Friday, October 8, 2010

Chocolate Turtle Cake (disaster?)

I made this today for my daughter's 14th birthday party. I normally make decorated cakes for birthdays, but as she's gotten older it's been harder to her to decide on a theme she likes. When she saw this Chocolate Turtle Cake in my October/November 2010 Cook's Country magazine she begged me to make it for her party. I didn't argue; I really like making decorated cakes, but I've wanted to make this cake ever since I got the magazine.

The cake is made of chocolate cake layers with caramel and chopped pecans in the middle. It's iced with chocolate ganache and topped with another layer of caramel. The picture in the magazine is gorgeous, the ingredient list is short, and the directions seemed simple.

Turns out it's one of those recipes that make people think they can't cook.

And one of those recipes that makes me wonder if anyone actually made the cake by following the directions before it was published.

Let's start with the directions for the ganache:
"In a medium saucepan, cook 1/2 cup heavy cream, chocolate, and corn syrup over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until smooth. Transfer mixture to medium bowl and refrigerate until thickened but still spreadable, about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. (Alternatively, refrigerate mixture overnight until set. Let sit at room temperature until softened and spreadable, about 1 hour.)"
The melting and whisking part went just fine, it was the rest that was a joke. After sitting in my fridge for 20 minutes the ganache was so firm I couldn't stir it; 2 hours would have made it rock hard. I had to put the bowl in my oven, which was still warm from baking the cakes, to soften it enough to where it was something I could use to frost a cake. As for the alternate directions about refrigerating it overnight and letting it soften on the counter until it was spreadable, that would never work. I had about 3 tablespoons of ganache left over, and after sitting in the bowl while I finished the cake and cleaned up, it was so firm it would never have spread on a cake.

Now for the top layer of caramel:
"Spread chocolate icing over top and sides of cake and refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes. Spread reserved caramel mixture over top of cake, allowing caramel to drip over sides."
This sounds straight-forward enough, but in the real world, what do you think happens when you pour melty caramel on a chilled cake? And then try to spread it around? The caramel started to firm up almost immediately, and when I tried to spread it toward the edge of the cake it came up in globs, pulling ganache with it, mixing the ganach in with the caramel.

Bah! Yes, I was a little stressed about getting everything ready for the party, but when the caramel started mixing in with the ganache I wanted to scream. I consider myself a fairly experienced cook, but the directions for this cake had me stumbling all over myself. I was....displeased. I was able to get some of the caramel to go over the edge on about half the cake. I even got out my kitchen torch to try to soften the caramel enough that I could make it go over the edges of the other half. It sort of worked.

Another problem with the caramel is that the part I managed to get to drip over the side didn't stop dripping. It continued to ooze down the side of the cake (dragging pieces of ganache with it)until it was all pooled on the cake plate. By the time we cut the cake there were no more drips, just a moat of caramel all the way around the cake.

This was not the cake in the magazine.

When we cut the cake I understood why the picture in the magazine was of the whole cake, and not the cake with a slice cut out: the cake doesn't cut nicely. After cutting through the top the knife was coated in caramel which made it tear through the rest of the cake. Add to that the chopped pecan/caramel mixture in the center, and the cake was a ripped up mess by the time I got a piece out. As someone for whom presentation is important, it killed me to pass out plates with the pieces of mangled cake. The teenagers didn't care, but I sure did.

Part of me is tempted to try it again (the flavors were quite delicious); I know what to do differently with the ganache, and there must be a way to make the caramel work. And there is the issue of cutting the cake. Individual cakes, maybe? But the other part of me wants to just bag it because the list of dessert recipes I want to try is utterly, ridiculously long.

We'll see what happens. Have a great weekend!


  1. It sure doesn't look like a disaster, but it sounds pretty labor intensive! I bet it DID taste wonderful!

  2. If that picture is YOUR cake, it looks great, but what a bummer. I really hate when I follow directions on something and it doesn't work. I hope you let the magazine people know that their instructions were a farce. If you make it again, totally make your own ganache--so easy, just hot cream poured over chopped chocolate and stirred together--so good. I kind of cheat and do the same thing with caramel. Hot cream over unwrapped caramels and some nuking and stirring.
    Love turtles so it sure does sound good.

  3. Your photo looks gorgeous -- who would have guessed the problems lurking below? Sorry it didn't turn out, but at least the teenagers didn't mind!

  4. It sounds like this cake really gave you a hard time, but I have to say, your picture of chocolate with caramel cascading over it looks awesome!

  5. @Sue, it did taste great :)
    @Katrina, it is my picture--thanks for the compliment. I love chocolate and caramel together, too :)
    @Beth,, the teenagers didn't mind :)
    @MarieCW, Thanks! :)

  6. Thank-you so much for the heads up about the decorating. I knew what to expect when I was making the cake, so it was less frustrating (thanks to your warning). WOW was this cake delicious though!!!!!!!!!!! I will definitely be making it again :)

    1.'re so welcome! Let no one else suffer as I did ;) And glad it was tasty :)

  7. And I just wanted to second Katrina; your cake looks amazing and not at all like you had trouble decorating it! I believe you :) , but wow it doesn't show!


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