 2 hours. the base for the filling must cool before the whipped cream can be added. it is possible to make the filling base and while it cools, tackle the task of rolling and baking the crust.
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 package unflavored gelatin
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups half and half
1 cup+ 2 tablespoons sugar
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 cups heavy cream
have a heat proof bowl with a mesh strainer over it handy-you will need it for the custard. place the rum in a microwavable dish and sprinkle the gelatin over it, set aside. place the egg yolks and cornstarch in a heat proof bowl and add a small amount of half and half. whisk until all of the cornstarch is dissolved. pour the remaining half and half and 1 cup of the sugar into a sauce pot. place over medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. bring to a gentle boil and temper the yolks by pouring a small amount of the hot half and half into the yolks while you whisk them-you must whisk them or you will scramble them. continue whisking the mixture as you pour half of the hot mixture into the yolks. place the remaining hot half and half back onto the stove at medium heat and begin whisking the milk. while you whisk the half and half, pour the tempered yolks into the pot. continue whisking the custard in the pot until it comes to a boil. allow it to boil gently for a minute to cook the starch. place the gelatin mixture in the microwave and on the lowest setting, heat the mixture to bring it to a liquid state in 10-15 second intervals. add the chocolate to the hot custard and whisk until it is melted. add the liquid gelatin and stir to combine. pour the custard base through the strainer into the heat proof dish. press plastic wrap to the surface(to prevent a skin from forming) and place in the fridge. do not allow the mixture to get completely chilled or the gelatin will set, you just want it to get cooled enough to add the whipped cream without melting it. it will take a while and you may have to stir it to keep it from setting around the edges.
when the custard base has cooled, beat 1 cup of heavy cream until almost stiff and gently fold it into the base. place the base into the cooled pie crust and smooth out the top. beat the remaining cup of heavy cream with the 2 tablespoons of sugar until stiff and spread over the chocolate mousse in the pie dish. chill the pie while you make the drunken banana caramel sauce.
drunken banana caramel sauce, makes about 1-1/4 cups
use a ripe banana for the most flavor-one that is nice and spotted and very fragrant. caramel is one of those recipes that requires attention-do not walk away or allow yourself to become distracted while the sugar cooks or you could end up with lots of smoke and a burned pot to clean!
1/4 cup banana puree-use a blender, food processor or a food mill to get a smooth puree
1/4 cup half and half
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1″ piece of a vanilla bean pod (use a piece that has been scraped out if you have it)
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons dark rum
place the banana puree, half and half, butter, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick in a small sauce pan over very low heat to melt the butter and infuse the flavors. in a separate pot with high sides, place the sugar, water and corn syrup. over medium heat, stir to dissolve the sugar. when it is dissolved, use a brush dipped in water to wash the sugar crystals from the sides of the pot-a crucial step to prevent the mixture from crystallizing. allow the sugar to boil until it begins to caramelize. when it starts to color, gently swirl the pan to keep it evenly colored. allow it to become a nice amber color. remove from the heat and carefully pour in the banana mixture. it will foam violently so use caution when doing this and combine the two mixtures slowly. return the pot to the stove over low heat and whisk to melt any caramel that may have settled to the bottom-2-3 minutes. remove from the heat and add the rum, whisk to combine and pour the mixture into a heat proof bowl. remove the vanilla bean pod and the cinnamon stick and allow the mixture to cool. serving it hot will melt the whipped cream.
to serve, place slices of the pie on plates and drizzle with the caramel. to anyone that cares to bake along, send me photos and i will post them. email me at and your photos will be added to the next entry.

i’m burning for you…

everybody has a list of favorite things. mine includes caramel, thick and gooey caramel, and it makes no difference if it is enrobed in chocolate or drizzled over ice cream. it’s caramel and i like it. there are several desserts in this book that use caramel sauce so i decided to post the how to for those of you who might want to try it out.
good caramel sauce has a consistency that is viscous enough to coat a spoon but not clump up. it should swirl around on a plate with ease and not set immediately. it should also have some additional flavors such as cinnamon, vanilla and booze (imagine that…).
drunken caramel-the slide show
put your cream on to heat up with the butter, cinnamon and vanilla bean
set the sugar up to burn with the corn syrup (for stability) and water (to prevent scorching before all of the sugar is dissolved)
slowly but surely, the color will change from crystal clear to a light amber

and get darker

and darker

and darker still…
it will be obvious that the caramel is near 350 degrees because it will be less bubbly

and when it is finally to the proper temperature, pull it off the heat!

add your warmed cream mixture slowly, it will foam up and splatter a lot so be careful and use a whip with a long handle!
add all of the cream slowly and whisk to melt the caramel and combine the ingredients
strain the mixture to remove the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean
now it’s party time-get the caramel drunk so you can take advantage of it…