The first of the two salty desserts I tried a little while ago was this one, which reminded me of a Fran's Gold Bar, sans nuts. A thick, rich chocolate base, with salted caramel and a thin layer of ganache on top, all sprinkled with nuggets of salt*. How better to kill the ones you love?
The caramel is intense, salty and almost coffee-tinged (this results from cooking the sugar until amber, rather than a mild, palatable honey) -- the smoky bitterness plays nicely off of the salt and the chocolate from the cake and ganache, which soothes any worries you might have about the salt. My original base, a chocolate cake that had no flour, but lots of whipped egg whites, was sponge-y and too delicate, it flounced and flaked off brittle shards rather than projecting majestic density.
So I did what I should have done in the first place, which was use Molly's Winning Hearts and Minds cake. That, combined with a simple ganache, the briny caramel, cajoled what was an intense but not necessarily solid dessert into something that will kill you. It will kill you.
Men love this cake. I think most men love all cakes, but the party I took this to was filled with men, from your Bros and Dudes to the Free Hugs! type, and all of them fell silent in reverence. Last night I had to leave after making this refined version of the original, and wasn't home when it was sampled by the current male in residence. He apparently shook his head and said it was like candy, bad candy, and then had some more.
It is a masculine cake, and the rich strata of browns reminds me of a library, snifters of brandy, silk robes, clipped cigars, infidelity and impotence. Mild racism and a love for horse racing. This cake isn't racist, but it will remind you of every man over seventy who has randomly said something you weren't sure was legal to say in public, in America today. Welcome to 2008. I'm a nice girl, not a nice brown girl. I'm glad you enjoyed talking to me on the bus today.
I would suggest serving this with a nice red wine, and either in tiny slivers, cold from the fridge (sprinkle the salt on last minute, as a finish) with a plop of sour cream just hinted with sweetness, some orange zest or maybe a bit of coffee liquor. Or you could remove it from the fridge an hour or two prior to serving, and set out as part of a cheese and fruit course (split figs, plums, tipsy cherries, dark grapes, kumquats or seville oranges, a nice oozy blue and rich double or triple creme, and some flaky Parmesan) -- the caramel will ripen and bloom like the cheeses, and begin to dribble. Have a pot of espresso or strong coffee waiting to finish, and cleanse the richness from your palate.
Then go take a nap. In your library. And say some mildly racist things. Fifty on Old Jack Sprat! Why are women allowed to wear pants these days?
(Adapted from Molly's recipe)
8 ounces chopped semi-sweet chocolate
7 ounces European salted/unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon AP flour
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and butter a parchment-lined springform pan (mine is 9 inches, which resulted in a thinner cake, I would use an 8 inch if you have it). Set aside.
Over a pot of simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring until smooth. Add in the sugar, stir well, then crack in the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each. I love cakes like this, how the batter tugs at your spoon and feels slightly springy. Stir in the vanilla, then the flour, and pour into your prepped pan.
Bake for 25 minutes, and remove from the oven - a bit of sinking might occur, but that is perfect, because that bit of a rim will hold all the decadence that is to come. Run a knife around the perimeter, and pop the ring loose. Allow the cake to cool completely, then turn upside down onto a plate, remove the bottom of the pan, the parchment, and turn right-side up on to another plate or stand. Set aside.
(Adapted from Elise's recipe)
1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons European salted butter (I use Lurpak or Anchor, or even Challenge)
1/4 cup + 1 TBS heavy cream (or, real half and half)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fleur de sel or sea salt, plus more to taste
Have your ingredients portioned and measured, mise en place style before even starting this step. Elise suggests wearing pot-holders. I didn't, but not because I'm somehow too smart to avoid caramel burns. You might want to have a bowl of ice water at the ready, to soothe you and the caramel if things start getting too crazy -- plunge the bottom of the pot in it if things get too dark too fast, or your appendages if you're spattered. But as long as you have things at the ready, some faith in yourself, and no attachment to the top layer of dermis on either hand, you should be fine.
Begin by pouring the sugar into a heavy-bottomed, light-colored pot (dark ones make it hard to gauge the color of the cooking caramel). Heat over medium to medium-high heat (medium will take longer, but give you a little more reaction time), stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar begins to melt. It will slowly turn clear, then clump up into sandy little rocks and boulders, just keep moving it around with the spoon until a light golden pool overtakes the little clumps, which should dissolve. Once the sugar has melted, stop stirring and swirl the pot gently. Once the sugar reaches a pleasing dark honey color (Elise's original recipe has great photographs depicting the color you want it to reach), stir in the butter, whisking well. It might take a moment for the caramel, which will sputter and gurgle, to 'drink in' the butter, but just keep stirring and eventually everything will come together. Then remove from burner, hold your breath, and slowly pour in the cream -- prepare yourself for a sputtering geyser for a few seconds. Stir until combined, then add the salt and vanilla extract. You've done it. You've just made caramel.
Allow the caramel to cool for five or ten minutes, until you feel comfortable tasting -- you're checking the salt level. Salt until you feel it sing on your tongue, and don't worry about the crystals dissolving completely. Moisture within the caramel and cake will continue that process. Let cool completely, stirring every so often to keep it loose, and once that occurs, pour over the waiting cake. Hot damn. Hot damn.
3/4 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 cup heavy cream
Sea salt, to finish
Melt the chocolate and cream together over boiling water, or use the microwave (which is what I do), heating for thirty seconds at a time until cream is steamy, and chocolate has begun to melt. Whisk together with a fork until smooth and shiny, and let cool for five or ten minutes. Stir again, and pour, then gently spread, over the caramel layer. Let set for thirty minutes, then transfer to the fridge and chill until solid -- cover with plastic wrap or foil if not serving within 3 to 5 hours, or if your fridge has off smells.
Just before serving, remove from the fridge and let sit at room temp. for 20-30 minutes, or longer if you want the caramel to really ooze. Sprinkle with sea salt, cut into cautious slivers, and serve.
*The first time I made this, I sprinkled the (baked) cake with 1/2 a cup of toasted, roughly chopped (and left a few whole) toasted pecans that I had dashed with table salt. I think this is a fine, fine addition, but didn't have pecans on hand when I was tweaking the recipe. Hence, this neutered, nut-less version. It is still a masculine cake. Don't judge it.