Since turning twenty-five I've had two knee replacements and sudden bouts of erectile dysfunction. I yell at floating plastic bags as they dance across parking lots, like my dog. Sometimes I weep for no reason when a Franklin-Mint commemorative coin commercial comes on. I want one of those tubs with a door you step into, with a bench inside. My life is orthopedic surgery in Guadalajara. It is Man-Band Jam Sessions in abandoned sheds, singing about Viagra.
It has also been about cake, which is my favorite thing on earth, and I feel like July is a fine month for cakery, a fine one. I've eaten three or four different cakes over the past ten days, stretching one day into a week. This one was the first, made while I was still 24, for a joint bash with my cousin, whose mother went into labor during the tailspin of my sixth birthday party. He's now 19 and pushing 6'2, while I'm 25 and drinking non-organic milk, hoping that bovine growth hormones will push me over 4'10 before I'm thirty-two.
The party was canceled, pushed forward to the following weekend, which was fine because there was champagne and cakes and friends and crazy, good times, but so there was this random cake, sitting out on the counter. We sliced into it, gave slices away to little boys who ran up to the kitchen windows and I was thankful for halving the recipe -- the original called for three nine-inch layers, but slicing the whole thing made me realize just how much Martha believes in excess. But this cake was lovely, with a super-tender crumb, a silky ganache and the Buttercrunch, which was worth attempting without a candy thermometer. It tastes like Sees' Cashew Brittle, and it was impossible to keep from eating shard after shard of it.
And now I am satiated. There is no need for cake, not for another year.
Chocolate Truffle Buttercrunch Birthday Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart
2 sticks (1 cup) Unsalted Butter, softened
2 cups AP flour (measure by spooning into a cup and leveling off)
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup superfine sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
Chocolate Truffle Ganache (recipe below)
Buttercrunch (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt twice. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy and light yellow. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat after each one, then the vanilla extract. Alternate the addition of flour and milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix just until combined, using a spatula to scrape and blend in any remaining streaks of dry ingredients.
Divide batter between pans, bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown, risen and a toothpick or skewer comes out clean. Cool in pans for 20-30 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
Chocolate Truffle Ganache
1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces good-quality chocolate chips (Guittard)
2 Tablespoons softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup finely chopped Buttercrunch
Heat the cream until just before boiling, and pour over the chocolate chips. Let sit for 30 seconds, then begin to whisk quickly, until the chocolate and cream have completely melted together and no solid chocolate remains. Stir in the butter and vanilla extract, and whisk again until glossy and fluid, around one minute. Set aside and cool for up to one hour, stirring every twenty minutes or so, until thick. Then whisk again, for another 2-3 minutes, until smooth and slightly lighter in color and texture.
Set aside 2/3 of the filling, and stir the finely chopped Buttercrunch into the remaining 1/3.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 sticks salted butter
2 1/4 Tablespoons cold water
Vegetable oil, for pan
Oil a quarter or half sheet pan lightly with vegetable oil, and set aside, but keep close at hand, close to the stove. For safety, I suggest wearing long sleeves and having a bowl of cold ice water nearby
In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, combine the butter, sugar and water. If you like, if you have one, use a Candy thermometer for this part. If you don't, you'll want to pay close attention to color and texture -- dripping a little of the mixture over the pan (a few dots), letting it cool and then touching it will help you gauge how far you are and how far you have to go. Anyway.
Cook the mixture, sirring constantly and still over medium-high heat, for 12-17 minutes or until the mixture reaches 300 degrees or hard-crack stage on the thermometer, and turns a deep, golden brown -- it'll be harder to stir, and bubbles will be big and slurpy. Once you're there, immediately pour the mixture on the prepped sheet pan. Set the still-very hot pan on a neutral, cool surface and turn your full attention to the Buttercrunch. Tilt the pan slightly, letting the candy spread, then move the pan to a slightly elevated surface (cooling rack, trivet, cool stove grid) and cool COMPLETELY. Don't touch it.
Here's a hint. For easy clean up, set the candied pan over low heat and pour a 1/2 cup or so of milk inside. Heat gently, stirring every now and then. The milk dissolves the crystallized sugar and all fears of a ruined pot.
Once candy is completely cool, hard and ready for cracking, whap the pan against the edge of the counter or bend slightly -- candy should crack into a few large pieces. Using a mezzaluna, large knife, spoon or other instrument, crack the candy into smaller chunks and pieces. Divide the pile into thirds, and use a knife to finely chop 1/3 of the Buttercrunch, for the filling.
To assemble the cake, set one layer of cake on a plate or pedestal, dome-down. Spread the filling thickly over the top, building up the sides, and top with the second layer of cake. Smooth any filling peeking out with a knife or offset spatula, and then cover top and sides with remaining ganache. Swirl the top decoratively if you like.
Now, decorate the sides of the cake with Buttercrunch shards, making sure they poke out. If you like, trace your initial on top of the cake with a toothpick, then pipe over it with a simple white icing (2 tablespoons softened butter, 1/4 cup powdered sugar and a teaspoon or two of heavy cream. Mix well with a fork).