I’m back from my trip to China. What an unbelievably gorgeous place! My jet lag is slowly beginning to dissipate and I’m getting my cooking legs back. I will definitely go more into the trip later this week when I talk about, and share a recipe for, my dim sum class I took in Shanghai.
But yesterday I put my ego aside, packed up a bag and headed out for the MasterChef casting call.
I only told a couple of people that I was even considering doing this because 1 – I wasn’t sure if my dessert recipe was going to turn out properly 2 – I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to live in a house, for 5 weeks, with the cast of Jersey Shore meets Gordon Ramsay 3 – I was not overly confident that I would even wake up in time to make the audition. But I decided to take a cue from my friend Vicky “A bad experience is better than no experience at all.”
I made the salted chocolate caramel squares on Saturday….After going to 3 different stores trying to find the Droste dark chocolate that I wanted. Earlier in the week everybody had the chocolate…but by Saturday (when I was desperate for it) no one had it. Of course I thought that was a sign that I shouldn’t do this. (That was after I had already made the recipe on Friday and had a semi-disasterous outcome and I thought then that I shouldn’t be doing this.) So at my fourth stop, Trader Joe’s, I thought I would hit paydirt. No. Such. Luck. At least I found dark chocolate that was 54% cacao so I bought the big one pound Trader Joe’s brand of dark chocolate. At that point I was happy I didn’t have to go to any more stores or concede defeat before even setting foot in front of a chef or casting director.
I was able to get the dish to come together and taste, in my humble opinion, FANTASTIC. Then I got to play with hot sugar. They warn you not to play with matches, but no one warns you not to play with hot sugar – consider yourself warned. By the time I made various shapes on my Silpat, I had fine strings of sugar trailing from my hair to elbow and attaching somewhere onto one of my burner grates. Not to mention the lovely red burn marks on my wrists from where some water had hit the molten lava/hot sugar and proceeded to bubble and spit its scalding bits onto my person. My next move was to take a picture of my fine creation (per the requirements – in case you didn’t get to plate your dish), find a recent picture of me (of which I have none except for the pictures we just took in China) and fill out the 12 page application. I finally went to bed around 12:30 a.m. and got up at 5:30 a.m..
I packed up my bag with the extra caramel, carefully packaged pieces of the salted chocolate caramel squares and my sugar shapes. I sort of had a bit of a checklist. Which means I should have double checked that I included the paper towels…I didn’t. And then off to Kinko’s to print off my pictures. Nothing like waiting until the last minute.
I made it up to the audition location 2 hours before the starting time and got to chat with some other potential Jersey Shore MasterChef contestants. Everyone was really nice and had some interesting stories about their dishes and how far they traveled to get there. After getting inside I got shuffled off to a numbered position at a table with around 20 other people and had 5 minutes to plate my dish. (No, you were not able to do any cooking or real prep work…everything had to be ready to go.) Chef Neal Fraser (Grace, BLD) sampled my dish (and seemed to really like it) and asked me a few cooking questions to test my knowledge. He asked a couple of other questions then told me to stay put. I then talked to a casting director and another person, that also sampled my dish and said that he liked it.
I did not get chosen that day for an interview today, so I am presuming that my chances of appearing are about zero. But, I have to say that I did have a nice time and am probably glad that I will not be berated on national television by Gordon Ramsay nor will I have to live my life in a fishbowl for all the world to watch me and find out about all of my neurosis. Plus, I now have this great dessert to serve (and so do you…and just in time for Valentine’s day.)
If your significant other gets a hair brained idea that is not going to hurt anyone, is legal, and is not anything that involves you…support them and let them try. They will thank regardless of the outcome just because you were positive and didn’t give them all of the reasons why what they wanted to do was ridiculous.
Salted Chocolate Cake
- 1 Pound (54% – 60%) Dark Chocolate (chopped)
- 1 Cup Unsalted Butter – 2 Cups (cut into pieces)
- 7 Large Eggs
- 1 Cup Light Brown Sugar (packed)
- 1/4 Cup Espresso (instant espresso powder works great)
- 1 Teaspoon Coarse Kosher Salt
- Coarse Sea Salt (for sprinkling)
- 1 Tablespoon Water
- 1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
- 1/2 Cup (1 stick) Unsalted Butter
- 1/2 Cup Cream
Place rack in center of the oven. Place a half sheet pan (with sides) on rack and fill half way with water. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
Line an 8″x8″ baking pan with parchment paper. You will need to either cut or fold the paper so that it fits width wise. Let the ends hang over the sides of the pan (you will use those later to lift the cake out of the pan for cutting and serving.) Layer the pan with 2 pieces of the parchment paper so that they criss-cross and you have ends folded over all 4 sides of the 8″x8″ pan. Sprinkle some of the coarse sea salt onto the parchment paper. If using the coarse sea salt – sprinkle sparingly (a little goes a long way). If using a less coarse sea salt, you can use a bit more.
Combine chopped chocolate and pieces of butter into a medium size glass or metal bowl. Set bowl on top of saucepan that contains simmering water (do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water). Using a spatula, stir until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from over the water.
In a large bowl whisk brown sugar, eggs, and espresso until thoroughly combined. Add in chocolate and butter mixture and whisk until smooth. Whisk in kosher salt.
Pour half of the batter into the parchment paper lined baking pan. Place the baking pan into the water filled sheet pan that is in the oven. Cook for 20 – 25 minutes. The mixture will not be cooked, but it will be firmer than when you put it into the oven.
Add water and sugar to heavy saucepan and put it over medium high heat. Leave the pan alone, but watch for the edges of the sugar to begin to brown and possibly some browning in the middle. Using a high heat resistant spatula (silicon works well), fold the sugar from the edges into the middle and even out the layer of sugar. Do this somewhat slowly while the sugar melts. You will see it change from white, to gold, to amber and finally a deep amber/brown. When the sugar just begins to smoke, remove it from the heat and add the stick of butter. (It will bubble) Stir the butter and sugar until the butter melts. Add the cream. (This will cause the mixture to bubble even more violently than the butter.) Stir to combine the cream. To firm the caramel sauce up, place the pot into ice cubes and stir gently from the bottom of the pan. You don’t want the caramel to harden, just firm up into a thick sauce. Remove from the ice when it has thickened.
Pour 1/2 cup of sauce into a container and set aside. Gently pour the remaining caramel over the top of the semi-cooked chocolate cake. The caramel will sit on top of the layer. Smooth caramel over the cake.
Whisk the remaining batter to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed. Pour this batter over the top of the caramel.
Return the pan to the water filled half sheet pan, tent with foil, and bake for 75 minutes. Bake cake until cake is set in the center and the top is dry to the touch. The top of this cake will remain shiny, even when done baking.
Remove from oven and sprinkle with more coarse sea salt.
To make the sugar decorations for the top of the cake, follow the caramel directions but omit the butter and cream. Drizzle melted sugar onto a silicon mat (Silpat) or foil. Let cool and peel off carefully when needed.
To plate the salted chocolate cake drizzle extra caramel on to the plate, add a small slice of cake (trust me…this stuff is really rich), drizzle with more caramel and top with sugar decoration.
A nice caramel tutorial by David Lebovitz