Tips: Think of a very chocolate, very dense, single-layer cake that’s like a cross between an ultra-chocolate, dense brownie and a truffle, drizzled with a good, homemade caramel sauce and topped with toasted pecans. This is an indulgent, fabulously rich dessert best served after a light meal. The cake layer itself is quite easy to make, and it must be made in advance (at least several hours, although it will sit happily in the fridge for up to a week). Incidentally, the “1 Tablespoon” measurement for the flour is correct.
The technique for the caramel sauce is new to me, but I believe it’s somewhat easier than my old method, which called for caramelizing the sugar in a very large, nonstick frying pan. You might want to wear pot holders when swirling the caramelizing syrup and adding the cream to it, but in any case you must be very careful; the syrup is extremely hot. The sauce must also be made in advance, but it, too, will sit happily in the fridge for at least a week. Please don’t buy a jar of supermarket caramel sauce unless and until you’ve given this recipe a fair shot, as the sauce it makes is so vastly superior. The lemon juice added at the end of the sauce is optional. The sauce is fine without it, but it’s very, very sweet. The up-to-two-teaspoons of lemon juice tones the sweetness down. Leftover sauce? Try it over vanilla ice cream, in your morning oatmeal, atop a baked apple or poached pear, etc.
Also optional is the whipped cream garnish. I like serving the torte with whipped cream, as it cuts through the richness of both torte and sauce and seems to bring all of the flavors and textures together, but the dessert will be fine without it. The serving instructions here may seem complex, but I can serve this in less time than it takes to tell you how to do it.
- 1-1/2 cups pecan halves OR large pieces
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1-1/3 cups water
- About 15 drops of fresh lemon juice
- 1-1/3 cups heavy cream
- 7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into thin pats and at room temperature
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- Optional: Up to 2 tsp. freshly-squeezed, strained, additional
Brownie Truffle Layer:
- 8 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 4 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into thin pats
- Pinch of salt
- 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 6 eggs, graded “large”, preferably at room temperature, beaten lightly to combine
- 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- Unsweetened OR lightly sweetened whipped cream
Prepare the pecans first. Pecan halves will look prettier here, but large pieces can be used, too. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Choose a shallow baking pan large enough to hold the pecans in a single layer, and line it with foil. Place the pecans in the foil-lined pan and toast for 11 to 13 minutes, stirring frequently. Watch carefully; nuts can burn quickly. When pecans give off a strong roasted aroma, they are done. Remove to cooling rack; cool completely before using.
If you won’t use all of the pecans within 24 hours, freeze those you don’t use. When you cut a slice of torte and wait for it to come to room temperature, remove as many pecans as you’ll need from the freezer at the same time (you’ll want at least a half-dozen or so per torte slice). Place on a plate in a single layer, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to come to room temperature before using.
Make the caramel sauce next. In 2-1/2 or 3 quart nonaluminum, heavy-bottomed pot, combine sugar, water, and lemon juice. (IMPORTANT: DO NOT USE A SMALLER POT!!) Heat over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. At the same time, heat the cream over low heat in a heavy-bottomed 1 quart pot, stirring often, just until it comes to a simmer. Remove hot cream from heat, cover tightly, and keep near stovetop.
When the sugar-water comes to a boil, stop stirring it. Cover pot; allow mixture to boil 3 minutes to form a syrup. Remove cover. Continue to boil without stirring until it begins to caramelize, roughly 15 to 20 minutes. About halfway through this boiling period, dip a pastry brush into cold water, squeeze out excess water, and wash down the insides of the pot, working from the top almost down to the surface of the boiling syrup and covering a narrow section of the pot at any one time. Re-dip brush into cold water as necessary, squeezing out excess before moving on to work another narrow area of the sides of the pot. Be careful not to burn yourself here.
Continue to boil the syrup. When it begins to brown, gently swirl pot frequently to help the syrup brown evenly. When syrup is a rich caramel color, remove from heat (I place the pot directly on my stovetop). CAREFULLY add about one-third of the hot cream; the syrup will boil up furiously and may spatter (this is why you need a pot of this size). Stir gently with a large whisk to blend well. Add remaining hot cream in two additions; syrup may boil up furiously again with one or both additions. When cream has been incorporated, add butter in three additions, stirring well after each until melted and incorporated before adding the next. Stir in vanilla and optional additional lemon juice.
Let cool slightly, then pour into small heatproof pitcher or other container (the container must have a capacity of at least 3 cups). Chill, covering tightly when sauce is very cold.
Generous 2-1/2 cups
Make the brownie truffle layer last. Assemble a 9-inch springform pan at least 2-1/2 inches tall. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. Butter the bottom of the pan, line it with the parchment paper, then butter both the paper and the sides of the pan (do this even if your pan is nonstick). Set aside. Adjust rack to center of oven. If you’re nervous about your springform pan “leaking” batter, place a sheet of aluminum foil about 12 inches square on a second oven rack in a lower position.
In a 3 quart, nonaluminum, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine chopped chocolates and butter pats. Place over very low heat, stirring often (preferably with a slotted spoon), until almost melted. Remove from heat; stir until melted and smooth, then stir in salt. Allow to cool at room temperature for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (325 degrees F if your springform pan has a dark finish).
When melted chocolate-butter mixture has cooled 15 minutes, add sugar and vanilla and stir in. Scrape down sides and bottom of pot with rubber spatula. Add lightly beaten eggs in three additions, beating in each addition just until incorporated. Sift in flour and stir in just until blended. Batter will have almost a “ropy” texture---that’s OK.
Turn batter into prepared pan and spread level. Bake for 35 minutes, carefully turning pan back-to-front once after about 15 minutes. After 35 minutes, edges of torte will appear baked and set, while a large central area will still seem unset, even slightly liquidy. Remove torte from oven and place on cooling rack.
Allow to cool completely before unmolding from pan, at least 2-1/2 hours. During cooling, torte may sink somewhat.
To unmold, have ready a plate with a center “well” at least 9 inches in diameter. Gently loosen the cooled torte layer from the sides of the pan (use a utensil that won’t scratch your pan). Remove the sides of the pan. Working gently and carefully, maneuver the bottom of the pan, with the torte still on it, you that you’re holding it on your left hand. Turn your serving plate upside down and center it over the torte (don’t squash the torte, which is fragile at this stage). Hold the whole assembly together and invert so that the torte is upside down on the serving plate, with the bottom of the pan still attached. Gently remove the bottom of the pan and peel off the parchment paper. The bottom surface of the torte, which is now the top, will have creases from the parchment paper---ignore them. Chill the torte for at least two hours before serving; the center is too soft now for it to cut neatly.
Figure out how many people you’ll be serving at one time. If you’re serving between 12 and 16 people, you can serve the whole torte at once. Otherwise, it will be better to cut and plate individual portions. The torte MUST stand at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap, until the chill is off before you eat it (30 to 60 minutes at room temperature), so plan for this. If you froze your toasted pecans, remove as many as you’ll need from the freezer now. (For individual portions, plan on at least 6 halves per slice, plus some extras in a bowl. If you’re serving the whole torte, I’d defrost them all.) Place pecans in a single layer on a plate, then cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until needed. To cut the torte, you’ll need a very sharp knife, preferably with a straight edge. The knife blade should be at least 4-1/2 inches long. To cut the torte, run the knife blade under hot water, then shake off but do not dry, before making every cut.
To cut and plate individual portions, decide how many portions you’ll need. Cut slices of the torte using the above method, then use a thin-bladed spatula to remove each slice to a dessert plate. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature as described above.
When you’re almost ready to serve the torte, heat the caramel sauce. If you’re serving individual portions, you’ll need a tablespoon or two for each portion (no need to measure). If you’re serving the whole torte, warm at least 1-1/2 cups of the sauce. Scoop as much sauce as you’ll need into a microwaveable container; heat for very short intervals at 50% (medium) power, stirring well between each interval, just until sauce is melted, smooth, and warm. (Alternatively, you can warm the sauce in a heatproof bowl over simmering water---water should not touch bottom of bowl---just until sauce is melted, smooth, and warm. Remove from heat and hot water, then dry bottom and sides of bowl).
Work quickly now. For individual portions, drizzle caramel sauce lightly over the top of each slice (some of the sauce will fall over the edges, which is fine), and spoon a little more sauce along each side of the slice. Scatter at least a half-dozen pecans on top and along the sides of the torte. To serve the whole torte, scrape the warm caramel sauce into a pitcher. Drizzle caramel sauce lightly in lines back and forth across top of torte, then drizzle more around edges. Pass leftover sauce so each guest can use more if they wish. Scatter pecans across the top and along the sides of the torte, again passing any extras. Use a hot, wet knife to cut each slice as described above, and be sure everyone gets some sauce and pecans along with their slice of torte.
If desired, garnish with whipped cream. Serve immediately!
12 to 16 servings
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