April 27, 2012

chocolate mousse

This morning I sent the following email to my friend Odette - 

I just ate a pot of chocolate mousse and a piece of chocolate and it's not even noon. 

Oh Talley, get ahold of your self. 

We often chat about chocolate and cake, Odette and I, as it seems we are both drawn to the bitter sweetness of dark chocolate and the soft crumb of a well-made cake. Odette can justify a few extra slivers of chocolate cake after dinner because she is pregnant - due any day now - and as I mentioned previously, chocolate cake is good for babies. I can't blame excessive chocolate eating on pregnancy cravings, but that doesn't mean I don't try and rationalize my consumption. This morning, whilst spooning airy chocolate mousse into my mouth, I thought the following...

Mousse is made with eggs and eggs are a breakfast food so it's okay to be eating mousse before noon...maybe it should only be eaten before noon...and it has coffee in it and coffee was made for mornings...so mousse with coffee is a morning meal...so what that the eggs and coffee swimming in chocolate?...it's like a chocolate mocha with eggnog and people drink those for breakfast (even though I've never heard of a mocha with eggnog)...and it's in a yogurt pot and yogurt is eaten for breakfast and so what if it's not actually yogurt...it's a really special mousse and I should eat it before it goes bad...

And so it continued until I had spooned all of the mousse out of the little blue ceramic pot and into my mouth, where it melted with a sigh, unleashing note of coffee before disappearing in a smooth chocolate swallow. If you didn't know to watch for it you might miss the coffee flavor all together, it is the secret ingredient, adding just enough richness to the chocolate without overpowering it. 
I stopped drinking coffee a little while ago. It reminded me too much of architecture school, where if I ever found myself without a cup I ran out to get one. It was part of the uniform, right along with the color black. I think we used the cardboard cups as props, something to occupy our hands - and hide behind- while we desperately tried to defend our design decisions, which were inevitably being torn apart by a critic, a critic who was gesturing wildly and using a coffee cup as a pointer. 

The highlight of architecture school and my requisite coffee drinking was a class trip to Rome the summer before my final year. Have you ever stood at the counter of an Italian caffè? Ordering a caffè in italy is an entirely different experience. First you order and pay the cashier, then you take your receipt to the counter, shoving your way to the front, and hand the receipt to the barista, who whips around, places the grinds in the metal filter, mounts the filter on the machine, and quickly the espresso pours into a tiny white porcelain cup. The cup is then placed on an equally miniature saucer and both are passed to you at the counter, where you are expected to stay while you drink it. It is a quick process, just a sip, and it’s gone. There are no long watery American coffees to be seen, just short, smooth, black, ristrettos. They are enough to woo you back to Italy.

And so even though I had semi-given up coffee when we were in Apulia I partook, walking up to the counter, leaning slightly over the edge and ordering due caffè, per favore. I also learned that you don’t need to be in a city to drink a great espresso, you can be in the middle of nowhere, at a gas station along the side of the road from Lecce to Otranto, or in the tiny hill little town of Locorotondo. It will be good, you will think it was the best you’ve ever had, until you pull up to the next counter. 

I came back to Zürich desperate for that smooth Italian caffè. We have a Nespresso machine (thanks Sandy & Katie!) so I marched right into Nespresso and up to the saleswoman and asked if they had anything that tasted like the coffee I had had in Italy. She responded with ‘so you want it very strong?’ I didn’t realize it was strong at the time because it didn’t taste at all bitter, which is the taste I associate with strong, so I said ‘I guess so’ and she sold me two boxes of their strongest pods, and home I went.
For the past few weeks, since before Easter, there has been a life-size chocolate bunny sitting across the kitchen from the Nespresso machine. I swear to you that they have been making eyes at each other since I first put them in the same room. And then of course all Easter bunnies need eggs, and chocolate + coffee + eggs = chocolate mousse. 
Just before I sat down to write this I ate the last two pots of mousse. Well, really, I ate one pot and then I stared bleakly into the empty pot, made a pouty face, and then Zach gave me the rest of his pot, and I ate it, and then proceeded to make another pouty face. This mousse is amazing. It is light, and airy, and fluffy, and smooth, and simple, and (I wish I had another word) delicious. I hope you make it.

As David Lebovitz notes in his book before this mousse recipe, the recipe relies on raw eggs. GASP! but you see, not really. Europeans don't panic about raw eggs, at all. If you go looking for the eggs in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, you wont' find them there, because they aren't refrigerated. They are stacked neatly on a shelf near the cool dairy items, but not with them. This initially terrified me. I avoided buying eggs for weeks, if not months. What about salmonella? I learned that after an egg is laid it has an inherent bacteria fighter built in, that keeps the egg safe for roughly two weeks. That same thing that keeps it safe on the shelf keeps it safe in your food, allowing you to make yummy chocolate mousse with raw egg. The eggs here in Zürich are dated with their lay date and expiration date. I also try to buy my eggs at the farmers market where I can assure they are local and fresh. I've eaten about 4 mousse pots, so that is a little over two raw eggs and I'm feeling better than ever...currently rationalizing...I really do feel good...maybe I should make more mouse...raw egg agrees with me...I feel energetic...and my hair is extra shiny...and I'm extra focused...must be the mousse...

// chocolate mousse //

* David Lebovitz suggests using Chartreuse liquor or espresso
** the little pots are optional, you can also make on larger batch
*** I just made these again (May 6, 2012) and I used a stronger espresso and it is a bit too strong. Use a mild espresso or even a lungo (more like an americano) or even a strong american drip coffee. 

 225 g // 7 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
45 ml // 3 tablespoons water
30 ml // 2 tablespoons mild espresso or strong coffee (see note above)
4 large eggs at room temperature, separated
pinch of salt. 

In a double boiler, or a bowl set over barely simmering water, begin melting the chocolate, water and espresso. Stir occasionally, making sure the mixture doesn't get too hot, and remove from heat just as it begins to looks smooth. Continue stirring until all of the chocolate has melted and the mixture smooth. Set the bowl aside. 

Whip the egg whites with the salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat until stiff peaks form and the mixture looks creamy. 

Stir the egg yolks into the chocolate mixture. Then fold one third of the egg whites in, incorporating until no white streaks are visible. Follow with the remaining egg whites until fully incorporated. 

Pour the mousse into 4-6 ramekins (or one big bowl), cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least three hours or overnight. The mousse will keep in the fridge for five days or in the freezer for one month. 

April 24, 2012

homemade orecchiette and bolognese sauce

I grew up with an Italian-American grandmother. She wasn't my grandmother exactly, but she was a grandmother. Her name was Rose and she was our nanny. She was the type of woman who it seems was born an old woman. Do you know the type? I cannot for the life of me imagine Rose as a young woman. When she started working for us she was ten years younger than my mom is now, but even then she seemed ancient, and for the twelve odd years that she worked with us it seemed like she never aged, she was just old to begin with.

Funny enough Rose never actually knew how old she was. My five year old mind found this impossible to comprehend. I was measuring my age by the quarter - I was five and three quarters (!!) - and here was a woman who didn't know how old she was. Was she three years old for two years in a row? Did she have a lot of siblings and her parents lost track? How do you lose track of something so integral to your existence? It came out only about ten years ago that was three years older than she though she was. It really troubled her, which was surprising to me, because that was the whole problem, she didn't know how old she was.

Everyday Rose wore a version of the same shapeless dress. Today it might be called a moo-moo, but I think she would have preferred the term 'house dress.' As I remember them they were short sleeved with little rounded collars and were often light blue, patterned with small pink flowers. When she sat down her dress often lifted just enough to reveal the top of her nude knee high. I remember she always called them 'hose,' not 'panty hose' or 'stockings,' just 'hose.' She didn't wear heals or pumps, but white orthotic shoes, the ones with teeny white pettipoint holes and a slight white heal.

You are likely imagining a heavy set woman, but Rose wasn't heavy, she was sturdy. Her short auburn curls - dyed monthly and coiffed weekly - were always flush to her head and seemingly squared off and flattened on top, augmenting her build. If you are nearsighted you might have mistaken her for a cardboard wardrobe box, or perhaps a small light blue refrigerator.

// pictures from our cooking class in Apulia //

Rose never went anywhere - the grocery store, church, next door - without putting makeup on. I think she was just playing it safe, because god forbid she run into Fabio at the corner store. You see, Rose was an avid reader of bodice rippers, the cheesy romance novels with titles like The Captain of All Pleasures and Savage Lovers. The small compact books were always a various shade of purple and always featured Fabio on the cover, bare-chested, clinging to a woman in distress while riding a white stallion, the whole scene reflected in a body of water. My little five year old mind must have assumed they were an adult version of My Little Pony, but now I find it funny to think that while we were napping Rose escaped to Fabio-land. She even read them while watching Soap Operas, perhaps to heighten their impact. Hopefully she still carried a little hope that she would meet her Prince Charming (or a naughtier version based on her reading materials), but in the years that she worked with us I think she only went on a few dates, and I doubt it was her coiffed hear and baby blue dress that won them over. In all likelihood it was her Bolognese sauce.

At just barely five feet it is a miracle that Rose could see over the edge of the tall stainless steel saucepot. She made Bolognese sauce for us once a week, and I imagine she made it for her own family just as frequently. She never used a recipe, she didn't need to, it was routine for her by that point. She chopped and stirred and let it simmer and then stirred some more until it was just as she liked it, not too soupy, but not so thick that the sauce didn't collapse into the spaghetti. My parents, who still eat spaghetti Bolognese once a week, adored her sauce. It is sad to say now, but my brother Peter and I cringed at the thought of it. We wanted our spaghetti with Ragu tomato sauce, the slick slimy stuff that comes in a glass jar and is more akin to watery ketchup than to tomato sauce. As I remember it, I think we actually liked her sauce, but that we were just trying to stir up drama. Did I mention that Rose was a bit dramatic with slight hypochondriac tendencies? Either way, we loved Rose - the little white shoes and all - and now we both love Bolognese sauce. I think of Rose standing on her tip toes peering into the saucepot everytime I make Bolognese, which although not once a week, is still quiet often.

Writing about Rose and cooking Bolognese came about because I want to be an Italian Grandmother. I don't want to be old (I'm already panicking about turning 30 in 4 months and 24 days), but I want to make homemade pasta while talking about the merits of one sauce over another, whip up sheets of tiramsu without needed to reference a cookbook, cook a delicious five course dinner with the remnants of the crisper drawer, and stand over a pot of sauce while wearing a 'house dress' and orthotic shoes, because although they aren't fashionable, they look damn comfortable.

I figured the first step towards becoming an Italian grandmother, before the Bolognese, was to master a simple tomato sauce, a more elegant version of my old favorite, Ragu. This sauce is simple, just tomatoes, butter, onions and salt, simmered over low heat for 45 minutes. It is an incredibly light and flavorful sauce, with just enough richness from the butter and flavor from the onions. It is the type of sauce that will make you wonder why you ever used store bought sauce.

// simple tomato sauce //
Marcella Hazan - inspired by Ali.
I made it once and then ran out to buy the book

- 900 g // 2lb fresh, ripe tomatoes (I mix varieties, adding some San Marzano tomatoes if they are available)
- 75 g // 2 1/2 oz butter
- 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced in half
- salt

You need to peel the tomatoes and the easiest way to do this is to dunk them in boiling water for a minute. Before boiling, turn the tomatoes bottom side up and slice an X in bottom, not cutting through the flesh, but just the skin. This will make it much easier to peel the tomatoes. Drop the 'X'd' tomatoes in the pot for 30seconds to a minute until the skins just peel away from the flesh. Let them cool, and when they are cool enough to handle peel them, discarding the peels.

Roughly chop the peeled tomatoes and transfer them with their juices to a medium saucepot. Add the butter, the onion and a few pinches of salt. You can adjust the salt to taste as you cook so don't add too much in the beginning. Cook, uncovered, at a very slow but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mash up the larger pieces of tomato as you stir. Taste and correct for salt. Once done you can process with an immersion blender if you prefer a smoother consistency, I do.
So before this post was about Rose and Bolognese, it was about homemade pasta (oh how the mind can wander). When Zach and I were in Apulia we took a cooking class at Masseria Torre Coccaro. Our parents had jointly put money in our account so we could treat ourselves to an anniversary bottle of champagne and a nice meal, but instead of having someone else cook it for us, we made it ourselves, with help from Cossimo, our teacher. We made Panzarotti (fried calzones, when it's your anniversary, like your birthday, you can eat whatever you want, it's a rule), Homemade Orechiette, Sea Bass with tomatoes and potatoes, and a Ricotta tart. Hopefully all of the courses will find their way on to the blog in the near future, but I thought it would be fun to start with the Orechiette. Once you've had fresh pasta, like fresh tomato sauce, you'll wonder why you've spent so many meals eating the boxed stuff. Homemade pasta is light, like a little puff of flavorful air, it melts in your mouth almost before you have a chance to chew.

Apulia is one of the poorest regions of Italy. Zach read somewhere that if you separated North and South Italy, that the North would be the richest country in Europe and the South the poorest, that is how stark the difference is between the two. Apulian pasta is paired down to the simplest ingredients, just flour and water, no egg or butter of olive oil, just the basics.

// homemade semolina pasta //
orecchiette (little ears)

* in Zürich you can buy semolina flour at Schwarzenbach, it is called Hartweizen dunst.
* Zach and I have made pasta twice since the class, two different ways, one the class way, and one with ratios we learned at a pasta class here in Zürich. The results were the measurements were easier to obtain using the Laughing Lemon ratio method. A kitchen scale is a must when making pasta
* We found this to be enough for about 2 as a main course, but feel free to up the ratio 100g flour : 40 g water
* make sure to buy extra flour because you will need it for rolling/shaping/sprinkling

- 200 g // 7 oz semolina flour
- 80 g // 2.82 oz water

Measure the flour and pour it into a bowl. Dig a cavity in the center of the flour, like a volcano and slowly add the water, mixing with a fork while you pour in the water. When the dough comes together just enough to form it into a semi-compact ball, turn it out of the bowl and on your work surface. Knead the dough for about 7-10 minutes. You are aiming for soft, smooth dough that is not sticky and that springs back when lightly poked with a finger. During the 7-10 minutes of kneading time you will likely need to add more flour if it is sticky or more water if it is dry (add water with a spritz bottle if you have one). If the dough is sticky at any point and the dough is sticking to your hands make sure to clean the dough from your hands by rubbing them together like you are washing them, and then incorporate that dough back into the larger ball.

Once you have achieved the right consistency wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it sit for at least half and hour, which gives the glutens a chance to relax and for the dough to absorb the water.

At this point if you have a pasta maker/roller feel free to use that, if you want to make orecchiette keep reading

Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and have a damp kitchen towel waiting. The dough will dry out very quickly and must be kept under the kitchen towel while you are working. Slice off small pieces and roll into a skinny log, about 1/2" in diameter. Then chop the log into little 1/2" pieces. Flour your work surface, it will make it easier to form the orecchiette. Using a knife blade, with the serrated edge facing away from you, press into the dough, pulling it along the work surface until the dough wraps itself around the edge of the blade. Invert the wrapped dough onto a finger on your opposite hand to form your little ear or orecchiette.

If that was confusing, which it probably was, watch this video. Not only will it help, but it will inspire you to nail this technique so you can be an Italian grandmother too. It's harder than it looks.

Place the shaped pasta on a lightly floured baking sheet, making sure they don't touch each other and sprinkling lightly with flour, and cover with a kitchen towel until ready to cook.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil (add more salt than you think, a few healthy teaspoons at least). Drop the pasta in and cook, stirring frequently, for roughy three minutes, until it is al dente and no longer tastes too doughy. Drain immediately and toss with sauce and serve.

And last, the Bolognese. This isn't Rose's recipe, but that doesn't mean I didn't stand tip-toe for a just a minute while I peered into the pot. This Bolognese sauce is with pork sausage, red wine and a good dose of the simple tomato sauce featured above. The pork adds richess, the wine adds depth and the tomato sauce adds a fresh tomato flavor, that helps to highlight the pork and wine, really it's just a big circle, all the ingredients playing of the others.

// pork bolognese sauce //
adapted from Mario Batali, Babbo

* this is the recipe cut in half, feel free to double it

- 225 - 450 g // 1/2 - 1 lb pork sausage, ground or removed from casing and broken apart
- 30 ml // 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 celery rib, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1/2 cup canned tomatoes.
- salt and pepper to tate
- 1 1/2 - 2 cups simple tomato sauce (see above) or basic sauce of your choice

In a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place the sausage in the pan and cook, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking, until browned. (My pork did not produce that much fat, but if yours does be sure to empty the pan of excess fat to avoid deep frying the meat). Remove the meat and set aside. Remove excess fat from pan (I didn't do this as I didn't have that much). Add the chopped carrot, onion and celery to the pan and sauté over medium heat tender, but not browned, about 6-10 minutes. Add the red wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to dislodge the pork bits. Add the pork back to the pot and pour in the canned tomatoes and continue to stir. Bring the mixture to a boil and allow some of the wine to cook off. When the sauce is looking thicker, add the tomato sauce. Bring to a boil again and then reduce to a slow but steady simmer. Cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring once every 7-10 minutes or so to make sure the sauce doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. If the sauce is too thick add some more tomato sauce until it reaches your desired consistency. Salt to taste and serve.

If you are using all the of the sauce, then pour your cooked pasta right into the pot, mix to coat, and serve!

Phew, that was a long post and I wish I could hangout in the sun with a glass of wine. That was a good day. But today will be a good day too because I have a jar of that simple tomato sauce in the fridge and some potatoes that are begging to be turned into gnocchi. Zach and I have a new rule, we can eat as much pasta as we want as long as it is homemade. Sounds like a good deal to me especially since he has taken on the role of kneading and I just get to shape it.

A note about our trip. If we were to go back, I think we would go when it's warm but not crowded (May, June, September) and stay at a Masseria, probably this one, but maybe this one, where we did the cooking class. That way we could enjoy the beach during the day and home cooked meals at night. We'd have the flexibility to explore, but we wouldn't feel like we had to go on an adventure everyday. Once all of the Apulia posts are up I will try and gather my thoughts in a single page and post it in the travel section.

April 17, 2012

grotto and pistachio cookies

If you've ever driven a Smart Car on an Italian highway then you can understand why we took the slow, albeit scenic route on our drive from Lecce to Otranto.

Really it was a combination of things that lead us to this place. It was raining. Lecce had been a disappointment. Our afternoon was free, except for an obligation to a bag of pistachio cookies. Overall we just had a feeling that something was missing, that there was more to be discovered, maybe ruins of an ancient civilization or a seaside town not scared by tourist shots or perhaps a view to behold.

It turned out to be the latter, and we almost didn't stop. There was a crumbling fortress that we both did a double take of, but we kept driving and only after we had rounded the bend did we look at each other and say "let's stop". There was nothing, no sign or billboard, to indicate that there might be something worth seeing, but we pulled over anyway and got out of the car.

First we saw the turquoise water, lapping underneath the rock face. It was beautiful. I took some pictures. Then we saw fractures, from the surface we were walking on down to the water beneath us, which were sensational. I took more pictures. Then, as we approached the edge, we saw this grotto.
I didn't even take any pictures right away. We simply stared for a while and then proceeded to walk around the pool. Stairs had been carved in the rock and we walked down and put our feet in the crisp and clear water. I was half expecting to see a sea turtle or two. From the carved graffiti it was clear that this is a popular summer swimming spot, but for us, there during the low season, it was hidden gem, something we discovered.

It is those moments away from your guidebooks and to-see lists that can really define a trip and make it yours.

I am guilty of over-planning trips, eager to make sure we see and do everything that is recommended. I run us around until we are hungry and defeated. Having nothing planned and just going with the flow is great in theory, but it often stresses me out, that feeling that we might miss something. We often say that when we visit a city for the second time, when we are free from seeing the sites, we will stay in one neighborhood for the whole visit, that way by the time we leave we will know which bakery has the best breakfast and which café is perfect for an afternoon with a book and which old lady sitting on the stoop we need to say hi to and which we need to avoid. You know, the little things that give definition to a place.
After we tore ourselves away from the pools and the cliffs we spent the rest of the day looking at the countryside through raindrops and windshield wipers. We got out briefly in Otranto, but again, we were disappointed and didn't stay long. At that point we turned around and headed North back to our hotel. Keeping us company on the long drive back were our excitement about stumbling upon the turquoise pools and that bag full of pistachio cookies. I guess you could say it was a little bit of luck and a little bit of guidance, because the cookies were from a bakery in Lecce that was mentioned in our guide book. Curious about the local treats I made sure we stopped in our way out of town. Zach picked out a cream filled cake and I chose the pistachio cookies. The cookies were nutty, dense, delicious, and surprisingly satisfying. The cookie was composed of a light crumb outer layer and a dense gooey inside, similar to a macaroon, but heartier.

/ / / pistachio cookie / / /

Almond trees are a fixture in the Apulian landscape, so almonds and almond flour are a common ingredient in regional confections. In Switzerland almond flour can be found at Coop or Migro and in the states I believe you can buy it at Whole Foods, if not other large grocery stores. I generally process the almond meal I buy, making sure it's fine and not coarse. I used roasted shelled pistachios that I shelled and processed in a coffee bean grinder (time to buy a food processor).

I fussed with this recipe until after three separate batches it finally felt right. The cookies aren't as sweet as the originals, but for me that is a good thing, because now you get little hints of their salty roasted nut beginnings.

makes about 18 cookies

80 g / 2.8 oz finely ground pistachios nuts
100 g / 3.5 oz almond flour
110 g / 3.9 oz fine sugar
50 g / 1.75 oz sifted confectioner sugar
35 g / 1.25 oz egg white (about 1 egg)
chopped pistachio nuts for rolling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC.

Mix the nut flours and sugar in a bowl. Pour about 1/3 of this nut mixture into the bowl of your standing mixer. Add the egg white and mix until incorporated. While keeping the mixer on continue to slowly add the rest of your nut mixture, allowing the egg mixture to absorb the dry mix before adding more. The dough should be reasonably smooth. If it is sticky add a bit more almond flour.

Using a teaspoon scoop out the dough and roll into balls between the palms of your hands, aiming for about 18-19 cookies. At this point you can chop pistachio nuts to roll the cookies in, or you can leave them plain. Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake on the middle rack of your oven for about 15-17 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely on a wire wrack before eating. When cool the inside should still be fairy dense and pasty. mmmmm, yum

April 13, 2012

chocolate baby shower

I read somewhere that pregnant women who eat chocolate have calm, well-tempered, easily pleased babies. With that sound piece of scientific research I went ahead and made Tartine's Devil's Food Cake for a little shower I hosted in honor of my dear friend Odette. Odette who is due in a matter of weeks (this whole baby thing continues to amaze me). With a 'better-safe-than-sorry' attitude, I figured it was probably wise that she eat as much chocolate as possible in the hopes of an even sweeter little baby girl.

On the topic of little girls, when I was a little girl I hated chocolate. I know. I hated chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream and chocolate bars. My favorite ice cream flavor was, and still is, strawberry, and I loved yellow cakes with vanilla frosting (have you had yellow cake recently? so good) and my favorite candy was anything of the gummi variety. Oh how things change. Now I love chocolate, so much so that I have to will myself not to eat it. Today, Sunday, is currently day two of a no chocolate stint, started after I ate an entire box of chocolate that I picked up at the Salon du Chocolat in Zürich. An entire box of little chocolate prailines, nutty chocolate slivers and orange crinkle chocolate thingys. I'd like to think that anyone in my situation (I mean you saw those chocolates right?) would have done the same thing, but I bet some of you out there have slightly more self restraint than me.

But I doubt you'd have enough self restraint not to have a couple of slices of this cake. Somehow this cake is more chocolatey than a plain bar of chocolate, and richer too. It could be described as chocolate covered in chocolate and caramel and sprinkled with more chocolate. The cake itself is perfectly moist and just dense enough to maintain a sensation of melted chocolate. It's not a cake you make on a whim because it takes some time and effort to make the separate components and then bring them all together, but I don't think you'd want this to be a whim cake, it is a special occasion cake. And whats more special than a new baby girl on the way?
The domes of the cake are saved to make the crumb topping. I must have eaten about 1/4 of the broken up domes (sitting there on the cookie sheet to left in the photo). The cake was still slightly warm and the little pieces tasted so much like brownie bites. As I sat there munching away I contemplated a 'Devil's Food Cake' ice cream - yum!
Over each layer you spread caramel and then chocolate ganache before topping with another cake layer. At the end you cover the whole thing in chocolate ganache (before covering with ganache I surrounded the cake with parchment paper to catch the drips and drabs, of which there were lots).

Devil's Food Layer Cake

*this is a fairly involved process so give yourself some time. It's worth it!
** I have given instructions for dressing the cake with the toasted cake crumbs. Tartine notes that you should make more ganache if you chose to skip the toasted crumb topping, but I found that I had plenty of extra ganache so I think you can stick to the recipe below even if you don't want to top with crumbs.
*** I have no idea how to keep this process clean. My cake was super messy, just go with it

cake ingredients
1 3/4 cup // 250 g all purpose flour
4 1/2 tbsp // 60 ml cornstarch
1 tsp // 5 ml baking powder
1/2 tsp // 2 ml baking soda
1 1/4 cup // 115 g cocoa powder
1 tsp // 5 ml salt
1 cup // 225 g unsalted butter
2 3/4 cup // 570g sugar
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cup // 310 ml buttermilk

chocolate ganache ingredients
24 oz // 680 g
3 cups // 750 ml heavy cream

caramel ingredients
2/3 cup // 150 ml heavy cream
1/4 vanilla bean
1 1/4 cup // 240 g sugar
1/4 cup // 60 ml water
1/4 tsp // 1 ml salt
2 tbsp // 30 ml light corn syrup
3/4 tsp // 4 ml lemon juice
4 tbsp // 55 g unsalted butter

the cake
Preheat the oven to 350ºF//180ºC. Butter two 9" cake pans and dust with flour, knocking out the excess. Cut a piece of parchment for the bottom of each pan - this will make getting the cake out much easier.

Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt into a bowl and set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter until light and creamy and then slowly add the sugar continuing to beat until light in color and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is incorporated before adding the next. With the mixer on low, add the flour in 3 batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Stop and scrape down the side of the bowl every once and awhile.

Divide the cake batter between the prepared pans. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and the top of the cake springs back when lightly touched. Let the cakes cool completely on a wire wrack.

chocolate ganache
While the cakes are cooling you can make the ganache. Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl. In a separate pan heat the cream until just under a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for a minute or two before stirring, allowing the cream to melt the chocolate. Stir until smooth, light, and shiny.

let the ganache come to room temperature, or even a little cooler before trying to ice the cake.

Pour the cream in one sauce pan. Split the vanilla bean and scrap the seeds into the cream. Bring to just under a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm

In a second heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, water, salt and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved stop stirring and cook until the mixture is amber colored, 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat.

Quickly, but carefully add the cream in a slow stream to the sugar mixture. The mixture will bubble furiously at first, so let it calm down before stirring. Whisk until smooth. Add lemon juice and cool for about 10 minutes.

Set the oven to 250ºF//121ºC. When the cakes have cooled turn them out of their pans. With a serrated knife slice off the domed portion of each cake, to make the top of each cake flat. The domes will be your cake crumb topping so place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Break up the cake domes. Place in the oven and bake for about an hour or until the crumbs are dry. Let cool and then process with a food processor until finely ground.

Slice each cake into two layers, so that you have 4 layers in all. Place one layer on your chosen serving plater. Spread 3 tablespoons of caramel evenly over the layer. Spread a thin layer of ganache, about 1/4 inch thick, over the caramel. Top with a cake layer. Repeat for layer 2 and 3. When you top with the final 4th layer you do not need to add caramel. At this stage refrigerate the cake for about 1-2 hours until the center seems firm and it's not slipping all over the place. Cover the ganache with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature.

Remove the cake from the fridge and use the rest of the ganache to ice the top and sides. In order for the crumbs to adhere the ganache needs to be soft. (you can use a hairdryer to soften things up if your cake/ganache has hardened). Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the top and sides of the cake. The sides were challenging, I had to use my hands to catapult crumbs onto the side and then flatten them into the ganache.

Serve the cake at room temperature. You do not need to refrigerate the cake.
We had fun pom-pomming the apartment. Martha Stewart is always there when you need her for an idea.
It was Katie's birthday so the cake doubled as a birthday cake, but don't worry there were plenty of shower-spefic goodies. We made scones, iced cakey cookies, lemon cake, another chocolate cake, a strawberry tart, chocolate birds nests with marzipan eggs, fig-ricotta crostinis, fennel and bean dip and just for good measure, a fruit salad.

Oh, and that life size chocolate bunny is currently sitting by my stove waiting to be turned into some sort of cake, or cookie, or mousse.
It was a wonderful shower and you can be sure that all of the food was enjoyed. The leftover cake found homes outside of my kitchen (thank goodness) and word make it back to me that husbands and kids and friends loved the cake too.
This is the chocolate bunny that kept us company at the dinner table. While we were away the bunny melted and we returned to a bunny with no back or tail.

Speaking of our trip....I'm planning on looking at the photos tonight so hopefully there will be a post soon.