Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chocolate-Juniper Cake with Milk Jam Crème Fraîche

It took me a while to make this recipe from Bon Appétit, mostly because it seemed complicated at first to adapt it to be lactose-free. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t use crème fraîche, I used lactose-free sour cream, and I really like the extra tang this gave to the mixture, though my milk jam / sour cream ration was higher than called for in the recipe. Basically, the way to make milk jam is to simmer (lactose-free) milk with sugar until the milk turns a reddish-brown, like caramel. The result is not unlike dulce de leche, come to think of it. I made half of the amount in the original recipe and still had plenty for the cake; I smeared the rest on toast. The amount I’m giving below is the one I used, because I don’t see the point of having too much of it left over. The other neat thing about this cake is that it is sliced in bars, which are then rolled around in sugar and caramelized in a pan (this is really fast and not as much of a pain in the a** as it seems).

I was surprised by how much the juniper came through in this cake, and it went quite well with the salt in the moist crumb and the crunchy, sugary exterior. Not to mention the sour cream milk jam mixture! There’s also a mix of hot and cold in this dessert that I find very pleasant. I really, really liked this dish. The Engineer is in agreement, as he said that it was “the most original and interesting cake you’ve made… Yeah. You’ll have to make it again. I heartily approve.” And the second evening, before dessert, he said, “You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to this.”

For the cake
2 tsp. (heaping) juniper berries
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cups sugar, plus more for coating
½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. natural unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
¾ cup buttermilk (i.e., 2 or 3 tsp. vinegar and top it up with lactose-free milk)
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. water

For the crème fraîche milk jam
1 cup lactose-free whole milk
½ cup sugar
1 cup lactose-free crème fraîche or lactose-free sour cream

For the cake
Preheat oven to 350 °F. Coat a 13x9x2" glass baking dish with nonstick spray (mine is metal and it worked fine). Line bottom with parchment paper; spray parchment and set aside.

Toast juniper berries in a small skillet over medium heat until aromatic, 2–3 minutes. Let cool. Finely grind in spice mill.

Sift flour, 1 2/3 cups sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and ground juniper berries into a large bowl.

Whisk buttermilk, oil, eggs, and water in a medium bowl. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Pour batter into prepared baking dish; smooth top.

Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 35–40 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cover and chill in freezer until frozen, about 2 hours. (The cake can be made 3 weeks ahead. Wrap in 2 layers of plastic; keep frozen.)

Unwrap cake and invert onto a work surface; discard parchment. Using a long serrated knife, trim cake to form clean edges. Cut cake in half lengthwise, then cut each half crosswise into 1¼ “–wide bars. (I cut the whole cake, then put the bars I wouldn’t eat right then back in the freezer and did the next step only before serving dessert each time. Believe me when I say it’s worth it.)

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour a layer of sugar onto a plate. Roll each bar in sugar, coating completely. Working in batches, caramelize cake in skillet, turning with tongs to brown evenly, about 30 seconds per side per batch (be careful; the sugar burns quickly). Serve warm, with milk jam crème fraîche.

For the milk jam crème fraîche
Bring milk and sugar to a boil in a medium pot over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar (take care that milk doesn’t boil over). Reduce heat to low. Simmer gently, whisking occasionally, until milk is thick, turns light reddish-brown, and measures scant ½ cup, 40–45 minutes. Transfer jam to a heatproof jar; let cool. (The jam can be made 1 week ahead. Cover; chill.)

Whisk together 1 Tbsp. milk jam and crème fraiche in a small bowl. Add more milk jam to taste to sweeten, if desired. (I used a liberal amount, really.)

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