I don’t make dessert very often. I never make it for myself, since a square of chocolate or, erm, a handful of Haribo usually suffices, so I only ever practise on my unwitting guests. As a result I don’t really have a repertoire of them and don’t therefore think that they are very WTF-friendly. But then, a bit like my beloved chocolate mousse recipe, sometimes something comes along that you love SO much that you are happy to wrap it in cling film and risk the horrors of walking up Hornsey Road with a jarful, just so that you can share the experience with a friend. This was what happened with David Lebovitz‘s salted butter caramel sauce (or salted caramel butter sauce; once you’ve tried it you really won’t care what it’s called).
This is the sort of sauce that, if you believe in some religion or other, you might call ‘heavenly’. If, like me, you are a complete atheist you might prefer to think of it as proof that life on earth is perfect and wonderful and it may make you wonder who wants to dress up in white and live on a cloud (or in red and roast in a fire…depending on your behaviour) after it’s all over when there is no more of this to be eaten. Whatever your perspective, this is going to make you very, very happy. It’s dead simple, though don’t make the mistake of tasting it too early on, if you want to keep your fingerprints (I have a lovely index-finger blister now). And you’ll need a little bit of patience because you should never leave a pan of molten sugar on its own. But, once it’s made, it keeps for a while (yeah, right, like it’s going to hang around) and you could pour it, warmed, over ice cream, pancakes or any chocolate cake that needs a little lift. Or maybe sneak it into the middle of some chocolate brownies or a semifreddo. And, if you really can’t be bothered with any of that you might just spoon it out of the jug, cold.
I made a cake to go with it, or rather I made a cake that the sauce was supposed to bless with its presence but now that I have had them both, twice, I know which one I will make again and again (there’s a cake recipe below, but for once it is the gilding and the sauce is the lily). If you know of a better sauce for dessert, you are obviously living a charmed life and you need to share it with me now…
For the sauce (adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris)
For tons (about 500ml) you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
salted butter, 30g
coarse sea salt or fleur de sel, about ¼ teaspoon (or to taste)
double cream, 400ml
You will also need a large, relatively deep casserole dish.
1. Put the sugar in the bottom of the casserole dish and place over a low heat. Leave it without stirring until the sugar at the edges starts to liquefy (you may see a slight colour change too).
2. Once the sugar has started to soften/liquefy/change colour begin stirring it with a wooden spoon, or heatproof spatula, and gently stir so that the all the sugar heats evenly. It will begin to turn into lumps (that’s when I started to panic…) but it will then soften again and become liquid.
3. Keep cooking it until it is smooth, a deep brown (the colour of a copper coin) and just being to smoke. It takes a bit of courage to keep it going from amber to brown but it will be worth it, promise!
4. Put oven gloves on (you’ll thank me for that…), remove the pan from the heat and quickly pour in about ¼ of the cream. Try not to be alarmed as the whole thing bubbles up like lava. Add the rest of the cream, stirring as you go until you have a smooth sauce.
5. Stir in the butter then add the salt, little by little, tasting as you go. I found I needed the whole ¼ teaspoon and, in retrospect, could have added a little more but saltiness is very personal. Serve warm.
6. The sauce keeps really well in the fridge (up to a month, which I am never going to be able to test). Just reheat it as and when you need it.
Chocolate prune cake (adapted from here)
For about 8-10 portions (depending on greed, evidently) you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
sugar (white caster or, at a push, granulated), 4 tablespoons
table salt, large pinch
cocoa powder, about a dessertspoonful, for the tin
pitted prunes, 170g
rum or brandy, 80ml
good dark chocolate, 340g
unsalted butter, 170g plus a little bit for the tin
You will also need a 23cm springform cake tin (mine was slightly larger so I cut down the baking time)
1. Chop the prunes into very small pieces then put them in a small saucepan with the rum and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Simmer very slowly until the liquid is practically all absorbed then take off the heat and leave to cool.
2. Butter the cake tin then dust it with the cocoa powder, shaking out any excess.
3. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan-assisted/gas 3.
4. Chop the chocolate and butter into smallish pieces then put them into a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Make sure that the bowl fits snugly into the pan so that the steam doesn’t get into the chocolate and seize it (shouldn’t be a problem since there is butter in it too but you never know).
5. Stir the chocolate as it melts until smooth then, once completely melted and blended with the butter remove from the heat and stir in the prunes and any of the rum-pruneness that is left in the pan. Leave to cool for a little, cool enough to put a finger into it without wincing.
6. Separate the eggs then stir the yolks into the chocolate sauce.
7. Put the egg whites into a separate bowl, or food processor/mixer with the pinch of salt and whisk until they form soft peaks.
8. Add the rest of the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, to the whites and keep whisking until the whites are very stiff (when you lift the whisk and tip the bowl the whites should hardly move).
9. Gently fold the whites into the chocolate sauce until there is no trace of white left (this will take you a while since there is a lot of sauce and a lot of egg white but, even though it seems impossible at first, it will happen eventually). Try not to overmix it thus beating the life out of the eggs; they are the only raising agent.
10. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 30-40 minutes, depending on your oven, until the outside of it is set/setting but the middle is still a little soft to the touch. Tricky I know so, depending on the size of the tin you use (bigger = less time and smaller = more) keep an eye on it after about 25 minutes and check.
11. Leave to cool in the pan and, when you are ready to serve it, run a damp knife round the edge of the tin and be very gentle when you undo the springform. Slice it with a knife dipped in hot water. (It’s a very moist and therefore easily collapsible cake.)
12. The cake will keep for a couple of days, wrapped, at room temperature. Apparently.