Join me in celebrating Kim's birthday, won't you? You probably know Kim better as the evil genius behind Cravings of a Lunatic. Each year for her birthday, she asks a fellow blogger to make a birthday cake for her. I am honored that she asked me to be that fellow this year.
Kim also has a birthday giveaway happening on her blog. You can enter to win a $50 Amazon gift card, and the giveaway is open to everyone in the US and Canada. Check the end of this post for a link and enter!
Let me introduce you to Kim's birthday cake, the Turtle Smore Chocolate Cake. First, the cake itself is a version of Hershey's perfectly chocolate chocolate cake. You can find the recipe on the back of any can of Hershey's cocoa powder. For Kim's cake, I added just a hint of coffee extract, increased the salt just a bit, and caramelized half the sugar called for to deepen the chocolate flavor.
The rest was pretty easy. Kim is a turtle fanatic. Caramel, pecans and chocolate are pretty much her mire poix. She will Turtle-ize anything she can get her mitts on: hand pies, French toast, popcorn--you name it. She loves turtles so much that she has a whole category in her recipe index just for turtles!
Here's how I shoved both turtles and smores into her cake. I toasted up some pecans, I made a lovely bittersweet chocolate ganache, and for the caramel part, I made more of a soft butterscotch candy. I went with butterscotch because about a year ago or so, Kim interviewed me for her Burning Down the Kitchen series and as a part of that feature, she made the butterscotch candy that is on my blog. So, butterscotch was appropriate here. In order to give a nod to butterscotch, I added about a tablespoon of molasses to my caramel mixture.
The smores part was really easy: I just frosted the cake with Italian meringue. Because Italian meringue is exactly the same thing as marshmallow fluff, except it is homemade and doesn't contain any weird ingredients. Tada!
All I have to say is I WANT THIS FOR MY BIRTHDAY. --Chuck
Cake was fantastic! Loved all the flavors and textures! Was that a hint of coffee I tasted? Chocolate drizzles and pecans were the cherries on top! Thanks, Jenni...you da best! --Susan
I would say that the Turtle Smores Chocolate Cake was a hit with Susan and Chuck. It's also a hit here at our place. I am really happy with the way this all came together. It's definitely a cake fit for a lunatic, partly because there was a lot of futzing about, what with caramelizing sugar and making sugar syrup and toasting pecans and what not, but it was totally worth it for a very special occasion.
Here's the link to Kim's birthday giveaway post. Please head on over there, wish her a Happy Birthday, let her know that you enjoyed a slice of Turtle Smore Chocolate Cake in honor of her special day, and enter for a chance to win the Amazon gift card!
And if you'd like to make a Turtle Smore Chocolate Cake of your very own, here's how.
You will have leftover ganache and butterscotch. I will give you an idea about what to do with your leftovers in another post. Just you wait!
You really need a scale to make some of the components of this cake. Because my scale switches between ounces and grams, some of my measurements are in ounces, some are in grams and some are in volume measures because I just didn't convert to weights. The Hershey's cake has been perfected using volume measurements, so I don't feel too badly about leaving it alone.
- 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ cup cocoa powder, sifted to remove lumps
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 1¼ cup (10 oz) water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon coffee extract
- ¾ cups pecan halves
- 5 oz heavy cream(150 grams--metric, for Kim!--or ½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons)
- pinch of fine sea salt
- 5 oz semi-sweet chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, or a mixture of the two, finely chopped (150 grams) I used half semi-sweet and half bitter-sweet
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1¼ cup heavy cream
- 2 oz (half a stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup light corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon molasses (optional)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 large egg whites (use 4 if you want a really thick coating of frosting)
- granulated sugar (see instructions for amount)
- ¼ cup water (you don't need to measure this. It's there to help the sugar melt evenly.
- heavy pinch of fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F.
- Prepare three 8" cake pans for baking, either by greasing and flouring or lining the bottoms of the pans with parchment. I only made the cake as a 2-layer cake and kept the third for snacking. You can use all three layers in your cake, but make sure that you make 4 egg whites worth of frosting.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, first amount of sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
- Whisk together the milk, eggs and melted butter.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan much larger than you think you need, stir together the second cup of sugar and ¼ cup of water.
- Bring to a boil and put on the lid. Let boil for 2 minutes.
- Remove the lid and cook the sugar until it is a lovely, dark caramel color. You want it really pretty dark, almost mahogany.
- Once it is the color you want, immediately remove it from the heat and pour in the 1¼ cups of water. It will bubble up furiously. That's okay. Stir until any little hardened bits of caramel have dissolved.
- Stir in the extracts.
- Whisk the milk/egg/butter mixture into the dry mixture. Whisk fairly vigorously for two to three minutes, until the batter is nice and smooth.
- Stir in the still-very-hot caramel water. Mix in well. The batter will be fairly thin.
- Fill the three cake pans with equal amounts of batter, and bake until the tops spring back when touched and a cake tester comes out clean. Shoot for an internal temperature of 200F-205F. This will take about 35 minutes or so, but start checking at 25 minutes to be on the safe side.
- Once done, remove to racks to cool for 10-15 minutes. Turn out of the pans and wrap in plastic wrap. Put the layers in the fridge to chill.
- Evenly toast the nuts in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently but carefully so you don't break them up.
- When the nuts have deepened in color and are fragrant, they're done.
- Spread them out in a single layer on some parchment (or just on a plate) to cool.
- Reserve 24 lovely pecan halves to use as decoration, and then coarsely chop up the rest. You might not use all of the chopped nuts, but worry not. I have an idea for you about how to use them. Or you can just snack on them. Set the nuts aside.
- Place the chopped chocolate in a heat-proof bowl.
- Bring the heavy cream and salt just to a boil.
- Pour the cream evenly over the chocolate, cover with a lid or some plastic wrap for 2 minutes.
- Add the vanilla extract and whisk slowly until you have a rich, thick, glossy ganache. Set aside.
- Heat the cream, butter and salt together to melt the butter. Keep warm over low heat.
- In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan much larger than you think you need, heat the sugar, water, corn syrup and molasses.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, and then put a lid on it and let boil for 2 minutes.
- Remove the lid and cook the sugar mixture until it reaches 275F.
- Pour in the cream and butter mixture. The candy will bubble up alarmingly.
- Stir well and then cook without stirring until the candy reaches 248F.
- Dunk the bottom of the pan of molten candy into cold water until all the bubbling stops.
- Set aside and keep warm over low heat. Don't stir it or it could crystallize.
- Weigh your egg whites and measure out twice their weight in granulated sugar. If your whites weigh 3.5 oz, you'll need 7 oz of sugar. If they weigh 3 oz, you'll need 6 oz of sugar, etc.
- Place the whites, salt and vanilla in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
- In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, stir together the sugar and water and heat until it comes to a boil. Put the lid on the pot and let boil for 2 minutes.
- Start whipping your egg whites on medium low speed, then increase to medium speed once they get foamy.
- Remove the lid from the pot and cook until the syrup reaches 240F.
- At the same time, check your whites. You want them to reach medium peaks at more or less the same time the sugar hits 240F. You may have to slow down or speed up your mixer to make this happen.
- Pour the sugar syrup down the inside of the mixing bowl in a steady stream. Once all the syrup in in the bowl, increase mixer speed to high and whip until you get stiff, beautiful, glossy peaks.
- Reduce the mixer speed to medium and whip until the frosting is at room temperature.
- Place one cake layer on a serving tray or platter.
- Spread about a ¼-1/3" thick layer of Italian meringue on top.
- Sprinkle on a nice layer of the chopped toasted nuts. If you're making a 3-layer cake, sprinkle on half of the chopped nuts. If you're just dealing with 2 layers, you don't have to use all of them, but you can if you want to.
- Drizzle on about ⅓ cup of the warm butterscotch sauce (which will set up into a candy), and then drizzle on about ⅓ cup of the ganache.
- Place the second cake layer on top of the first and press down gently so the layers will adhere.
- If this is your middle layer, repeat the meringue/nuts/butterscotch/ganache procedure and then add your third layer, pressing down gently so the layers will adhere.
- Spread the sides and the top of the cake with the rest of the Italian meringue. Make it all swirly and swoopy if you want.
- Drizzle the top of the cake with some of the butterscotch and ganache, letting it drip down the sides.
- Arrange your reserved pecan halves on top of the cake in clusters of four with each nut pointing out in a different direction. These are your turtle legs.
- Let the ganache and butterscotch cool just a bit so both are a bit thicker and won't run as much.
- Place a "blob" of the butterscotch in the center of each cluster of nuts, letting the "legs" peek out from beneath. Then do the same with the ganache.
- Set aside to cool at room temperature.
- You will probably have some leftover butterscotch and ganache. Pour leftover butterscotch onto Silpat to cool the rest of the way. Then, cut into pieces for snacking. Refrigerate the ganache and then reheat to use over ice cream. 🙂
- Since Italian meringue tends to get a bit hard and spongey as it sits out, this cake is best served the same day you make it. It's still Very Delicious when served over the next two or three days, though.
Enjoy the cake, and please don't forget to go and enter Kim's birthday giveaway.
Take care, all, and have a lovely day.