Monday, October 06, 2008
twd: caramel peanut topped brownie cake
someday I will own a digital camera and take better foodie photos...
Coffee hour is an old-fashioned, even quaint concept--a tradition of building connections, of taking time out of a busy day to slow down over mugs of steaming java, whilst noshing a little something sweet. My friend B. started the school year with a big box of Starbucks coffee he brought in, and last week we decided it was time to bring in more outside coffee (industrial strength as opposed to the novice level served in our cafeteria). We also decided to make Coffee Hour a true event, complete with treats and a formal invitation. We invited all the instructional staff on our hallway and a few colleagues from other buildings who come to our hall to socialize. Though our campus is tiny, people tend to tread well-worn paths to the office, the cafeteria, and the classrooms. Our hall, located next to the gym and past the large lecture hall, doesn't see much incidental traffic. We wanted to reward those who made the trek on purpose.
I decided to bake this week's TWD selection, the caramel peanut topped brownie cake selected by Tammy of Wee Treats by Tammy, early, and so Wednesday night I was scrounging around my chocolate drawer to see what I could find. An 85% Lindt bar would have to do. Unsalted peanuts would work. I had cream left over from the creme brûlée last week. I also found a 6 inch springform pan I had forgotten about, so I greased, floured, and papered it and a wee 4 inch pan for the excess.
Since the cake is true to its name and a brownie style cake that doesn't see a mixer, the batter came together quickly, and in no time the scent of warm chocolate, that most comforting of fragrances, wafted through the house. Once again, I was grading papers, and checking the cake intermittently. The springform cake burned just around the edges--I belatedly remembered the rule about lowering the temperature 25 degrees for dark baking pans. Once the cake cooled, I used my new tomato knife (thanks, Grandma!) to trim off the burned edges, ridges, and even bottom. I hoped that with enough caramel topping, the cake would seem moist and perfect. I also suspected that hoping for the caramel alone to transform what I knew to be a slightly dry cake was akin to putting lipstick on a pig...
I left the student papers behind and set about making the aforementioned caramel. I love making caramel, though I'm always scared that I'll miss the crucial moment and burn the sugar into a disastrous mess. Caramel making, along with any kind of candy creation (besides the too-easy -to-be-believed ganache truffles) is a lesson in patience, in faith, and in observation. I could have cooked mine a tad longer, but I erred on the side of caution. The caramel took a good deal longer than Dorie suggested to turn a golden brown, but eventually it did, and I added the cream and butter to glorious effervescence. I ran my finger around the edge of the spatula and tasted one cooling dollop--like the buttery softness of my favorite cashmere sweater on the first nippy day of fall. I poured the peanuts in the caramel, gave it a swirl, and then spooned the nut studded topping on the brownie cake.
The next morning, my colleagues and I set up the coffee boxes in B's office, and the table full of sweets--naturally--in my office. We pulled chairs into the hallway, and tucked in for enough coffee and treats to arrive at our first morning classes with the java-sugar-jitters. Our conversation ranged near--the local geology of our campus and region--and far--relationship dynamics and who does the baking. Since then, everyone wants to know when our next Coffee Hour will be.
Incidentally, I toted the tiny 4 inch cake to Chicago to share with my best friends--we met for a weekend of shopping, eating, and sitting in coffee shops. After hitting Pops for Champagne, a truly sparkling bar, we headed back to the apartment where we were staying. We ate the cake with plastic forks as we watched the opening sketch on Saturday Night Live, then fell asleep, with sweet dreams for all.