After making Snickers Pie for M’s birthday for the last two years, I vowed to switch things up from that delicious sugar coma. Shortly after last year’s pie, I was considering adding something to the pie itself, to cut the pure caramel+peanut mix that fills the shell. But when his birthday rolled around this year, I thought I might try my hand at a Snickers cake–mostly because I had an excuse to use salted caramel frosting, but also because I thought it would be simpler than making Snickers Pie. Please, feel free to laugh at my hopeless wish. If there is a way to over-complicate dishes, I will find it. Ahem. Anyways, I went searching for a cake recipe–one of the few baking “staples” for which I have not yet developed a favorite recipe. A little research brought me to David Lebovitz’ German Chocolate Cake, along with recommendations for making it gluten-free. I had some experience with frosting and with caramel, so I didn’t think it would be too difficult to combine the two. My idea was two layers of chocolate cake, sandwiching a layer of caramel-peanut mix, and wrapped up in salted caramel frosting. Nothing revolutionary. But, let’s step back and take a moment to look at some facts because, while I tried not to think about it, I was pretty unprepared to make this cake.
- I haven’t successfully baked a gluten-free cake purely from scratch.
- I haven’t ever frosted a layer cake.
- I had just grabbed Raw Sugar from Costco–super exciting!–but I had never baked with it.
To be fair, I could manage with the cake part and the frosting part. I had done some research. I knew about crumb coats. However, the raw sugar truly threw me for a loop. When I started the cake, it wouldn’t cream and blend into the butter (on a side note, I know there are two pretty big camps regarding creaming butter+sugar in GF baking. Some say to definitely mix the ingredients until smooth and uniform to ensure a nice smooth batter. Other say that creaming the butter and sugar causes spreading in cookies and other weird imbalances. I am in Camp Cream The Butter+Sugar. But please, use whatever works for you.) Anyways, after 15 minutes at high speed in my KitchenAid, there was a little bit of difference. A tiny taste was less…crunchy. But still far from smooth. Since the next step in the recipe is to add the melted chocolate+water mixture, I went ahead, thinking the last vestiges of warmth from the melted mixture would help to further encourage my sugar crystals to dissolve. Well, long story short, my crystals did not really dissolve, but I plowed ahead anyways, knowing that I had to bak the cake that night, in order to frost it the next day to be ready for M’s birthday. I think I over mixed the batter. Thankfully, the lack of gluten kept it from getting ‘tough’ which is the traditional concern with over mixing. The batter was, however, super aerated and fluffy. Since beaten egg whites are added to the batter, I knew we were going for a light and fluffy batter. But the overeaten batter + egg whites = too much light and fluffy. The cake baked up extremely crumbly and a tad dry.
I pressed onward once again hoping that the addition of caramel and frosting would add some moisture to the cake. Thankfully they did, and even managed to hold together the crumbling cake. I made the caramel, mixed some with the peanuts and some into frosting and hoped things would work out in my favor. A crumb coat was definitely essential–I even put the cake in the freezer for 10 minutes to really set the crumb coat. I decided (one of the better decisions in this process) to do a thin layer of frosting between the layers of cake and the peanut-caramel mixture, which really helped to stick everything together. However, while spreading the outer layer of frosting onto the cake, I started to worry that I would not have enough frosting. So I concentrated on the sides and decided to spread another layer of caramel and peanuts over the top to hide the frosting-less surface. And once the layer of peanut-caramel frosting had been applied, and the frosted portion of the cake given what little decorative touches that I could manage for my first real frosting attempt, I really lost control. A drizzle of chocolate would look really nice. Why not some caramel too? So much for simple.
What’s done is done, and this cake finally was finished. I shut it in the fridge for the next day after giving M a sneak peek. On his birthday, we finally managed to make room for a little slice right before bed. We went to Texas de Brazil for dinner, a Brazilian steak house where you pay a flat price, like a buffet. They have an incredible, mostly gluten-free-friendly fresh “salad bar” that is actually rounded out by cheese, charcuterie, roasted vegetables, and other delights that far surpass the typical salad bar fare. Then, waiters will come around to your table with freshly seared, hot and smoky skewers of meat of every variety: slicing off as much flank steak, top round, filet mignon, roast beef, chicken, pork, and ribs you can eat. I repeat, AS MUCH MEAT (and delicious salad bar offerings) as you can eat! It is a magical place. Except for the sausage, all the meats are gluten-free, and most of the salad bar offerings are as well. The staff is very knowledgeable, just mention your need for gluten-free dining when you make the reservation. I had never been to Texas de Brazil before, and while M and I put up a good fight, when we finally managed to roll our stuffed selves home, the last thing we wanted was cake.
Several hours later, we managed a few bites. The frosting and the caramel helped with the slightly dry cake, and a couple of seconds in the microwave helped even more. I’ve handed out slices to co-workers and to M’s mum, and would deem this cake to be a reasonable success. I want to try this cake again, but I do not think the recipe will make it’s way into my files. However, this salted caramel buttercream frosting and the built-up layered cake will stay. I will just have to continue my quest to make delicious GF cake.
Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting
For the Salted Caramel Sauce:
- 1 c. white granulated sugar
- 6 Tbsp. butter, cold and cubed
- 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
- 2 tsp. sea salt
For the Buttercream Frosting:
- 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 c. salted caramel sauce
- 2 c. powdered sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract, optional
Make the caramel sauce:
Measure out all ingredients–when the process for caramel begin, it goes very quickly. Add the sugar to a heavy-bottomed, high-sided pan. Whisk constantly over medium to medium-high heat. Within a few minutes, the sugar will begin to liquify. The sugar will clump, but that is okay. Just keep whisking. When the last lump begins to melt, stop whisking. Place a candy thermometer in the sugar, making sure the tip is not ouching the bottom of the pan. Swirl the pan to keep the liquid moving. When entirely liquid, cook for a few more minutes, until the color darkens to an amber color–only one or two shades darker. The candy thermometer should read between 350-355 degrees F. Immediately remove from heat and add cubed butter. Begin whisking to mix in butter. Be careful, the sugar will bubble with the addition of butter. When butter is completely melted and thoroughly mixed in with the sugar, add the cream. Again, the mixture may bubble. Continue whisking until thoroughly combined. Stir in salt. Pour the sauce into a heat-proof container and allow to cool completely.
Melting sugar is EXTREMELY hot. Use the utmost caution to keep it from coming in contact with your skin.
Making the frosting:
Beat the butter and vanilla extract (if using) in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed. Slowly add powdered sugar, allowing each increment to mix well before adding more. Finally, add caramel sauce. Mix until combined. Turn speed to high and beat until frosting has doubled in volume, about 1-3 minutes. Use immediately, or store in fridge. Allow to come to room temperature before attempting to frost the cake.
- 2 8-in round or square chocolate cakes baked from your favorite recipe (baked in a pan lined with parchment paper for easy removal)
- 1 batch salted caramel buttercream frosting
- 1/4-1/2 c. additional salted caramel sauce
- 1 1/2 c. roasted peanuts
- 2 Tbsp. chopped dark chocolate, optional
- 1/2 tsp. coconut oil, optional
- Tools: parchment paper, knife, spatula
Start with cake, caramel sauce, and frosting that are all at room temperature (completely cool). Mix peanuts with the additional caramel sauce until just coated. Line the serving plate with four thin (about 4 in. wide) strips of parchment paper. These will sit under each edge of the cake–you will eventually pull them out from under the cake, so make sure you are able to grasp the edge. They prevent the frosting from getting all over your plate and make for a prettier presentation. Slide a knife around the edge of the cakes in the cake pans. Carefully, but quickly, tip the first layer onto the serving plate. Adjust the parchment paper lining if necessary. Spoon about 1/2 c. of frosting into a small bowl to prevent crumbs from transferring to the large bowl of frosting. Spread a thin layer of frosting over the top surface of the cake, leaving the layer slightly thicker at the edges. Spread about half of the peanut mixture over the frosting, leaving 1/2-1 in. of frosting around edges. Spread another thin layer of frosting to coat the peanuts, filling in the space on the sides to make it all level. Carefully tip the second cake on top. Adjust to line up edges if necessary.
Spoon another 1/2 cup of frosting into the small bowl. Spread the cake with a crumb coat, the thinnest layer possible. Coat all exposed surfaces of the cakes. Place cake in freezer for 5-10 minutes to set crumb coat. Using a new, and therefore un-crumby, spatula, spread remaining frosting on cake. Add extra to the sides, pulling upwards to create a slight edge. Spread remaining peanut-caramel mixture onto top of cake, spreading frosting around the edges to hold peanuts in place.
Melt chopped chocolate and coconut oil in 30-second increments in the microwave. Drizzle cake with chocolate and remaining caramel sauce. Wrap (use toothpicks to prevent saran wrap from touching frosting) and refrigerate until ready to eat. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.
Well, I had hoped to get jumpstart on my newest project, My Grandmother’s Recipe Box, and bring you the first of the recipes. However, the day after I lasted posted, my oven did not heat up. I tried a few times of turning it off and on, but I did not want to fiddle too much since we have a gas oven and our gas lines (while the stovetop control is wonderful) pretty much have me existing in a mild state of terror. I grew up with electric coils, and while I know modern gas lines are very safe and secure, I still worry almost constantly. So, I waited for the boys to come home and shoved my rapidly-rising, unbaked bread dough into the fridge. They came home and fiddled some more with no luck, but were pretty sure that the oven wasn’t turning on at all (no sound or smell of gas), so I stopped hyperventilating about a gas leak. And, even more lucky, our stovetop was still working. But, that did mean we had to submit a request with our rental company and it took a week for the repair to come. Needless to say, there was no baking down this week, and it seems like all of my grandmothers’ recipes require some time in the oven. Instead, the crockpot came out twice, and I did a lot of sautéing (and lugged the over-risen bread dough to my mother’s to bake). Thankfully, all is working perfectly, just in time to make one of my more ambitious projects: the latest Snickers-bar-inspired dessert for M’s birthday tomorrow. That will, in some form, make it onto the blog quite soon, I am already suspicious that the recipe I tried did not turn out as I planned. I am hoping that the addition of caramel-peanut filling and salted caramel frosting will help to perk up a sub-par cake.
In the meantime, I am taking a quick break, as I wait for my butter to come to room temperature, to round up my recipes that might find a place on your Thanksgiving table. I am traveling up to visit family, so, aside from serving as a gluten-free consultant and helping wherever I can, I will be taking the easier role of ‘guest’ for this holiday. Several others seem to be starting their recipe round-ups as well, so , if you are beginning to plan out your feast, take a few minutes to look through some of my favorite recipes.
Butternut Squash Gnocchi have the familiar flavors of the holidays, but are a more unusual way to add that squash flavor.
This Quinoa and Wild Rice Stuffing is chock full of apples, squash, sausage and herbs, and a nice change from traditional bread stuffings.
My Knockoff Pepperidge Farms Cornbread Stuffing is quite close to the real deal, and the combination of white bread and cornbread makes for a truly flavorful dish.
How about some French Bread? Perfect as a base to cube for traditional stuffing, or to slice as is for the table.
Popovers are always first in line on our table at any occasion.
I am all about my pies at Thanksgiving. My family rotates between some combination of Pumpkin, Apple, and Strawberry-Rhubarb. Use the Best Gluten-Free Pie Crust for a fool-proof pie.
Chocolate-Coffee Pots De Creme are surprisingly simple, but make for an elegant end to the evening.
These Pumpkin Scones makes the perfect breakfast on a busy Thanksgiving morning. Make ahead and freeze, then thaw for a delicious start to a hectic day!
I’ve spoken about my great-grandmother’s recipes here on this blog before. But I may not have elaborated on my interest in my family tree. It began in middle school when, for one cultural event or another, we had to bring a dish from our family’s heritage. At this point, we knew nothing of my maternal grandfather’s family, except that they came from Kansas. My mother is 1/4 Norwegian, through her mother, and my father’s family was exceptionally British. All in all, this Norwegian side was the most interesting to my thirteen-year-old self. I do not remember how far my mother and I researched, but I’m sure that it was pretty evident that I would refuse most ‘traditional’ Norwegian dishes, given the country’s reliance on seafood and wild game–not on the list of acceptable foods for picky-eater, pre-teen me. One way or another, we settled on Danish Rice Pudding with Raspberry Sauce. I do not remember how or why, but, most likely, we decide it was the tastiest recipe from a place that was relatively near our ancestral birthplace. I do not, in fact, have Danish in my heritage at all. A quick google search did turn up some Norwegian rice puddings, but never molded or served with raspberry sauce, as my Danish rice pudding had been. It was tasty, even if it was rather incorrect. I do remember that, in my research, I discovered that Norwegians have a general love of well-presented food. For many years in my family, while I fussed with a plate for an extra minute or two, we would claim it was “the norwegian in me”.
I revisited my heritage several years later, where, once again, things got a little skewed. For my human geography class in high school, we were supposed to research and write an immigration story. I, of course, made it harder for myself and decided I wanted to write about my real ancestors. I figured I would start with the oldest name that my mother could remember: Ella Beulah Van Dyne, my great-great grandmother who only stuck out in our memory for her more unfortunate middle name. With a little digging, I figured I would find the names of her immediate family and tell the story of how they immigrated from Norway. I was way off on this presumption. The digging led me to the font of knowledge that is Ancestry.com, and the two week free trial period. Suddenly, I was finding all sorts of information about my family–every name I entered brought new leaf clues to links in my family tree! And I discovered two very important facts: Ella Van Dyne was not Norwegian, she was mostly Dutch (if I had bother to ask my mother about the country of origin, she would have point out that the Norwegian was the other side of her family), and that the Van Dynes did not immigrate. In fact, they had been in the United States since before it was the United States–Ella’s father served as a county mayor in Michigan for several years. So, once again, I added a bit of fiction to my project. What research I could manage before the trial period ended did give me a starting point, but I mostly created the story of how Ella and her family arrived in America from my own imagination.
What did I learn from these two projects? Dodgy content aside, I realized that my past was fascinating–even if I couldn’t quite fit it into the rubric of my school projects. I soon restarted my Ancestry.com membership and away I went! I found a few amazing pictures and even better stories. I am (possibly) the 17th-great granddaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer. My other (confirmed) ancestor also had the first Breach of Contract suit ever filed on American soil in the 1600s. Twice-widowed Cicely Bailey Jordan, my great-times-a-lot grandmother, was visited by the Reverend Greville Pooley just days after her husband’s death. The reverend expressed his wish to marry her, and Cecily, quite pregnant with her late husband’s child, said “she would have him as willingly as any other, but would not marry until after she delivered.” The Reverend then did some fast talking, took her hand, and proceeded to recite his vows on the spot–with himself presiding! When she said nothing to consent or agree, the reverend then recited her vows for Cecily (“I Cecily take you Greville…”) and took this exchange (or lack thereof) as a wedding. Of course, after her daughter was born, Cecily instead took interest in William Ferrar, a lawyer, ironically. Nearly a year and a half later, after the case went to the courts, the Reverend withdrew his claim. My ancestors have their own wikipedia page,
y’all folks yo.
Needless to say, my mother’s side of the family has been in the Americas for ages. I did finally track down my true Norwegian side, through my great-grandmother Helen. Her parents, Brady and Mary Jo, were Norwegian. Mary Jo was one of thirteen living children of my g-g-great grandparents, Thea and Thor Hanson. Brady, an immigrant, actually adopted Mary Jo’s surname. Most of the photos I have found have been of their family. Looking over old photos was an adventure–a chance to put faces to the names I had studied. My grandfather had a very old family photo album from the 1800s (we have reason to believe that the scrap of paper with a signature on it that is sewn into the book is actually the signature of Stonewall Jackson), as well as countless other photographs. Suddenly, I knew these people’s stories, or at least their families. It was absolutely amazing. I have carefully documenting, saved, and copied these photos. Now, I want to explore another aspect of Helen. And of her daughter, my grandmother, Ginny. And of my other great-grandmother, Nelia. I want to learn about them by making their recipes. Helen kept a recipe box, that my grandma Ginny then contributed to–and by contributed to, I mean added in recipes from her friends and relatives and her sister (my great-aunt) Mimi. They both were family legends in the kitchen–Mimi for her skill and Ginny for her lack thereof. But, good cook or bad cook; created recipe, borrowed recipe, or copied recipe; I have a worn black box that is full of magazine clippings and recipe cards. And I want to cook out of it.
Last time I was home, I chose my first batch of recipes. Some are desserts, some are not. Some are straight forward (Filled Cookies!) and some are not (Bertha? Country Captain? Real recipes). I will hopefully make my way through all of them. I will not make my way through the whole box, because at least fifty percent of the recipes are truly 1950’s gems that either combine Jell-O with all the wrong ingredients or are too liberal with mayonnaise (often innocuously referred to as ‘salad dressing’).
But the recipes that are still palatable have a chance of being tested–and, of course, will be created free of gluten. Some recipes were pointed out by my mother, who remembered my grandmother making them. Others, like “Bertha”, were simply too intriguing to resist. This is not a project that I plan to power through before a set deadline. I want to take my time, and I am certain that I will have other dishes that will spark my interest and interrupt this project. But I do want to document and share it here, as I learn another aspect of the people who have (literally) made me who I am today.