In 2013 I was working from home and spending hours each day recipe planning, recipe testing, baking, cooking and writing for this, my beloved blog. I was also reading a lot of other cooking blogs, and Jenni Field’s Pastry Chef Online was (is!) one of my very favorites. I forget the exact origin story, but at some point Jenni announced the start of a community-building, cake baking project called Peoplehood of the Traveling Swirly Pan. The traveling swirly pan is Dorothy, a dramatic Nordic Ware bundt pan, and with her companion journal Toto (and now Toto II), she travels the country to the kitchens of those who have signed up to participate in the Peoplehood. Anyone lucky enough to host the pair will have a week to bake, document and share their experience online and in Toto. So… cake, community and writing about both? You better believe I added my name without hesitation.
And then I promptly lost track of her. 2013 was a long time ago. When I got notice in mid-March that my turn was coming up, I was surprised, excited… and worried. What would I bake? WHEN would I bake? At the start of the project, I had grand plans of baking a cake a day, or at least several during my week, hosting a tea/tasting party to share the bundts, and decorating my pages in Toto with color pictures and clever comments. Well. That just is not my reality these days, so I sat down to plan a better strategy for my time with Dorothy. I thought I could definitely do two cakes, one with the spices and flavors I love to show in my recipes, and another that was just over the top decadent. I thought about almond and cardamom, maybe something using cherries and mahleb, or perhaps a spring celebration of rhubarb and fresh herbs. I thought about a savory bundt for exactly two minutes. I considered filled bundts, pudding bundts, frosting vs. glaze vs. dusted powdered sugar. I thought about showcasing some of our family favorites, gluten-free apple or coconut with ginger and orange. Nothing grabbed me, nothing seemed quite right… and then I got sick. Sigh. Baking while sick is never a great option.
Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending. Once more I evaluated my plans and decided that when I felt better, I could get one beautiful cake made, photographed and shared. I looked through my notes about options and decided I would do something more classic than exotic but stay true to my own style and preferences. I also decided it was important to celebrate Dorothy with a new recipe instead of making a cake I had already baked and shared. There is a sweet little cake book called Cake Simple with a half dozen (okay, more) recipes I had bookmarked to try. One is a dark chocolate bundt, rich and decadent, I thought would go beautifully with the salted caramel sauce from Baked Elements. A perfect solution! Dark chocolate is nearly universally appealing, and the salted caramel sauce as “glaze” is exactly the kind of workaround I would find to make an exciting cake with no frosting. The cake looked straightforward and I had caramel sauce already from another recent baking project. I was so happy to have a plan that felt in line with my usual recipe planning methods.
I baked the cake on Tuesday night; it was a dream batter to make, fairly simple with no mixer required. I let the cake cool overnight before taking it out of Dorothy to glaze. Well, let me tell you, Dorothy must have liked my choice, too, because she was not interested in letting the cake go. When the bundt finally released, it was missing the top pieces that would have made the beautiful sharp angles in her swirl pattern. I got rolling hills instead of Rocky Mountains. And I still call it a victory: the dark chocolate cake is delicious; the salted caramel sauce is a perfect match, and served to disguise some of the missing top; and the crumbs stuck in the pan were scraped out and saved so I can make the chocolate babka recipe I have wanted to make for years. Now that is a win-win if I have heard of one.
My time with Dorothy has come to an end; I wrote up the recipe and a quick summary of my week in Toto, and packed everything back up to send to the next lucky baker in North Dakota. I am grateful to Jenni for coordinating this project! It was so much fun to read through Toto about other cakes, baking parties, and even meet-ups where Dorothy was passed in person, geography allowing. I am proud to be part of the Peoplehood, to have this story to tell, and I hope someone will be inspired to try my midnight chocolate cake in their own beloved bundt pan.
Midnight Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce
For the cake:
- 3 oz. bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate, shaved or broken into small pieces (I used Scharffen Berger 99%)
- 3/4 c. boiling water
- 3/4 c. cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark)
- 1 3/4 c. flour
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 c. dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 c. sugar
- 1 c. buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- 1 T. vanilla
For the salted caramel sauce:
- 1 c. sugar
- 2 T. light corn syrup
- 1/4 c. water
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- 1 tsp. fleur de sel
- 1/4 c. sour cream
Let’s start with the caramel sauce, since that can be made days in advance. This recipe makes about 1 1/2 c. and you won’t need much more than 1/2 c. to glaze the cake. (But don’t let me stop you from using more.) You can use leftover sauce on ice cream, brownies, apple slices, etc.
Have all ingredients measured and nearby BEFORE you start cooking. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water. Stir gently to prevent the mixture from splashing up the sides of the pan. Heat on medium-high, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to high and cook, without stirring, until the mixture is dark golden brown and a candy thermometer reads just shy of 350 degrees. Do not leave the pot unattended or you will burn your caramel. You will. It takes about 6-8 mins. to get the right color/temperature and goes from clear to perfectly golden quickly.
Remove from the heat and add the cream; the mixture will hiss, bubble and release steam. Do not add cream with your hand/face/arm over the pan; steam burns. Add the fleur de sel. Whisk in the sour cream and set aside to cool. The caramel sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 10 days, according to the cookbook, and sometimes a little longer, according to my experience.
Now let’s make the cake. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Liberally grease Dorothy or a similar 10 cup bundt pan. Use melted butter, canola oil or spray, and get into all those ridges. Lightly flour the pan and shake out the excess.
Put the dark chocolate pieces in a large bowl and pour the boiling water over. Stir until the chocolate melts and set aside to cool.
Whisk together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, baking soda and kosher salt.
When the chocolate mixture has cooled, add the white and brown sugar and stir until smooth. Add the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla; stir until smooth and well-combined. Sift in the dry ingredients and fold them in just until combined. The batter may look a little lumpy, but that’s okay. Pour into your prepared pan, smooth out evenly, and bake for 40-50 mins., until a skewer inserted into the deepest part of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack before attempting to get the cake out of the pan.
When you are ready, use a rubber spatula to loosen the cake around the edges and from the center tube. Place a plate upside down over the bundt pan and invert the cake onto the plate. You may need to shake and shimmy a bit to get it out.
Drizzle the salted caramel over the top of the cake. Serve immediately. Store for 3-5 days in a cake keeper at room temperature. Enjoy!