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.
When I was in the prime of my childhood (i.e. grades K-7 when it was still fun to play outside all day, every day), there were 37 children living in our cul-de-sac. Not the block, not the sprawling network of a ‘neighborhood’, but the 19-house stub of a street. It tumbled out 37 bodies under the age of 15 every Saturday morning. Nowadays, with my–ahem–broader view of the world and especially of the area where I live, I realize how lucky we were to have our house on that street. We were two turns away from the busiest street to the north, with a generous network of neighborhood to the south. A similar cul-de-sac was across the street, and, of course, our ended in a wide circle that we were never tempted to stray from. Parents in the neighborhood drew a line: “Don’t go past the corner”. And 99% of the time, we didn’t. My mother got a large, old copper whistle to call us home for dinner. The shrill notes stretched just long enough to reach our ears at the top of the street.
There was more than enough to do on our little street. Summer evenings turned our circular end of the street into a milling sea of bicycles, without a care for traffic. One lucky summer, an ice cream truck came every other night for two weeks straight. We climbed trees, built forts, collected seed pods. Endless hours were spent on our trampoline, in the neighbor’s clubhouse, and playing some sort of jumping game most akin to reverse limbo with more dangerous results. Whoever jumps over the stick held at the highest place, wins. The losers are those who catch the stick with an ankle and careen face-first into the ground.
We thought it was fun.
While the children of the cul-de-sac whiled away our hours in constant contact, the adults were friendly, but didn’t push the neighborly relationship much beyond sidewalk conversations as they collected their progeny, and the occasional stroll-and-chat through a neighbor’s yard sale. (It does make me laugh, as the new generation on the street have young, 10-and-under children, and the parents seem much more social than our parents ever did.) Once, we decided to try to change that. I must have been on the older end of the spectrum, and all of the kids decided that we wanted a barbecue. We made flyers and stuck them in everyone’s mailboxes after pleading with our parents. Feeling especially kind, we even put flyers in those houses of families without children (in our tiny world, I doubt we’d ever met some of those households). And then we got to planning, pre-facebook. We took polls as to who would bring what kind of food, who could drag their grill down into the street.
And there, in our family’s own search for picnic food, we found a recipe on the back of a Carnation sweetened, condensed milk can. Or perhaps a box of cake mix. All the same, the title was alluring (Better Than Anything Cake) and the ingredient list was even more so (anything containing toffee with always get my vote). This was pre-gluten-free, and the height of my childhood meant the hieght of my mother’s quick-fix dishes. The recipe was simple enough.
Mix up a batch of chocolate cake (preferably Devil’s Food) according to package directions.
Bake the cake in a sheet pan (I chose cupcakes for portability).
Poke holes throughout the top of the cake with the handle of a spoon (or a fork, for cupcakes).
Pour one can of sweetened, condensed milk and one bottle of caramel sauce all over the top.
Let sit overnight so the sauces can be fully absorbed into the cake.
Spread top with one tub of Cool Whip and sprinkle with one bag of Heath toffee bits.
The ultimate 90’s recipe. Quick, easy, all prepackaged, no measuring required. And let me tell you, it was delicious. This was serve-with-a-spoon cake. It couldn’t stand up to being sliced, so soaked with caramel, but that wasn’t too much of a problem. Needless to say, we took home a pan and some crumbs at the end of the night. I’m positive that someone at the barbecue let my mother in on the other name for this cake: Better Than Sex Cake. Either way, years later as I began to stumble through the world of online recipes, when I encountered “Better Than Sex Cake”, I knew what it was. I’ve seen it with a variety of names (Better Than Sex Cake, Almost Better Than Sex Cake, Better Than Almost Anything Cake…), take your pick. The ingredient list and the assembly have always been the same.
Recently, when a friend and I planned dinner while compiling a lesson plan, I was charged with dessert. It had to be easy to make the morning off, be transportable, and delicious for those eating gluten-free or not. And, I had a bag of Gluten-Free chocolate cake mix wallowing in my pantry. Cupcakes. Cupcakes were a must. The dessert would have to survive coming to work with me, a stint in the work fridge, and the drive to my friends. Cupcakes offered the portion-ability and portability that would be perfect. I didn’t quite prep well for this recipe. At the grocery store, I grabbed some cream cheese, heavy cream, and whipped cream, deciding to figure out frosting later. I grabbed the toffee, we had the caramel and condensed milk at home. I forgot cupcake liners.
By lucky chance, M’s mum had huge cupcake liners at home. It worried me since they fit strangely in our muffin tin, but this turned into a stroke of pure luck. With these cupcakes, the taller the liner, the better. I scaled back the condensed milk and the caramel (only used about 6 Tablespoons of each), since I didn’t have the time for these to soak up the sauce overnight. If you are able to give these cupcakes the time to rest, I highly recommend it.
I also did not want to take a chance with pure whipping cream as frosting. Inevitably, in our long journey, it would melt. Ultimately, I ended up compromising with a whipped cream cheese frosting I’ve seen on a few sites that is phenomenal and entirely stable. In my cream-cheese-loving-opinion, this frosting only makes these cupcakes better, but for you BTSCake purists, perhaps investigate whipping cream stabilizers? I’ve never used them before. Either way, with very little effort, you can have delicious cupcakes that people will be talking about all week (my co-workers can attest to that!) You don’t even have to share our little secret about the cake mix…
Better Than ____________ Cupcakes
For the Cupcakes
- 1 package gluten free chocolate cake mix + ingredients listed on package for making cupcakes (or use your favorite homemade chocolate cake recipe, prepared to batter stage)
- 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
- 6-8 Tbsp (or more) sweetened condensed milk (low-fat/non-fat is fine)
- 6-8 Tbsp (or more) prepared caramel syrup/sauce
- 1 cup Heath toffee bits
For the Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 oz (1 package) cream cream (low-fat is fine, non-fat is not)
- 1 cup white granulated sugar
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- Pinch of salt
Prepare your cake batter as directed on the package, or according to your usual recipe, adding the tablespoon of brown sugar with the dry ingredients or with the other sugars in recipe. Once the batter is thoroughly mixed, stir in chocolate chips by hand. Spoon into cupcake liners and bake according to directions for cupcakes.
Remove cupcakes from oven and allow to cool. Meanwhile, mix caramel syrup and sweetened, condensed milk. Poke a dozen or so holes into the top of cooled cupcakes with a fork or a toothpick. Drizzle a spoonful or so over each cupcake (more of the syrup mixture can be added depending on how much time you can allow the cupcakes to set. Up to a tablespoon per cake if they can sit overnight). Allow cupcakes to set as long as possible: at least one hour and up to overnight in the refrigerator.
Make your frosting: in medium bowl, whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form (watch carefully at end to see that you do not over-whip the cream. If you see it starting to separate, stop! The next stage after stiff peaks is butter!). In large bowl, combine softened cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Beat until smooth. Fold in whipped cream. Remove cupcakes from fridge, sprinkle with toffee bits. Spoon frosting into piping bag, or a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off and pipe onto cooled, set cupcakes (or simply spread with a knife). Top with additional toffee bits.
I have a…ahem…special friend who is about to have a birthday. Or just did, as I’ve finally discover how to time post publishing for later dates, I’m sticking to the safe side of things and putting this to publish after his birthday. Though I doubt he knows about this blog. But just to be safe…
Anyways: special friend+birthday=birthday festivities. Also, coincidentally, he is also gluten-intolerant. I met him a year before my own diagnosis, and it was the time spent with him that really prompted my to guess that gluten was my issue, and to start the food journal that confirmed that diagnosis. It was gluten or it was coffee, folks. I have to say I’m glad it was the former. I love my lattes. Or any coffee really. But I also love alliteration. Deal with it.
Anyways. Birthday. I’d toyed with the idea for a while, knowing my friend’s love of pie and, frankly, his obsession with snickers. All of my searching for snickers pie resulted in some odd mixture that used the candy bars and cream cheese. Probably still delicious, despite the promised heart attack, but I wanted something more pure, something undeniably “Snickers+Pie”. When I found this chocolate caramel tart from mybakingaddiction.com I knew we were in business. Here was the starting point I was looking for.
Adapted from Jamie’s Chocolate-Caramel Tart on mybakingaddiction.com
The Crust:(I tried several different crusts for this pie: Jamie’s shortbread, traditional pie crust, and finally settled on a graham cracker crust. I like the touch of cinnamon and the guaranteed crunch against the soft caramel and chocolate.)
- -2 c. graham cracker crumbs (while I’ve made my own before, I saved some time and crushed up Kinnikinnick Gluten-free Graham Crackers)
- -6 Tbsp butter, melted
- -1/2 c. brown sugar
- -1 tsp cinnamon
The Filling (Caramel & Peanuts)
- -1 1⁄2 cups sugar-3 tablespoons light corn syrup
- -1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
- -6 tablespoons water
- -6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- -6 tablespoons heavy cream
- -1 tablespoon sour cream
- -1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- -1 1/2-2 c. dry-roasted, salted peanuts
The Chocolate Ganache
- -3/4 c. heavy cream
- -3/4 c. (4 oz) bittersweet or dark chocolate chips/pieces
Make the Crust: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Whisk graham crackers crumbs, cinnamon, and sugar in bowl until well-mixed. Add melted butter, stir until all crumbs are coated and mixture sticks together when pressed between fingers. Press mixture into 9-inch pie pan or 6 (3.5 in) tart pans. Make sure crust is even throughout bottom and sides of pan. Refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes). Bake for 13-15 minutes. Allow crust to cool.
Make the Caramel: Put a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk together sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 6 tbsp. water and bring to a boil. Allow to boil, without stirring, until a candy thermometer inserted into the syrup reads 340° (PLEASE check your candy thermometer before use. Temperature is crucial here. Attach your thermometer to a pot of water and bring to a boil. Water boils at 212 degrees F. Read what temperature your thermometer is at when the water boils and adjust your waiting for the caramel temperature accordingly. For instance, my thermometer read 5 degrees to low. I had to wait until my thermometer read 345 degrees for this caramel). Remove pan from heat and whisk in remaining ingredients (butter, cream, sour cream and vanilla) until smooth. Pour a thin layer caramel into cooled pie or tartlet shells. Then add peanuts to remaining caramel and stir until thoroughly coated. Pour peanut-caramel mixture into shells and let cool slightly; refrigerate until firm, about 3-4 hours.
Make the Chocolate Coating: In medium bowl, combine cream and chocolate pieces, reserving about 1 Tbsp of chocolate pieces for seed. Microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring well between each intervals. After 3 or 4 intervals, stir chocolate and cream for 1-2 minutes. The remaining lumps should melt into the mixture. Add you seed chocolate and continue stirring until those melt in as well. Spread chocolate evenly over pie/tartlets and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours. If desired, slice a mini snickers as garnish. Serve cold.