Sweet and Salty Cake: The Anti-Diet Cake

January. Month of new resolutions, new beginnings, and official diet month.

Well screw that! Move over diets, I’m giving you three layers of fudgy chocolate cake, each smothered with a layer of salted caramel and a second layer of whipped caramel ganache frosting. Sugar, butter, cream, chocolate. This is the anti-diet cake. If you’re determined, then wait until February to make it. But then again, you could just have a slice instead of lunch, or give up entirely on that diet… Come on, I know you want to.

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The salted caramel and sprinkling of sea salt is a perfect match to the rich chocolate, and it works beautifully. Try it. If the recipe looks like a little much to tackle all at once, I suggest making the salted caramel and the chocolate layers on one day and doing the frosting and assemebling on another day. You can easily freeze the cake layers and store the salted caramel in the fridge in an airtight container.

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On a side note: Thanks to all the new people who have stopped by Sugar Cubed recently! It’s nice to know I’m not just talking to myself!  Will you be breaking you January diets?

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Sweet and Salty Cake

Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

For the classic chocolate cake layers

¾ cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ¼ cups hot water
2/3 cup sour cream
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup vegetable shortening (or margarine)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

For the salted caramel

½ cup heavy cream*
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup**
¼ cup sour cream

For the whipped caramel ganache frosting

450g dark chocolate (60-70% cacao), chopped
1 ½ cups heavy cream*
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup**
2 cups unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into 2cm pieces

To assemble the cake

2 teaspoons fleur de sel, plus more for garnish

If you’re in the UK

*Heavy cream = double cream
**Light corn syrup = golden syrup

Make the classic chocolate layers

Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Butter and flour three 8-inch (20cm) round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder, hot water, and sour cream and set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and the shortening on medium speed until ribbonlike, about 5 minutes.  Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and mix again for 30 seconds.

Add the flour mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Divide the batter among the prepared plans and smooth the tops. Bake for 35 minutes to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto a wire rack, remove pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

Make the salted caramel

In a small saucepan, combine the heavy cream and fleur de sel. Bring to a simmer over very low heat until the salt is dissolved.

Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the cream mixture so it doesn’t burn, in a medium saucepan combine ¼ cup water, the sugar, and corn syrup, stirring them together carefully so you don’t splash the sides of the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until a candy thermometer reads 350°F (176°C), or until the mixture is dark amber in colour, 6-8 minutes. Be careful not to burn the caramel, as I did this the first time round! Remove from the heat and let cool for 1 minute.

Add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Whisk in the sour cream. Let the caramel cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the cake.

Make the whipped caramel ganache frosting

Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over very low heat.

Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the cream mixture so it doesn’t burn, in a medium saucepan combine ¼ cup water, the sugar, and corn syrup, stirring them together carefully so you don’t splash the sides of the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until a candy thermometer reads 350°F (176°C), or until the mixture is dark amber in colour, 6-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 1 minute.

Add the cream to the caramel and stir to combine. Stir slowly for 2 minutes, then pour the caramel over the chocolate. Let the caramel and chocolate sit for 1 minute, then, starting in the centre of the bowl, and working your way out to the edges, slowly stir the chocolate and caramel mixture in a circle until the chocolate is completely melted. Let the mixture cool.

Using an electric whisk or mixer, beat on low speed until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Increase the speed to medium-high and gradually add the butter, beating until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and beat on high until the mixture is fluffy.

Assemble the cake

Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Spread ¼ cup of the caramel over the top. Let the caramel soak into the cake, then spread ¾ cup of the ganache frosting over the caramel. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel over the frosting, then top with the second cake layer. Spread with caramel, then frosting, and sprinkle with fleur de sel. Then top with the third layer. Spread with caramel. Crumb coat the cake (i.e. cover the whole cake with a very thin layer of ganache) and put the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up the frosting. Frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. Garnish with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.

This cake will keep at room temperature for about 3 days. If your room is not cool, keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. Remove the cake from the fridge and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.

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Carrot Cake w/ Cinnamon Mascarpone Icing

I feel like I’m having a quarter-life crisis. And when you don’t know what to do with your life or where you’re going, what better than a little procrastibaking to stop yourself thinking?

This is my favourite carrot cake recipe. I usually make it without the addition of walnuts and raisins, but I thought I would put them in this time to try it out. All in all I think I prefer this plain without the walnuts and the raisins, but I’m generally not a fan of nuts in cakes. This cake is REALLY moist, I think it’s the addition of apple sauce. The most important thing is to finely grate the carrots to get an even and smooth texture which is more cakey than muffiny (does that make sense?).

This icing is the only cream cheese icing I will eat and not scrape off and leave to one side, it’s really light and not overly sweet!

Carrot Cake

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar this time)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup apple sauce
4 eggs, room temperature
3 cups finely grated carrots (about 6 medium carrots)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts (optional)
3/4 cups raisins (optional)

Cinnamon Mascarpone Icing

100g mascarpone (at room temperature)
200g full-fat cream cheese (at room temperature)
100g icing sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 160°C

Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with baking paper.
Finely grate the carrots.
Place the walnuts in a frying pan and lightly toast on medium heat until fragrant and coloured but not burnt (about 5 minutes). Set aside and leave to cool.
Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugars, apple sauce, and oil using an electric whisk. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until just blended. Add the flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in the vanilla and grated carrots.

Set aside 1/4 cup of walnuts. Finely chop the rest and add, along with the raisins.

Divide the batter equally between the two prepared pans. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Cool cakes in the pans for about 10 minutes, then turn onto cooling racks, peel the baking paper off, and cool completely before icing (MAKE SURE you cool completely before icing, I was in a hurry and the icing started melting as I iced the cake!). You can make the icing as the cakes cool.

Cinnamon Mascarpone Icing

Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl and whisk with an electric whisk for about 5 minutes, until smooth. Ice the top of one layer, place the second layer on top and ice the top and sides. Decorate with the walnut crunch (recipe below).

Walnut Crunch Decoration

Melt 3 tablespoons of sugar in a small non-stick saucepan. When the sugar has turned a dark amber colour, remove from heat and add the 1/4 cup of reserved walnuts. Stir to coat the walnuts, then tip everything onto a sheet of baking paper and leave to cool (the caramel will harden). Once cooled, roughly chop into a crumbly texture and use to decorate your cake. Adds a really nice crunch to it and is also delicious on it’s own if you leave the walnuts whole!

Mini Lemon Cupcakes

Who knows why but I decided to make lemon curd on a Saturday night. Off I went to buy some lemons, passing students already at the kebab shop, home a little earlier than planned after overdoing it on Halloween weekend. Everyone at the grocery store was buying booze. I got:

3 lemons (1/2 cup lemon juice)
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1/4 cup butter
a pinch of salt

This was my first time making lemon curd, and it was surprisingly easy. Start by setting a pan full of water over medium heat and bring the water to a good simmer. Squeeze the juice out of the lemons. Then whisk the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a heat proof bowl that will fit over your pan of simmering water (this is a bain marie). Once you have whisked everything together, cube the butter and throw it in with the mixture. Put your bowl over the simmering water and whisk constantly until the butter melts and the mixture thickens. This will take around 10 minutes of constant whisking! If you lift some mixture up with the whisk and it holds some of its shape when it falls back into the pan it, you’re done!

The result should be smooth, you don’t want scrambled egg in there! You can press the curd through a wire strainer to get rid of any lumps that may have formed (I didn’t do this). Store in an air tight container in the fridge for up to one week.

So after the lemon curd inspiration I needed to use it on something. It’s actually just great on its own by the spoonful… but I remembered some cute mini silicone cupcake holders I had never used before and had been meaning to try out. I used my favourite vanilla cupcake recipe from Magnolia Bakery and piped some lemon curd on each mini cupcake. If I’m honest I think I prefer normal sized cupcakes; for some reason I found it hard to get an even bake on these mini ones and they also seem to dry out quite quickly. But they’re super cute! I’d recommend eating them on the day you bake them.

Vanilla Cupcakes (adapted from Magnolia Bakery’s Vanilla Cupcakes)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 medium eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 160°C.

Butter 12 silicone mini cupcake holders (or line a mini muffin tin or normal muffin tin with cupcake holders).

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, beat the butter until pale and smooth. Add the sugar and beat for 3 minutes until fluffly. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat. Spoon batter into prepared cupcake holders, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a cake tester or sharp knife inserted into the centre of the cupcake comes out clean.

Leave the cupcakes to cool. Pipe a dollop of lemon curd on to each cupcake and serve!

Lemon & Sage Polenta Cake

It turns out I can’t bargain. There must be a bargaining gene of some sort and I most certainly don’t have it. Most people in Cambridge cycle, and, well, when in Rome…

So I’ve decided to buy a bike. I had a day off today and went scouring the second hand bike shops around here. I wanted to get one of those retro Dutch-style bikes with a basket and a comfy seat, but apparently those are in high demand and expensive. I know nothing about bikes, and when I finally found something I liked I tried to bargain with the guy selling it. It was a complete failed attempt, ending up in me leaving, then coming back, then coming back again and still not managing to get the price down. It was all very awkward. I don’t think bargaining is something you can learn. You either have it in you or you don’t. And I don’t. I hope the same can’t be said for photography, as my crappy iPhone attempt at capturing this cake needs a lot of improvement.

Anyway, onto the recipe. Anyone having spent some time in Switzerland will be familiar with Ricola, a Swiss cough drop made of herbs. It seems to me that every Swiss above 50 carries a pack of these around. I remember eating these as sweets. Their herbal flavour is actually quite refreshing, and brings back memories of summer hiking trips in the Alps. I wanted to capture this ‘herbal freshness’ in a loaf cake, and also wanted to experiment with using polenta in a cake, which I had never done before. I was actually really happy with the result. It definitely has that herbal tone to it coming from the sage, but it’s not overpowering. Infusing the butter with sage by browning it really helps with this I think. The polenta gives it a moist crumb which I like, and overall it feels like a simple, rustic cake with a fresh ♥.

Lemon and Sage Polenta Cake

½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 ¼ cup ground almonds
½ cup polenta
¼ cup flour
3 medium eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
Juice and zest of 2 large unwaxed lemons
A pinch of salt
15 sage leaves

Make the sage brown butter: Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. When melted and beginning to bubble, add 6-7 sage leaves. Leave to bubble until the butter begins to brown and smell nutty. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Preheat oven to 160°C
Butter a medium-sized loaf pan. Place sage leaves along the walls of the pan with the top side facing the cake pan. If you have trouble making them stay flat against the pan, spread a small amount of butter on the leaves to help them stick to the pan.
Combine the ground almonds, polenta, flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
Remove the sage leaves from the brown butter and discard (or eat, they’re really crispy and tasty). In a large bowl and using an electric mixer, beat the brown butter and the sugar together for 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla and blend. Fold in the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until just combined (do not over mix!). Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for one hour, or until a skewer or a sharp knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan and leaving to cool completely.