Treats Week: Salted Toffee

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I know: after overindulging during the holidays, the last thing you want to think about is highly caloric treats.   January is time for moderation and abstinence.

HA.

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We all of us know that this is complete hooey.

Even Gren knows it’s bull pucky.  And he’s a DOG.

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January, and its evil-yet-slightly-shorter twin, February, are both miserable.  Have you looked outside recently?  Blech.  Don’t come to Canada in January or February.  If you do I don’t think you’ll stay long.

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How do we survive this gray misery?  SUGAR.  And lots of it.  Personally, I need the calories to wade through waist-deep snow while my dolphin-corgi hybrid takes his evening constitutional.

So this week I will be featuring three easy treats that are each decadent in their own ways.  These will help you get through the worst of the winter.  And if you have the fortitude to resist them, then keep the recipes on hand for the next time the indulgences of the holidays roll around.

Today we’re going to make ourselves some glorious salted toffee.

Start by buttering a 10″ x 15″ rimmed baking sheet. Set that aside.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and plop 2 cups pecan halves (or pecan pieces) on a baking sheet. Not the buttered one. You’ll notice here I am using hazelnuts. I was out of pecans. But pretend they’re pecans. Stick those in the oven and toast them, stirring once or twice, for about 8-10 minutes.

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Allow them to cool completely and then chop them roughly (saves you effort if you use pecan pieces instead).  Chop half of those up to fine little pieces, and set both the roughly chopped and finely chopped pecans aside.

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In a large saucepan (because remember, sugar expands quite a bit when it boils), mix together 3 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 cup water.

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Heat on medium until the butter is all melted, then increase the heat to medium-high and, stirring occasionally, let that mixture come up to 310°F on a candy thermometer.

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Should take about 20 minutes or so.

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Remove from the heat and carefully stir in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (be careful, this is where it gets fizzy) and the finely chopped half of your pecans.

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Carefully pour your hot toffee into a rimmed baking sheet and let it cool until it’s fully set, about 30 minutes.

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If you want your toffee pieces to come out even, you can score the toffee with a sharp knife after about 10 minutes of setting.  Make sure to wipe off your knife with warm water after each slice for easier cutting.

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While that’s cooling, chop up 12 ounces of chocolate (the darker the better) and melt it over a double boiler or heat safe bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water.

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Remove that from the heat and allow to cool a little bit (so it’s not molten) before pouring it over your set toffee. Smooth the chocolate down with a knife or offset spatula (honestly, it’s a handy item you won’t use often but when you use it, it will rock your cooking experience). Sprinkle the chocolate with your roughly chopped pecans and let it sit for about 20 minutes, until the chocolate has cooled but is still in a squishy state.

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Then sprinkle THAT with about 2 teaspoons fleur de sel (or coarse sea salt, if that’s what you’ve got).

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Chill the pan for about an hour, until it’s all set and lovely, then twist the pan to release the toffee and cut or break into pieces.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks or in the fridge for about a month.

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German Chocolate Cake

For my dad’s birthday back in November, he requested chocolate, and we settled on German chocolate cake for the big celebration.  German chocolate cake is not German, despite the name.  Emerging out of the heart of America in the 1950s, the recipe was actually named after Samuel German, founder of the Bakers Chocolate company.  And of course I have borrowed the recipe from my favourite American in Paris, David Lebovitz.  This cake has a few more extra steps than you’re probably used to (unless you do stuff like this all the time, in which case I bow down to you), so be prepared to devote quite a bit of time to it.  Hopefully yours will turn out a bit better than mine did.

The Cake

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Butter two 9″ round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.  I didn’t have my handy-dandy kitchen compass (it’s still in Newfoundland) so I had to wing it.

In a double boiler or in your microwave, melt together 2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, with 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, also chopped, and 6 tablespoons water.  Set that aside and let it cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 1 cup room temperature butter with 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar until fluffy, about five minutes.

Separate 4 eggs into two small bowls (one for the whites, one for the yolks, natch).  Beat your melted chocolate into your butter, and add your 4 egg yolks, one at a time.

In a measuring cup, sift together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda.

Mix in half the dry ingredients into the creamed butter.

Add 1 cup buttermilk and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

***TIPS AND TRICKS INTERRUPTION***

If you don’t have buttermilk you can make an easy substitution here: plop a tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice (I used lemon here) into a measuring cup.

Top it up with milk to equal 1 cup.

Allow it to sit for about five minutes to curdle and you’re all set.

***END INTERRUPTION ***

Add in the rest of the dry ingredients and mix.

In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the 4 egg whites until they are at the soft peak stage. 

Beat in 1/4 cup granulated sugar and keep going until you get stiff peaks.

Fold in your egg white mixture until there’s no trace of it visible.

Divide your batter into the two prepared pans and bake for about 45 minutes, until your toothpick test comes out clean.

Place the pans on racks to cool completely.

While your cakes are cooking and cooling, you can make the coconut pecan custard filling, the rum syrup, and the chocolate icing.  Mmm!

The Filling

If the oven is free, or if you had the foresight to do this ahead of time, spread 1 cup finely chopped pecans on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and toast, turning halfway through, for 10 minutes in your oven at about 400°F.  Do the same with 1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut.  Allow them to cool.

In a medium saucepan, mix together 1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream), 1 cup granulated sugar, and 3 large egg yolks.

Cut 3 oz room temperature butter (that’s 6 tablespoons) into small pieces and place them in a bowl with the cooled coconut and pecans.  Okay, so my pieces aren’t that small.  Sue me.

Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom, until the custard thickens and coats the back of your spoon.

Pour the hot custard immediately into the coconut and pecan mixture and stir until the butter is melted.  Cool to room temperature.

The Syrup

In a small saucepan heat together 1 cup water and 3/4 cup granulated sugar until the sugar has completely melted and the liquid is clear.

Remove the pan from the heat and add in 2 tablespoons dark rum.  I of course used Screech.

The Icing

Chop up 8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and plop it in a bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons light corn syrup and 3 tablespoons butter. [Ali’s note: I found that using corn syrup in this particular ganache made my icing runny and hard to apply.  I would probably not use it next time.]

In a small saucepan heat 1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream) until it just begins to boil.  Pour that sucker over the chocolate and let it stand for a minute.

Stir until totally smooth and let sit until it’s room temperature.

Cake Construction

Ease your cooled cakes out of the pans and peel off the parchment paper.  Using a serrated knife (like a bread knife) cut both cake layers in half horizontally. 

I also cut off the tops of my cakes to make them more level.  Lots of bubbles in this here cake.

Set the first cake layer on a cake plate.  Brush well with your rum syrup.  Don’t be shy — there’s plenty.

Spread 3/4 cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges.

Plop another cake layer on top, and then repeat the syrup and filling process, even on the top.

Use your chocolate icing all up the sides of the cake.  This will seal in all the moisture.  I tried to do the decorative piping of icing around the edges of the top, but as I said, my icing was too runny, so I ended up just dribbling it everywhere.  Make sure you use all of it, no matter what happens to its consistency.

I chilled the cake to set the icing.  If your icing is normal, then you won’t need to worry.

Serve and enjoy!