My young cousin, Justin, spent many an afternoon with me in his 3rd through 4th, or so, year of life, while his mother was at work. He would drive around with me as I ran my errands (I found out this weekend that listening to NPR on my car radio was a formative experience for him). We would sometimes bake cookies when his older brother, Byron, and his cousin, Martin, joined us after school. We’d often take walks and see magical things - like pelicans feeding, and sea lions diving in and out of the water - along the bike path in the Marina with my dog, Angel.
“Angel- you mean like those things with wings?” Justin asked, a bit impertinently, when my mother introduced them. Mom chuckled, “like those beings that watches over us” she said. One day, on one of those walks, when I took a break from the non-stop chatter we were engaged in, Justin said “Aunty G., let’s talk about stuff some more.”
Right there was a clue to where Justin was headed in his life. It turns out Justin is possessed with an extraordinary mind. He swept so many awards at his at El Rodeo Middle School graduation ceremony, that his mother, my cousin, Illona, said it almost became embarrassing.
From there, he was offered a scholarship to The Thacher School, a prestigious private boarding school. Illona had a very difficult time letting him go, but was convinced by those in our family who are educators, that this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Justin expressed the most excitement about the prospect of having his own horse while there, although he told me the one time I visited him there, that he had spent the whole day in poop. When he graduated from The Thacher School, he was awarded The Thacher Cup, which is described as being given to the one individual that exemplifies “all of the ideals that represent Thatcher: academic excellence, extracurricular achievement, moral leadership, and concern for others”. My young cousin, Aida, wrote in her blog, allboldeverything.com that as they sat “listening to the school’s headmaster describe the final award, I know we were all thinking the same thing, ‘it has to go to Justin’.” And amid a flood of tears, they heard these final words “and he will be leaving for New Haven, Connecticut this fall..."
Justin flew off this morning to begin his journey as a student at Yale, his choice of several universities that wanted him.
Our Justin is as humble and laid back as he is brilliant, so even though he didn’t really care about it, last weekend we threw a big party to bid Justin farewell. Oh - he did care enough to let me know he wanted a chocolate cake with caramel sea salt icing.
Mocha Fudge Cake with Caramel Sea Salt Icing
Mocha Fudge Cake - adapted from A Piece of Cake by Susan G. Purdy
I have used this moist and delicious recipe for many years as my default chocolate cake recipe. I doubled the recipe to fill the large "book" pan. A single recipe is ehough to fill 2- 9 inch layer pans.
- 2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 1/4 cups brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon strong instant coffee dissolved in 1 cup boiling water
- Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt in a large mxing bowl, and set it aside.
- Melt the chocolate in the top pan of a double boiler, over simmering water. Set the chocolate aside to cool when it is melted.
- In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until very smooth and fluffy. Beat in the brown sugar, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat teh mixture on medium high speed for 4-5 minutes, until very fluffy and light.
- With the mixer on low speed, beat in the vanilla and cooled chocolate. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with flour. Slowly, blend in the dissolved coffee.
- Pour the batter into well buttered and floured pan(s). Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 35 minutes, or until the top is lightly springy and a cake tester comes out clean.
- Cool the cake for about 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream
I quadrupled this recipe to fill, ice and decorate my large cake.
- 4 egg whites
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/4 cup unsalted butter (You may substitute about 1/3 -1/2 of the butter for vegetable shortening, to hold up better in warm weather), softened but not melted
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- A pinch of salt
- 1/3 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup caramel (recipe below)
- Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the large metal bowl of an electric mixer and set it over a pot of simmering water on the stove. Stir them frequently until the sugar dissolves and the mixture warms to 120 degrees.
- While the sugar is warming, cream the butter by hand until it is soft and smooth, so that it will incorporate easiy into the buttercream.
- As soon as the egg and sugar syrup has reached the correct tempertaure, add the cream of tartar and salt, and whip with the electic mixer until the eggs have about quadrupled in size. They should hold medium peaks and have cooled enough to in corporate the butter with out it melting.
- Begin adding the butter a small spoonful at a time, whipping after each addition. The buttercream will deflate about halfway through the additions, but wil fluff up again by the time you have added all the butter. Whip in the caramel and vanilla.
Yield: @3 cups
Caramel - from Desserts by Nancy Silverton
I cook this caramel slightly longer than one might for a traditional caramel, as it will be added to the buttercream which will dilute its color and flavor, and I like that stronger slightly burnt sugar flavor. Be carfeul not to overcook it, though.
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4 ounces unslated butter
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- Heat the cream and butter with the vanilla bean and seeds, in a small saucepan, until the butter melts and the mxiture is hot. Keep it warm over a very low heat.
- Heat the corn syrup, in a deep heavy 3 quart saucepan, over medium heat just until it bubbles. Sprinkle enough sugar to cover the entire surface of the bubbling corn syrup (about 1/3 cup), and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is incorporated, and the mixture starts to bubble and thin out. The mixture will be opaque and grainy. Stir constantly to prevent the sugar from cooking and coloring while the sugar is being added.
- Add the rest of the sugar in batches of the same size, incorporating it in the same manner. The mixture will become stiff. Continue cooking , stirring vigorously, until a thread of syrup dripped from the lifted spoon is runny, and medium amber colored. Remove from the heat immediately.
- Add the hot cream and butter mxiture to the sugar in four additions, stirring well after each addition. BE CAREFUL, as the caramel will bubble up and splatter as you add the cream.
- Return the caramel to high heat, and boil 2-3 minutes, stirring gnetly, until the sugar is completely dissolved, and the caramel reduces and becomes thicker. The thread that drips from the spoon shou dnow be clear rather than cloudy.
- Pour immediately inot a heat proof container, and stir a few times to release the heat and stop cooking. When refriegerated, the caramel will become thicker, and need to be scooped out of the container rather than poured.
To assemble the cake:
Because I used the Wilton Aluminum Three Mix Book Pan , I had to split my cake horizontally. If you have baked layers, obviously, you can skip that step.
- Spread the caramel buttercream over the first layer, then sprinkle with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of coarse sea salt. I used @ 1 tablespoon for my half sheet cake sized layer. When I tasted a tiny amount, it seemed very salty to me, but by the next day when we cut the cake, the salt had soaked into the buttercream and it didn't seem salty at all- so this is a judgement call.
- Allow the layers to set up in the refrigerator after "sandwiching" the cake.
- Ice the outer edge and top of the cake. If you like, you may sprinkle more salt over the top layer of icing.
For Justin's cake, I had the images printed on thin edible sheets at my local cake decorating store. If you use them, it's much easier to get the layer off the paper backing if you freeze the sheets flat on a sheet pan for about 2 minutes. Any image or photo can be printed onto the sheets.