Pardon my French, but son of a bitch. This is a two-day pie/cake/pudding hybrid with an Oreo crust, a flourless chocolate cake lower level, and a homemade pudding upper level. The recipe is from a book Jeff gave me called Baked Explorations, and it's by these two guys:
Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito are dead serious about desserts and reviving "heritage recipes." They have a popular bakery in New York called Baked. I fell for their cookbook the second I saw it a few months ago and alerted Jeff to my need: "Please? Christmas idea for me!"
The book's design reminded me of the boyish preciousness of Rushmore and the illustrations in The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen. It has an old-timey/steampunk aesthetic and geeky, obsessive, and somehow masculine instructions. And here's one example of what I mean by masculine: these two make no apologies for their butter abuse. And while Nigella or Paula or Martha have certainly never met a stick of butter they didn't like, even they will occasionally acknowledge its inherent badness with a sidelong glance, a giggle, or an apology such as, "I know this is a lot of butter, but that's what makes this cake so tender." Matt and Renato make no comment whatsoever on the amount of butter they are using, and all of the sweets in this book require at least one stick and sometimes more than four. Yes, over a whole pound of butter can go into one of their desserts, and they don't even mention it, much less apologize or warn you about it. I don't know, that just seems like an I-don't-give-a-damn, badass guy thing to me, and I'd imagine that Elvis would enjoy their recipes.
Unfortunately for this cookbook, Jeff and I have been watching what we eat, with the exception of a few days around Christmas. We're on a strict diet based on Tim Ferriss' "The 4-Hour Body." Jeff's a longtime Tim fan, and he enjoys the body-hacking science behind this plan, which is essentially a low-carb, high protein, high green vegetable kind of diet. Buy the book to get the whole plan, but suffice it to say that it's got me doing things like eating a spoonful of natural peanut butter first thing in the morning and totally not eating pasta or baking anymore and coming up with mouthwatering desserts for us such as a tiny handful of dark chocolate chips tossed in a tiny glass bowl with a single tiny shortbread cookie from the store. Thus, I have shared no exciting recipes with you lately. But I have lost seven pounds--exercise-free, no less.
So what the heck is that pie/cake/pudding thing doing up there? Awesomely, our diet provides for one splurge day per week--this tells our bodies that, no, we are not starving, and our metabolisms do not have to grind to a screeching halt. So as we eat our tidy, uninteresting and mostly chicken-based weeknight meals, we look at our sexy cookbooks and dream of what we'll be eating during our Saturday free-for-all. The star of today's splurge is, of course, Baked Explorations' Muddy Mississippi Cake. "It is, by far, the Baked staff favorite," say Matt and Renato, and the accompanying photo (see way below) commanded me to make it first.
You could spend an entire day putting this together (it requires lots of cooling/chilling time) or, as the Baked men advocate, you could spread it over two. Yesterday I made the crust and the cake layer, and this morning I made and chilled the pudding before assembling it in the afternoon. So it's a major time commitment, but I had nothing better to do yesterday, and the anticipation that builds during the construction of a two-day dessert makes eating it even more sublime. After spending that much time with this cake, it seemed to develop a sort of personality, and as I carried it to the refrigerator today for its final chilling period, it told me that it had a theme song. And this is the theme song (obviously it has explicit lyrics right out of the box and features Muppets):
I love that song. And now, on with the recipe. To make things easier, I'm dividing the ingredients and directions into sections.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CHOCOLATE COOKIE CRUST
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 16 ounces chocolate sandwich cookies such as Oreos (35 to 40 cookies), crushed <-- basically an entire big package of Oreos, minus a handful.
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly spray a 9-inch springform pan (I used a new, tall fluted tart pan my parents gave me) with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper and lightly spray parchment and sides of pan.
Place cookies in the bowl of a food processor; process to very fine crumbs. You should have about 3 1/2 cups. Transfer to a small bowl. Add melted butter and, using a spatula, stir until well combined. Pour crumb mixture into prepared pan and press evenly with the back of a spoon into bottom and up sides, leaving about 1/2 inch between the top of the crust and top of the pan. Transfer to freezer until crust is set, about 10 minutes.
Transfer crust to oven and bake until dry to the touch, about 10 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool.
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent), chopped
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
- 1/4 cup strong coffee, at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Place butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water to melt; stir to combine. Remove from heat. This can also be accomplished in a microwave with three 30-second blasts, stirring in between.
In a small bowl, whisk together espresso powder, coffee, salt, and vanilla; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar until light and almost doubled in volume, about 5 minutes. Add melted chocolate mixture and beat until just combined. Scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl and mix on low speed for 5 seconds. Add coffee mixture and beat until just combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix on low for 5 seconds.
In the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually increase speed to high and slowly add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, beating until soft peaks form.
Transfer 1 cup egg white mixture to chocolate mixture and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold to combine, about 30 seconds. Add remaining egg whites and continue gently folding until they are almost completely combined; do not overmix. Pour into cooled cookie crust and transfer to oven. Bake until cake is set but still jiggles slightly, 38 to 42 minutes. It may not appear completely cooked. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cake will deflate in the center as it cools. Tightly wrap cooled cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to overnight.
Note: My cake rose up over the top of my fluted tart pan while baking, creating a puffy dome that had me worried. Was the tart pan not as big as a springform pan? Did I whisk the egg whites for too long? Maybe I'm just way too good at folding? Not sure. The cake did indeed cave in while cooling, though, creating a sizable crater (see photo above) that accommodated nearly all of the pudding.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup dark unsweetened good-quality cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent)
In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Add egg yolks and whisk until combined. The mixture will look like a thick paste. My eggs must have been on the small side, because my mixture resembled gravel. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly.
Place saucepan over medium heat and bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly to prevent it from burning on the bottom of the pan. Boil for 30 seconds and immediately transfer to a medium bowl. Add butter, vanilla, and chocolate; whisk until combined. Continue whisking until mixture is cooled slightly. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Transfer to refrigerator until chilled, at least 3 hours.
Note on the pudding: you really do need to whisk constantly, and it will take a long time for the mixture to boil. But! Once it reaches the boiling point, this stuff thickens dramatically and somehow *becomes* a glossy, gorgeous pudding. I couldn't believe my eyes. That is your reward for the whisking. Also, your cat will want it, so work quickly when you're taking photos of it later.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM TOPPING
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
DIRECTIONS AND ASSEMBLY
In the chilled bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a chilled whisk attachment, beat cream until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Sprinkle sugar over cream and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Honestly, I just applied aerosol whipped cream to individual pieces as I served them.
Stir pudding to loosen and pour on top of cake, making sure to stay within the cookie crust border. Since my cake rose above that border, I just went to where the cake stopped. Using an offset spatula, spread pudding to form an even layer on top of the cake. Transfer to refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Spread whipped cream over chilled pudding layer, working all the way out to the sides. Unmold cake and serve immediately. The cake can also be kept, covered, refrigerated, for up to 2 days.
Note: expect a bit of a pudding cave-in at the center of the cake when you take out the first couple of slices. It wasn't extreme, but I have no idea how this photo from the cookbook was made:
You'll get something a bit sloppier but no less delicious:
Aim for small pieces when you cut your cake, as this sucker packs a mighty chocolate wallop. Jeff proclaimed it the best dessert we've had since The Chocolate Cake at Bobo, which is a huge deal. We ate, we sighed, we stared into space. Complete chocolate gluttony on splurge day.
And as if this isn't enough chocolate for one day, here's the trailer for Baked Explorations with a bonus recipe: