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.
Birthday “Ding Dongs” with Salted Caramel Ganache
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
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.
FOR THE MARSHMALLOW FILLING
Recipe adapted from Epicurious
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
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
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
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.
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.