- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Valentine’s Day may just be the healthiest holiday of the year. Ever since I learned that dark chocolate is endowed with antioxidants, I’ve indulged guiltlessly in this ethereal ingredient on Cupid’s day.

This Feb. 14, I’m planning to make a decadent chocolate caramel pecan cake.

Rich and moist, this single-layer torte prepared with semisweet chocolate, ground pecans and a generous amount of butter, is irresistible.

It is the simple, delectable topping, though, that makes this dessert so distinctive. A caramel glaze is assembled in just a few minutes’ time by melting caramel candies (purchased at the supermarket) and cream together. The silken smooth caramel is poured over the cooled cake, then chocolate chips and coarsely chopped pecans are pressed into it.

One bite of this creation, and I am in heaven. The soft texture of the cake, the creaminess of the caramel, and the crunch of the nuts and chips combine to form a celestial trinity.

On Valentine’s Day, my husband and I will dine out with friends, then we’ll all come back home for dessert and coffee. This cake, which will be the star attraction of the evening, can be completely prepared a day ahead so it will be ready and waiting when we arrive.

This recipe easily serves eight, so you can make it for a crowd, or offer it to a single special someone — and have some delicious leftovers. To make this cake even more seductive, serve each slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

Chocolate caramel pecan cake

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pan

cup flour plus a little extra for the baking pan

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Water

2/3 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup ground pecans

TOPPING:

7 ounces caramels ( of a 14-ounce package; about 25)

3 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream

11/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch round baking pan that is at least 2 inches deep. Line with a round of parchment and butter and flour the parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl set over but not touching a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until mixture is smooth. Set aside.

With an electric mixer on medium high speed, beat one stick of butter until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Then gradually beat in the sugar, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at time, and beat just until blended. Mixture may look curdled; that’s OK. Lower speed and add vanilla and melted chocolate. Combine the pecans and flour and beat into the batter.

Spoon batter into the prepared pan, and level batter with a spatula or table knife. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool pan on a rack.

To unmold, run a sharp knife around the inside edge of the pan, then invert cake onto a serving plate.

For topping, unwrap the caramels and add them to a heavy, medium saucepan along with cream. Place over medium low to medium heat, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until caramels melt and mixture is smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour the caramel over the top of the cake and spread just to the edge with a spatula or table knife.

Mix the chocolate chips and chopped pecans in a bowl, then press them on top of the caramel. Cool cake to room temperature. (Cake can be made 1 day ahead; leave at room temperature covered with a cake cover or dome or wrapped in plastic wrap.)

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: I used Kraft’s Caramels, which are available in most supermarkets.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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