13 Going on 30

Birthday "Ding Dongs" with Salted Caramel Ganache

Birthday “Ding Dongs” with Salted Caramel Ganache

Hostess Ding Dongs were a common mainstay in my She-Ra lunchbox during grade school. I remember the excitement from opening up my lunch to find that little foil-wrapped cake waiting just for me. Some of my classmates would attempt to “trade” a Ding Dong for something like a baggie of chocolate Teddy Grahams or a bottle of Squeeze-It Juice. As tempting as it was, I never succumbed.

Nearly 25 years later, I still have that taste memory of those cakes fresh in my mind. For my former roommate Gina’s 30th birthday I decided to make her a batch of homemade “Ding Dongs.” Seeing as how Gina favors a salty-sweet taste aesthetic, the cakes are dipped in a salted caramel ganache, inspired by this recipe. And to make her “30, Flirty and Thriving”-themed surprise birthday extravaganza even more special, I cut the cakes into heart shapes.

Cook’s Note: These cakes are super-moist and airy, and the marshmallow filling isn’t as sweet as most recipes I’ve come across. The recipe yields about 12 “Ding Dongs” with plenty of cake scraps to snack on for later, as well as extra caramel ganache that can later used to top ice cream sundaes.

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Surprise!

Surprise!

 

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Allow the cakes to cool before cutting them into shapes (if you decide to do so)

Birthday “Ding Dongs” with Salted Caramel Ganache

FOR THE CAKE
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Beantown Baker

INGREDIENTS
2 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 cup hot brewed coffee
2 cups sugar
1 2/3 cups flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 1/3 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 ea. eggs
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

METHOD
Preheat oven to 300°F and grease 2 10-inch round cake pans.

Finely chop chocolate and add into a bowl of hot coffee. Stir until chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.

Sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In another large mixing bowl beat the eggs until thickened slightly and lemon-yellow in color. Slowly stream in the oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined.

Divide the cake batter between pans and bake in the middle rack until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, roughly one hour.

Cool cakes completely in pans on racks. Run a small knife or palette knife around the edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. You can make the cakes one day ahead and wrap them with plastic wrap and left out in room temperature.

*Cook’s Note: If you’re prepping the cakes for the following day, do not place them in the refrigerator, this causes the cake to dry out, no bueno! If you’re prepping a few days in advance, thoroughly wrap the cakes in plastic wrap and into the freezer. Defrost accordingly.

filling

Save your leftover marshmallow filling to top hot chocolate.

FOR THE MARSHMALLOW FILLING
Recipe adapted from Epicurious

INGREDIENTS
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 each large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

METHOD
In large mixing bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup water, sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt. Set bowl over a double boiler of simmering water and mix with a whisk or handheld electric mixer at low speed. Gradually increase speed to high, beating until mixture holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.

Remove bowl from double boiler to a rolled up kitchen towel (this helps to keep the bowl in place) onto your counter and continue beating until mixture is cool and billowy, about 2 minutes more. Beat in the vanilla. This filling can be made ahead 4 hours before assembly, just cover with plastic wrap and chill.

FOR THE SALTED CARAMEL GANACHE
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

INGREDIENTS
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Sea salt for garnish

METHOD
Place chopped chocolate and salt into a medium-sized bowl and set aside. Stir the sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a deep medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and cook, swirling the pan occasionally (don’t stir! It will cause the sugar to crystallize!) and brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush if you have one. You want to cook the sugar till it is a deep amber color, this takes about 10 minutes. Once you achieve the amber color, remove the pan from the heat and stream in the heavy whipping cream. The mixture will bubble vigorously. Return the pan to cook over medium heat and stir until the caramel bits dissolve. Then pour over this mixture into the bowl of chopped chocolate. Add the vanilla and stir until the chocolate has melted and is smooth. Allow to cool slightly.

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Assembly gets messy, but it’s so worth it

 

ganache

Salted caramel ganache! What?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASSEMBLY
Once the cake layers have cooled completely, use a small round cookie cutter (in my case I used a heart-shaped cookie cutter) to cut small circles of cake out of the layers. Reserve the cake scraps for future sweet treats!

Using the cone method, scoop out a small portion of cake from each circle. Fill with the marshmallow filling and replace top of cake.

With a pastry brush or spoon, cover individual cakes with salted caramel ganache. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt flakes over cakes for garnish. Allow ganache to completely set up before serving.

Split Decision

Secret Ingredient: Chickpeas!

Secret Ingredient: Chickpeas!

My sweet tooth is becoming a problem. A major problem. The kind of problem that goes straight to the thighs and derrière, so much so that my pants (two pairs, thus far) are waging a war against me–splitting at the most unpleasant of areas at the most inconvenient of times. Perhaps *they* are trying to tell me something?

Within the first few weeks of working at a former job, I had experienced one of the most embarrassing moments in a cook’s life–I had bent down to pick up a sheet tray from the rolling rack, and eek! my 3-year-old, culinary school-issued, black pants had split at the seam of my, err, caboose. I was exposed. Completely embarrassed, I had to scurry (apron now wrapped around my waist, concealing said ripped pants) to my sous chef and ask him for an emergency pair of black chef pants. My sous chef then contacted our restaurant’s general manager about the “situation” who then ran over to the human resources building to get me a new pair. Before I knew it, nearly everyone working in my cafe had found out about my pant mishap. Not only was I the “New Girl”, I was now the “New Girl with the Incredibly Splitting Pants!” I felt like a really bad circus act.

For this I blame a lack of exercise. Working 8-13 hours a day is hard on the body and doesn’t allow me the time to work out after-hours. By the time I get home from work, I’m extremely exhausted. While my job is very physically demanding–heavy lifting, running around, standing for long periods of time, etc.–I was missing the fat- and calorie-burning cardio exercise I needed to counter my sweet tooth-crazed problem. To combat this issue I’ve now begun walking to work, a mere 3.5 miles, 7 miles roundtrip. I’m now able to eat the sweet things (very sparingly!) without all the guilt.

Even still, cookies are my vice. Always have been. They’re my go-to snack whether they’re fresh from the oven (the best kind) or of the grocery store variety. I began researching for a healthy cookie option to help ease my daily sweet cravings. Does a healthy cookie even exist? I found a recipe via The Texanerin of a grain-free cookie made of (hold your breath now) chickpeas! Yes, I couldn’t believe it, either, when I first read about it. I immediately got to recipe testing. With some slight tweaking (I substituted the peanut butter for almond butter and added Nutella and brown sugar to the mix), this cookie does make me feel less guilty. And just to be sure, while I wait for the cookies to bake, I do squats and leg lifts in between.

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A Different Kinda Chocolate Chip Cookie

Grain-free Vegan Nutella-Almond Butter Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe slightly adapted from Texanerin Baking
Yields about 17 cookies

INGREDIENTS
1 1/4 cups canned chickpeas, well-rinsed and patted dry or (350g cooked)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup almond butter
1/3 cup + 1 teaspoon Nutella or hazelnut spread
1/4 cup (80 grams) honey
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
1/8 cup (70 grams) brown sugar
1/2 cup (90 grams) dark chocolate chips (65% cacao or more)

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Other ingredients: honey, almond butter, and of course, Nutella

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Dark chocolate chips

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Hey batter batter batter!

METHOD 
Preheat your oven to 350°F/175°C. Combine all the ingredients, except for the chocolate chips and brown sugar, in a food processor and process until very smooth. Make sure to scrape the sides and the top to get every little chunk of chickpeas and process again until they’re well combined.

Add in the chocolate chips and brown sugar and stir till just combined. The mixture will be very thick and sticky.

Transfer dough into a small bowl and place into refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour to congeal. Allowing the dough to cool makes it slightly easier to handle.

When you’re ready, use an ice cream scoop or spoon to form 1- to 1/2-inch balls. Place onto a Silpat- or parchment paper-lined sheet tray. Bake for 10-15 minutes.

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Post-bake!