I made these awesome soft caramels last week, and after making the Girl Scout cookies I still had almost a pound of caramels left over. An upcoming potluck was the perfect excuse to put this caramel to good use. I made a decadent flourless chocolate cake base, topped it with softened caramel, and finished the bars with a chocolate ganache topping.
The flavor combination and texture was delicious--the flourless chocolate cake had a rich, almost cheesecake-like texture, and the caramel and ganache were both silky smooth. However, after sitting out at room temperature for about 3 hours, the caramel got too soft and oozed out the sides of the bars. The taste wasn't affected, but next time I will definitely add less cream to the caramel, and keep these refrigerated until 10 minutes before serving.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
(makes one 9" round cake, or 9x13" bars)
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 large eggs at room temperature, separated
12 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper or waxed paper; spray paper. Wrap outside of pan with foil. Alternately, line 9x13" pan with foil or parchment and spray with nonstick spray. Melt chocolate and butter in microwave-safe bowl until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Cool to lukewarm, stirring often.
Using electric mixer with whisk attachment, beat egg yolks and 6 tablespoons sugar in large bowl until mixture is very thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Fold yolk mixture into lukewarm chocolate, and stir in vanilla. Clean the mixer bowl and beaters. Beat egg whites in the clean bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, beating until glossy medium-firm peaks form. Fold whites into chocolate mixture in 3 additions. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake cake until top is puffed and cracked and tester inserted into center comes out with some moist crumbs attached, about 25 minutes for 9x13 and 40 minutes for 9" pan. Cool cake in pan on rack (cake will fall).
Gently press down crusty top to make evenly thick cake, or trim the top so that it is even. If making round cake, cut around pan sides to loosen cake. Remove pan sides. Place 9-inch-diameter tart pan bottom or cardboard round atop cake. Invert cake onto tart pan bottom. Peel off parchment paper. If making bars, leave the cake in the pan.
1 pound soft and chewy caramels
1/4 cup heavy cream (or less--I might only use 2 tbsp next time)
Melt the caramels and the cream in a microwave-safe bowl and stir until it is melted and smooth. Pour the caramel over the cake and spread it into a smooth, even layer.
1.25 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Place the cream in a small saucepan and heat it until it simmers with small bubbles forming around the edges. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow it to sit and melt the chocolate for one minute. Gently whisk the cream and chocolate until the mixture is smooth and homogenous. Pour the ganache over the caramel layer and smooth it into an even layer. Place the bars in the refrigerator to set the caramel and ganache, about 3 hours or overnight.
To serve, use the foil to lift the bars out of the pan. Dip a large knife in hot water (this is the easiest way to get clean cuts) and cut the bars into small squares, dipping and wiping the knife blade as necessary. These bars are decadent and very rich, so you can easily get 20, 24 or even 28 squares out of one 9x13 pan. They taste best at room temperature, but don't let them get too warm or the caramel will become messy.
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