Thursday, July 20, 2023

Disaster Cake with Black Pepper Icing


I tore out this devil’s food cake with black pepper boiled icing from Bon Appétit ages ago, mainly because I liked the flavor combo – a 7-minute-icing with black pepper on a chocolate cake, what’s not to love? Plus, the Fox *loves* putting pepper (and salt) on all his foods, so this was right up his alley. 

I did change the cake recipe a little bit in that I omitted the cacao nibs and ground coffee, but still, I can tell you that this cake recipe does NOT work. The layers baked up way too thin, but the texture was not great either, and I question the wisdom of using two pans instead of three here (in the sense that I don’t think it would entirely solve the issue). It fell apart as I was unmolding it, of course, and my notes show that I ended up calling this a complete disaster of a cake. Of course, by then, I had invested a large chunk of the day into this project, so I didn’t want to have no dessert to show for it… I ended up using spatulas to transfer the equivalent of two layers onto the serving plate, spackled together with the filling (honestly, a chocolate buttercream would have been both more pleasant and easier to make that this). I iced the whole thing with the boiled black pepper icing to make it look nice. And I literally called it “disaster cake with black pepper icing” when I served it! 

The verdict: the black pepper icing is top-notch! We all loved it (including the Fox, who normally doesn’t like icing), and I would definitely use it to top my favorite chocolate cake (say, this one). None of us really cared for the cake (again, including the Fox, even though he is typically more into cake than frosting!). I’m giving you the recipe as it was originally printed simply because I did not test anything else, but be warned that I’m not actually recommending the cake of the filling, just the icing! 

For the filling 
3 ½ oz. bittersweet chocolate (60%-64% cacao), chopped 
¼ tsp. kosher salt 
1 cup lactose-free cream, divided 
1 tsp. unflavored gelatin 
2 Tbsp. sugar, divided 
3 large egg yolks 
½ cup lactose-free crème fraîche or sour cream 

For the cake 
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
1 large egg 
1 large egg white 
½ cup + 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour 
½ cup + 1 Tbsp. cake flour 
¾ tsp. baking soda 
1 ½ cups dark brown sugar 
6 Tbsp. (¾ stick) lactose-free butter, at room temperature 
½ tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract 
½ tsp. kosher salt 
½ cup + 2 Tbsp. lactose-free buttermilk substitute 
2 Tbsp. cacao nibs 
1 Tbsp. finely ground espresso beans 

For the black pepper icing 
1 cup sugar, divided 
¼ tsp. kosher salt 
3 large egg whites, at room temperature 
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper 

For the filling 
Combine chocolate and salt in a large bowl; place a fine-mesh strainer over bowl and set aside. Pour 1 tablespoon cream into a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over and let stand until softened, about 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, bring remaining cream and 1 tablespoon sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Whisk yolks and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in hot cream mixture; return to saucepan. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens slightly and your finger leaves a path on the back of a spoon when drawn across, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. 

Add gelatin mixture to cream mixture; stir to dissolve. Pour through prepared strainer into chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute; whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Whisk in crème fraîche. Using an electric mixer, beat filling until well blended, about 2 minutes. Press a sheet of plastic wrap onto surface of filling; chill overnight. 

For the cake 
Preheat oven to 350 °F. Coat the bottom and sides of three 9" cake pans with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pans with parchment-paper rounds. 

Sift cocoa powder into a medium bowl. Whisk in egg and egg white. Gradually whisk in ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water; whisk until smooth. In a separate medium bowl, whisk both flours and next 2 ingredients. 

Using an electric mixer, beat brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat cocoa mixture into butter mixture. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Fold in cocoa nibs and ground espresso. Divide batter among pans; smooth tops. 

Bake cakes until a tester comes out clean when inserted into center, about 17 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans set on wire racks for 5 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks; remove pans and let cakes cool completely. 

Place 1 cake layer on a plate. Stir filling to loosen. Spread half of filling (about 1 cup) over cake in an even layer. (The note at the end of the original recipe says to let it set fully before adding the next layer of cake, though you wonder why that’s not in the instructions.) Place second cake layer on top of filling. Spread remaining filling over in an even layer. Place remaining cake layer on top. Chill cake for 1 hour. 

For the black pepper icing 
Mix 1 tablespoon sugar and salt in a small bowl; set aside. Attach a candy thermometer to side of a small saucepan; add remaining sugar and ½ cup water to pan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down side with a wet pastry brush, until thermometer registers 240 °F, about 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat at medium speed until frothy. With machine running, gradually add reserved sugar and salt from small bowl. 

Gradually add hot syrup from saucepan to egg whites, beating at medium-high speed and allowing syrup to drizzle down sides of bowl. Continue beating whites until stiff and cool, about 20 minutes. Add pepper; beat until well blended. 

Immediately spoon topping onto cake. Smooth over top and sides. Working quickly, swirl icing decoratively. (Cake can be iced 1 day ahead. Cover with a cake dome; chill. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving. To brûlée the icing, use a kitchen torch to toast icing in spots.)

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