OK. Please bear with me because not only did I go picture crazy with this post, but there is one whopping heck of a lot of recipes at the bottom. This is a post of mammoth proportions, but I promise, it’s worth it!
Seriously though, I very, very rarely do something fancy in the decorating department and I was so ridiculously happy with how this turned out that I can’t seem to help myself, so I hope you don’t mind too much!
For this month’s Secret Recipe Club I received Ms. Amanda herself – that’s right! Our intrepid founder and fabulous hostess! I was super excited because I’ve had several of her recipes bookmarked for a while (seriously, I want to eat the entire pan of this!). Aside from her recipes though, she is an incredibly crafty lady… and, I have to admit, though I’ve probably never ‘fessed up to this here, I have TOTAL craft envy. I want to be crafty – but I’m just not. I try, but it rarely goes the way I want it to and I generally don’t come up with very original ideas. (By the way, Amanda just redesigned and transferred her blog on over to WordPress and it looks completely darling, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you should go check it out!)
I decided, in honor of Amanda and all the hard work she does for us (and because she was recently orphaned in one of the month’s reveal dates and I felt like I needed to pull out all the stops here) that I would not only get my craftiness groove on (what there is of it) but that I would also dig through her archives and come up with something extra, extra special.
I then found this recipe for Amanda’s 4-Layer Chocolate Dappled Pumpkin Cake that she had had featured in Mixing Bowl magazine last Fall. So, for many reasons, plus adding in the fact that the Fall season is once again upon us, meant that this recipe had to be it my pick for the month – or at least my version of it since that is what the SRC is all about!
Of course, you know I never leave well enough alone, so I always have to fiddle around. A few more spices, a bit (okay, quite a bit) more chocolate, etc etc etc – you get the idea.
I decided that I wanted to take Amanda’s recipe and see if I couldn’t further gild an already lovely lily… or more appropriately in this case, gild the pumpkin. I wanted all my favorite Autumn flavors in one deluxe cake – pumpkin, spice, chocolate, caramel, cream cheese – it’s all here!
So. I did. Literally. Gild the pumpkin, I mean. See below, there’s actual gilding on that little pumpkin. Cinderella herself would have been proud to call this cake her own. They were seriously so stinkin’ CUTE!
And!!! They were actually not hard to make. This is the part where I got my crafty on.
These little darling pumpkins – and they are little, only about the size of a grape – are made out of white chocolate plastic – that is crafty for me, people. Seriously. I found the recipe for the white chocolate plastic here, because I’ve had these roses bookmarked FOREVER (seriously, since she posted them in 2008!). I still haven’t attempted them, because I decided to make pumpkins.
After all, I’m not sure if I can pull off rose petals (I will try some day… really, when I have lots of free time and no kids driving me crazy!), but I can roll little pieces of white chocolate plastic into balls, score them down the sides with the back of a butter knife, poke a hold in the top with a toothpick, insert a chocolate sprinkle and brush them with a little gold lustre dust with the best of ‘em. Oh, yes. Yes, I can.
But still. This is Amanda we’re taking about here. The woman is CRAFTY – in ALL CAPS. She is a crafting power house AND a great cook and baker and friend. In fact, I’ve “known” Amanda through our blogs for years – pretty much since the beginning (for me) close to 4 years ago. And she is still there for me. This my friends, means a LOT to me. Especially with all the craziness and changes the last 4 years have wrought in my life.
So. Further gilding was called for. That is where the caramel corkscrew ‘vines’ on the pumpkins came in. I totally melted and burnt sugar – straight up – in a pan. In fact, it wasn’t as easy as I hoped, but it actually got easier with practice, and the beautiful thing is that if you miss the ‘sweet spot’ on the texture of the caramel to get the right twirl and consistency, you can just warm it again and keep trying. It was a lot more forgiving than I expected. I owe my success to Helen and also to this video tutorial. As Helen says, “do not fear the sugar!” It was fun and they really are so gorgeous! I made the tiny ones using a bamboo skewer that I lightly sprayed with oil, and the bigger ones (below and in the hot chocolate picture I’ll talk about in a minute) using my knife sharpener as suggested in the video tutorial. Seriously, using the knife sharpener is ingenious – it just wants to slide right off – so easy!
Over the top cakeiness (I know, that’s not a word, but what’s a girl to do?) was also called for, so, in this case the cakeiness needed to be in not only 4-layer form like the original, but in cupcake form as well. Conveniently enough, with a few small tweaks to the original recipe, I was able to make exactly 12 cupcakes and one 4-layer 6-inch cake instead of the original 4-layer 9-inch cake Amanda made. I imagine (but haven’t tried, so let me know if you do) that you could get a full 24 cupcakes out of the recipe if you wanted to skip the layers all together.
The cake itself is a combination of pumpkin, lightly spiced, chocolate with more chocolate bits mixed in for that extra hit, moist and rich (but not too rich) cake. While Amanda originally used a whipped cream lightened chocolate cream cheese frosting for the filling with more chocolate sprinkled in, I wanted to go a little crazy with the frosting and decided to go big and make a salted butter caramel sauce to beat in to the cream cheese along with some butter for a rich, sweet, salty caramel flavor. On top of that I wanted to do the chocolate layer like Amanda did, but I wanted to be able to drip it down the sides so it would kind of ‘drape’ down the frosting as shown in the magazine feature from Mixing Bowl.
Since as far as I’m concerned, pumpkin and caramel are totally Autumn flavors, it got me thinking again about my favorite crisp weather beverage – hot chocolate. In fact, what I really, really love is the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate Mix Recipe I came up with last year for the holidays. It is sooooo good!
And, seriously, at this point, I’ve gone so over the top any way, why not add some whipped cream and nice big caramel corkscrew. I was definitely in my fancy pants mode at this point, and taking no prisoners!
Besides, I maintain, Mommy is a MUCH nicer person when she’s had a cup of this hot chocolate in the morning. Really, it’s true. Add some cake to that and life is indeed pretty darn good.
So, my thanks to Amanda for creating the cake recipe in the first place and especially for creating the Secret Recipe Club so that I can be inspired and introduced to fabulous friends and bloggers each month (let’s face it, I just don’t get out much on my own, so it’s especially good for me!).
I really hope you’ll try this cake. It’s worth it. You don’t have to put your fancy pants on, but you may want to consider your stretchy ones because you are going to keep going back for more!
This cake may very well find it’s way to our Thanksgiving celebration in November. I think it would be a total show stopper and anyone who walks in with this beauty is going to look like a rock star. Just sayin’.
Chocolate Pumpkin Cake or Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting
and Gilded White Chocolate Pumpkins with Caramel Corkscrew Vines
A NOTE FROM THIS CRAZY BAKER! I’ve included a timeline for making everything as shown (the layer cake and cupcakes) – please note, I didn’t do things this way, I did it all on one day (other than making the original White Chocolate Plastic) and am suggesting this timeline only to make your life easier if you want to take on this whole project. It would have been much easier to break this up into pieces over a couple of days than to do everything in one day. It’s doable, but it was time consuming due to a lot of chilling of frosting and cake and assembly. If you are going to do this in one day, from start to finish, mixing, baking, chilling, assembling, etc. you can plan on a lot of hurry up and wait – about 5 or 6 hours of it, which can be maddening – thus why it would have been easier to break things up. This is one of those, “do as I say, not as I do moments” if you take this whole project on. It’s not hard, just a lot of chillin’. Good luck! If you do make this, I would LOVE to see how it turns out!
Day 1 (or up to several weeks in advance):
- Make the White Chocolate Plastic
Day 2 (day before you want to serve the cake):
- Make the White Chocolate Pumpkins and assemble and decorate them – without the caramel corkscrews, which should only be made and added the day these are being served
- Make the Salted Caramel Sauce and the Cream Cheese Buttercream
- Make the cupcakes and cake, refrigerate the cake layers to firm up for easier handling
Day 3 (the day you want to serve the cake or cupcakes):
- Frost the cake and cupcakes
- Make the Chocolate Glaze
- Make the Caramel Corkscrew Vines
- Finish assembling the White Chocolate Pumpkins (adding the Caramel Corkscrew Vines)
- Glaze the cake and cupcakes, decorate with the White Chocolate Pumpkins and SERVE!
CHOCOLATE PUMPKIN CAKE
Adapted from Amanda’s Cookin’
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
2/3 cups sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
3 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup sour cream
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt) in a large bowl and set aside while assembling the wet ingredients below.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment beat together the sugars and oil until well combined on medium speed, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs and beat the batter on medium speed for 2 minutes more to combine well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again, then add the pumpkin puree and vanilla and beat 1 minute on low speed before stirring in the sour cream. Scrape down the sides one more time, then add the dry ingredients on low speed and stir in until just combined. Add the chopped chocolate and fold it in to the batter, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is mixed in.
FOR THE CUPCAKES:
Line a 12-cavity muffin pan with paper liners and lightly spray the liners with oil or with baker’s spray (optional, but I like how cupcakes release a bit more from lightly oiled liners – it’s just extra insurance). Fill the cupcake cavities just barely 2/3 full, using the back of a small spoon to gently spread and even out the batter in the cup. Bake the cupcakes for 18-22 minutes, or until they are set and the tops are springy when lightly touched (or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean of batter – be careful though of this method because if you hit a spot of melted chocolate, that would be misleading). Remove the cupcakes from the oven and allow them to cool in the pan on a wire rack completely before frosting and decorating.
FOR THE 6-INCH 4-LAYER CAKE:
Butter two 6×2 inch cake pans, then line the bottom of the pans with a round of parchment. Butter the parchment and flour the sides and parchment for non-stick coverage. Place the pans on a baking sheet.
Fill the pans just above half full (I weighed the batter at this point and it was almost exactly 1 lb of batter in each pan, give or take just the slightest bit). Bake the rounds for 28-32 minutes or until the cake is set in the middle and has started to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pans from the baking sheets and place them on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the pan and remove the parchment from the bottom before flipping the cakes back over to cool completely right-side-up before decorating.
PLEASE NOTE – Amanda’s original recipe makes TWO 9-INCH CAKES, so you could certainly do the same here and just divide the full amount of batter between those two prepared pans evenly before baking for the full 30-35 minutes in her recipe.
TO ASSEMBLE THE CUPCAKES:
Place your cupcakes on a wire rack over a baking sheet, spaced about 2 inches apart so you have room to work.
Place your frosting in a large piping bag fitted with a plain round tip. Pipe swirls of frosting onto the cupcake. Use your fingertip, slightly damped with water, to gently pat down the top little peak of frosting to give it a smooth surface. Place the frosted cupcakes into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before pouring on the chocolate glaze.
Once the frosting is chilled and more firm, use a small spoon to gently pour about 2 teaspoons of the chocolate glaze onto the top center of the cupcake allowing it to drip down the sides, but not cover all the frosting underneath. Place the glazed cupcakes back in the refrigerator to chill and firm for about 5 minutes (or 10 minutes on your countertop).
Place one gilded pumpkin on top of each cupcake and serve. These cupcakes will still be delicious for a few days, but the caramel corkscrews won’t last that long. If you want to make these ahead, just decorate them with the pumpkins at the last minute, or leave the caramel corkscrews off altogether.
TO ASSEMBLE THE 4-LAYER CAKE:
Once the cakes are completely cooled (and you could refrigerator the cakes for about 30 minutes before slicing to help keep them neater) go ahead and use a large, sharp, serrated knife to cut each layer in half so that you end up with four layers. Place one layer in the center of your cake stand and top it with about 1/2 cup of the slightly chilled frosting. Use a small offset spatula to gently spread the frosting to the edges of the layer. Add another layer of cake, then repeat the process until you add the fourth layer on top. Add another layer of frosting, but spread it thinly to create a crumb layer of frosting over the top and sides of the cake to seal all the edges. This cake has a very tender and soft crumb texture so there will be a lot of crumbs, but once you have it all frosted and glazed it would be difficult to tell anyway. Once you have the crumb coat on your cake, place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes to firm up that coating before frosting it the rest of the way. You should place your remaining buttercream back in the refrigerator while you’re waiting for the crumb coat to firm up so that it firms up as well, but it should still be a spreadable consistency when the cake comes back out (you don’t want it so firm that you tear through the crumb coat, or so soft that it melts down the sides if your house is too warm). Frost the top and sides of the cake with a nice even layer of frosting, using the offset spatula to smooth the edges. Place the cake back in the refrigerator for another 10 minutes to firm it up before pouring on the chocolate glaze.
Using the spout of the glass measuring cup, slowly pour the glaze into the center of the top of your frosted cake, allowing it to pool out to the edges and over the sides on its own. If it slows down, and you’re feeling lucky, you can gently swirl and tilt the cake plate to help it along, but do so very gently as this is a tall cake and you don’t want any layers to slip. Once the chocolate glaze has dripped down the sides, allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes before placing your pumpkins and serving.
(PLEASE NOTE: Decoration Instructions are below)
SALTED CARAMEL CREAM CHEESE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
Recipe by Holly (aka PheMOM)
FOR THE SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE:
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
1 stick (8 tablespoons) salted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon good-quality sea salt
Place the sugar and corn syrup in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Let the sugar crystals melt gently, while occasionally very gently swirling the pan – this will take about 3 minutes or so and you’ll already have some color in the melted sugar at this point. When the sugar has melted about half way you can use a metal spoon or spatula to very gently stir the sugar and corn syrup a bit, just to combine and let the sugar melt. Once it is completely melted (about 7 minutes total) and has a deep golden amber color, add the cream to the pan and let it bubble (and it will bubbly furiously, so don’t worry!). Stir the cream in to the mixture, then add the butter pieces and sea salt and continue stirring to combine and make a thick caramel syrup. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool to barely lukewarm, but still pourable. If you need to speed this process up you can always place your saucepan into a bowl filled half-way with ice water to cool it quicker. You want the mixture cool enough that it doesn’t melt the butter in your buttercream. (Note: You can also make this sauce to just pour over ice cream. Just stir in a tablespoon of pure vanilla when the sauce is off the heat and enjoy! Please notice though that if you are using this in the frosting then the vanilla will be added in later.).
FOR THE CREAM CHEESE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons), softened
4-5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment beat together the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Turn the speed down to low and slowly add 2 cups of the confectioners’ sugar and the vanilla and beat the mixture gently till combined, then turn the speed up to medium. Carefully add the salted caramel sauce in a slow stream to the mixture and beat it thoroughly in to the buttercream. Once it is all added, increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 1 minute to combine well. Turn the mixer down to stir and slowly add the remaining confectioners’ sugar until you have a thick, light, fluffy and spreadable frosting. Chill the buttercream for at least 30 minutes in the mixing bowl before using (especially if you are going to pipe it on cupcakes). When ready to frost beat the frosting or stir it well to get a nice, thick and spreadable consistency before using.
POURABLE CHOCOLATE GLAZE
Adapted from Bakers Royale
5 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3-4 tablespoons warm water
4-6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Place the chocolate in a heat-proof glass measuring cup with a spout (for easier pouring later). Heat the heavy cream and 2 tablespoons of the water in the microwave until hot (30 seconds on high should do it). Pour this over the chopped chocolate and let the mixture sit for 1 minute before stirring until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar until you have a thick, but pourable consistency. (I ended up using the full 4 tablespoons of water and 6 tablespoons of powdered sugar, but if you add them a bit at a time you can adjust your consistency accordingly). The mixture should be just a little thinner than ganache would be when cooled. Set the glaze aside until ready to use when it has cooled to room temperature, about 15 minutes.
WHITE CHOCOLATE PLASTIC (Make at least 1 Day Ahead)
Recipe Source: Baking Obsession
8 ounces good-quality white chocolate, finely chopped (I used Callebaut Ivorie)
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a wide skillet. Turn the burner off (if your stove is electric, remove the skillet from the burner) and wait for 30 seconds. Meanwhile, place the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Set the bowl of chocolate in the hot water. Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted and smooth.
Off the heat; add the corn syrup and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Transfer the chocolate mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap and pat it into a thin disk, about 1/2-inch thick. Fold the plastic wrap over the chocolate and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours or up to several weeks (check the expiration date on your chocolate). (My chocolate plastic was indeed sitting in my refrigerator for several weeks before I finally made the pumpkins, so it really is fine.) It is preferable to let the chocolate plastic rest in the refrigerator overnight before using.
This made enough for 18 small pumpkins, but you could easily make them slightly smaller and get 24 pumpkins if you are doing all cupcakes or want more small pumpkins on a layer cake.
CARAMEL CORKSCREW VINES
1 cup sugar
1 clean bamboo skewer (lightly oiled) or a clean metal skewer
A large piece of foil or parchment for a work space
A small pair of sharp scissors
Place the sugar in a medium sized saucepan over low heat and allow the sugar to melt while occasionally swirly the pan gently to melt it completely. Stir the melted sugar with a metal spoon to make sure it is all mixed in and melted, then set the pan aside to allow to cool until thick and in a ribbon-like consistency (about 8 to 10 minutes). If the caramel thickens, just place it back over the heat and gently warm it back up. This takes some practice, but the caramel is fairly forgiving and goes a long way. You’ll be able to make plenty of little corkscrew vines.
To make the corkscrews, once the correct consistency is reached with the caramel, just twirl it quickly around the skewer then slide if off on to your foil or parchment for safe keeping and continue on. If you have extra strands or long pieces of the caramel sugar, use the scissors to snip them off. You can also use the scissors to snip the corkscrews into pieces about 1-inch long for your vines.
I highly recommend watching this tutorial to see the technique and to have fun and practice. I must have melted and remelted my caramel 10 times before I got the knack and had all the vines I wanted. Set them aside until ready to use.
(Please Note: To make the larger corkscrews, just follow the same directions but use a round honing ‘knife sharpener’ as shown in the tutorial to twirl the caramel on to make larger curls and follow the same procedure as above.)
GILDED WHITE CHOCOLATE PUMPKINS
Recipe by Holly (aka PheMOM)
A clean workspace with a piece of parchment or foil (or silicon mat) where you can comfortable work at assembling and shaping (get comfy because it takes a bit of time, but not too long – it took me about 35 minutes to shape and assemble the pumpkins)
A butter knife
A clean pair of tweezers for inserting the chocolate sprinkle stems (optional – I didn’t have any, but it would have been easier)
Gold Luster Dust
A clean, small paint brush (like a water color paint brush)
A small amount of the Chocolate Glaze Recipe
Chocolate Sprinkles for stems
Caramel Corkscrew Vines
Take the chocolate plastic out of the refrigerator. Leave it on a counter for 30 minutes to soften slightly. Knead the plastic with your hands to make it smooth and pliable before you start (it might appear grainy at first, but the kneading will change it).
Shape a small piece of the chocolate plastic into a ball, about the size of a grape, and roll it in the palms of your hands till fairly smooth. I didn’t worry too much about making them very smooth because you’ll be adding indentations and pumpkins aren’t perfectly smooth anyway, so it adds to the character. Set each ball aside on a plate and once they are all shaped they will all be rather too soft to work with. Set the plate with the white chocolate balls in the refrigerator for about 5 minutes to allow them to firm up a bit.
Once you have your workspace ready, take a few of the round balls that should be firm, but still slightly soft, out of the refrigerator. Pinch the top and bottom of the ball very gently between your thumb and forefinger. Use the back of the butter knife to press your grooves all around the outside. Make the cuts slightly deeper than you might think you should because as you work around the chocolate ball you’ll see that they will kind of squish back together and won’t be as noticeable. You can also very gently roll each ball between your palms again to smooth any edges. Don’t worry about the lines being perfect – you want to see the grooves, but no pumpkin is perfectly straight or smooth, so this is a very forgiving decoration!
Press each pumpkin slightly with your finger tip on top to make a small indentation for the stem and vine area. Use the toothpick to make a small hole in the center of the indentation to insert the chocolate sprinkle in as your stem. Set your partially assembled pumpkin aside and repeat with the remaining pumpkins, working in batches. When you have finished with a few, place them back on the plate in your refrigerator and repeat the process until you have all your white chocolate balls shaped into pumpkins with chocolate sprinkle stems.
Remove the plate from the refrigerator and get your paint brush and luster dust ready. Use the paint brush to very sparingly (a little goes a long way) dust some gold on your pumpkins. You can actually put as much or as little as you want (or skip it all together for that matter) – I did a light dusting on the tops and about half way down the sides of each pumpkin for an extra glow of golden color. Technically I think you are supposed to use a clear alcohol of some kind to wet your brush before painting with the dust, but I never do and haven’t minded the effect.
Get your corkscrew vines ready at this point and, using the brush again, dip a tiny amount of the chocolate glaze into the area right next to your chocolate sprinkle stem. Use the chocolate there to attach a small piece of vine and give it something to stick to. The caramel is fragile so be careful when trying to attach or press them in because they snap easily.
Once all your vines are attached, set the pumpkin plate aside until ready to decorate. (Please Note: The caramel will not keep in the refrigerator or overnight due to humidity, so attaching the vines part should be done just before ready to decorate or assemble and serve).