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Chocolate Cake with Ganache and Praline Topping

My husband, Patrick, and I are heading down to Connecticut this weekend to visit his family. We have decided to come back Sunday night, though, and enjoy Labor Day at home, unshowered and delightfully lazy. That’s one stipulation about marriage that no one tells you; long weekends and holidays become the property of the immediate family, and the delegation of whom to visit requires a broker with a degree in psychiatry. Not that I am complaining, of course. I love my family (in-laws and outlaws alike) very dearly. But a girl’s got to have a veg day!
In anticipation of this weekend’s trip, I was, in no uncertain terms, ordered to make my chocolate cake with ganache and praline topping. Patrick has deemed it (and I quote) “the best chocolate cake” he’s ever had. I knew I married him for a reason.
I also made a Maple-Oatmeal Sandwich bread, minus the maple, due to a lack of supply, and substituted with honey and vanilla extract. I’ve yet to taste it, but I can tell you it takes the cake (haha) for loaf height, measuring in at a towering four and a half inches. Both recipes are from Bon Appetit magazine. The chocolate cake recipe is the simplest one I have found for yielding a delectable and expensive-tasting product. Therefore, I cannot take full credit for its best-ness, as the most difficult part of the process was standing at the microwave, stirring the ganache every fifteen seconds. The clincher for the recipe, though, has to be the leftover praline topping; scalding hot and impossibly sweet, scooped up in heaping spoonfuls to an eager mouth.
Chocolate Cake with Ganache and Praline Topping
Adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2009
8 servings
Nonstick vegetable oil spray (I use Baker’s Joy with decidedly un-sticky results)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, room temperature
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 cup buttermilk (make your own by adding about a 1/4 teaspoon of white vinegar to milk and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes, or until slightly thickened)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar (doesn’t have to be exact)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, toasted, chopped (walnuts work just as well)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 9-inch cake pan with nonstick spray. Line with parchment. Spray parchment. Dust with flour, tapping out any excess. (If using Baker’s Joy, parchment and flour aren’t necessary, though it never hurts to be extra careful!)
Place butter and cocoa powder in medium bowl. Pour 1/2 cup boiling water over; stir. Let stand 2 minutes; whisk until blended. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and coarse salt in another medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, egg, and vanilla in large bowl. Gradually whisk cocoa mixture into buttermilk mixture; whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, whisking to blend between additions (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Run knife around pan edges to release cake. Invert onto rack; remove pan and parchment. Cool completely.
Place chocolate and cream in microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth. Stir in butter. Let stand until spreadable, about 30 minutes. Spread over top and sides of cake. Transfer cake to plate. Chill 2 hours and up to 1 day.
* A widely known and helpful trick: Place 2″ wide strips of parchment all around, just under the edges of the cake. Apply ganache, let stand for a few minutes until it sets up a bit, then remove. Do not let the ganache dry completely, or it will stick to the parchment. This will protect your cake stand from the ganache and make a cleaner presentation.
Stir first 3 ingredients in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat until butter melts. Boil 1 minute without stirring. Remove from heat; whisk in sugar and vanilla. Add pecans; stir just to incorporate. Quickly pour praline over cake. Spread just to edges (topping sets quickly).
The cake remained moist and delicious for three-four days, kept covered at room temperature. If that seems too long to have the cake out, keep refrigerated and thaw before eating.
“Change is an easy panacea. It takes character to stay in one place and be happy there.” Elizabeth Clarke Dunn
“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.”
Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow