I’ve had over a month of pretty successful baking (no disasters!), including three awesome baking jobs– even a wedding! However, I felt like something was missing in my baking life… Was it my imperfect lemon curd? Was it the marshmallows that oozed out of my Cornflake-Marshmallow Cookies? Or was it just my Walking Dead Season 3 withdrawal clouding my perspective? I was restless; I couldn’t quite put a finger on it… And then it hit me when I looked at this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe for Mississippi Mud Pie– CHOCOLATE. I realized that my baking life has been largely devoid of chocolate in recent weeks, and well, that is not okay. (I didn’t get to *eat* the chocolate cake that I made for the wedding…) Yes, there were Malted Madeleines last week, but the chocolate element is not the focus. And then a sense of calm and serenity settled over me when I discovered that I would get to toil in chocolaty depths this week! This is, in fact, the very last recipe from Baked Explorations, the second book from my favorite bakery, BAKED in Brooklyn. The group has baked through all 75 recipes over the past couple of years, though I’ve only been around for the last ⅓ or so (with Baked Elements woven in since September). It has been a really awesome baking and learning journey for me– new recipes, new challenges, new friends! Joining this group has been such a rewarding addition to my life this year, and I am looking forward to continuing on with the third book and all of its delights and surprises…
But… I felt that something was still a little off. There are two versions of Mississippi Mud Pie in the book, described as Coffee Ice Cream Tart (A) and Muddy Mississippi Cake (B). Apparently, MMP has many different interpretations and incarnations; the things they typically have in common are chocolate and coffee. This week’s recipe was version (A), consisting of a chocolate cookie layer, coffee ice cream layer, bourbon fudge drizzle, and a garnish of pecans. There was a good amount of chocolate, but I’m not a fan of coffee-flavored things, so this recipe had some appealing components and some that I wasn’t crazy about. However, version (B) is a glorious mess of layer upon layer of chocolaty goodness… *And* this version features an Oreo cookie crust, nestled in which are luscious layers of: flourless chocolate cake, chocolate pudding, and fresh whipped cream. Some MMPs are more of a pie, like version (A), while others are more of a cake, like version (B). In general, I prefer cakes to pies, and there is nothing I love stuffing in my mouth more than Oreos; so, it was a no-brainer– I would be making Mississippi Mud Pie (B) instead. The only coffee components here are a couple tablespoons of instant espresso powder and ¼ cup brewed coffee, which mostly serve to bring out the flavor and depth of the chocolate! The actual coffee flavor is very subtle, so this is the ideal MMP for people, like me, who crave maximum chocolate and minimum coffee. And suddenly, all was right with my baking world– I’ve never been one to play in the mud, but I’m making an exception!
As with all desserts starring chocolate, it is essential to use high-quality chocolate here for the best chocolate flavor and depth– your finished cake will only be as good as the chocolate you use. Thus, it was the perfect opportunity to break out my TCHO 66% chocolate disks. I bought them a little while ago, and let me tell you– Not. Cheap. But after visiting their chocolate factory in San Francisco recently, I feel really good about supporting this company with my dollars. They not only make exceptional chocolate, but they also take care of the planet and their workers in countries where they source cacao beans. In light of the cost of said chocolate, it’s not something I throw into just any chocolate recipe– I’ve been saving it for something special. The timing of this recipe was perfect to celebrate the end of the school year (I’m a school counselor by day) and the end of my chocolate drought; it was the right thing to do– I was prepared to surrender a whole 9 ounces of the precious chocolate wafers to make a decadent, sinful mud pie!
I should tell you that this is not a quick recipe, but I will also tell you that it is worth every minute spent prepping, baking, mixing, chilling, and whipping. There are a lot of ingredients and steps, but I was able to break up the work by making the 4 elements on different days, and I served the cake right after piling on the whipped cream. It is sumptuous and dark, and it will fill your mouth with a wonderful symphony of textures in every bite: the flourless chocolate cake is wickedly rich and velvety, like a dense mousse; the pudding is thick and unabashedly silky; the Oreo shell lends a pleasant contrasting crunch; and the whipped cream lightens up the whole thing a touch with its airiness.
I knew it was going to be a marvelous cake when I found myself crushing 3 full sleeves of Oreos for the crust– oh, yes. The crumbs are mixed with melted butter, pressed into a greased and lined springform pan, and baked for 10 minutes to firm it up. I was able to get a smooth and even crust all the way around the pan by using a 1-cup metal measuring cup with a flat bottom and straight sides to press in the crumbs. The cooled crust can be stored overnight in the fridge (tightly covered in plastic) if you are not making the next layer the same day.
The first steps of the flourless chocolate cake are melting butter and that very special TCHO chocolate together, then adding that to a mixture of whipped egg yolks and sugar. The chocolate mixture at this stage is very thick and “sticky”– it felt like dragging a spatula through mud when I scraped down the mixer bowl, appropriately enough! It thins way out after adding a mixture of espresso powder, coffee, vanilla, and salt.
Next is the part I always dread… I do not rock at beating egg whites. I never really know what “soft peaks” means and frequently end up with liquid whites in the bottom of the bowl. I think I got it right this time though, as my batter increased about triple in size after folding in the whites! (Beating in a small amount of sugar helps them whip up more smoothly and thoroughly.)
However, there was so much batter that it reached all the way to the top when I poured it into the Oreo crust! In the gorgeous cross-section photo in the book, it looks like the cake should fill about half of the crust, so I was slightly alarmed. I even left a tiny bit of batter in the bowl for fear that it would overflow its banks.
Into the oven it went, where it puffed way up, but thankfully it stayed within the Oreo bounds. It was rather gorgeous through the oven window, not unlike a large chocolate soufflé with its pretty cracks on the top! The cake was set but still jiggly in the center after 34 minutes, a little under the prescribed baking time.
The recipe says that the cake will sink in the middle while cooling, and it did just that. For a while it was level with the crust, so I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to add the pudding and whipped cream layers, but at one point I looked at it and realized that it had, in fact, sunken enough to fill it with more luscious layers!
The cake needs to chill for at least 3 hours, so it stayed in the fridge overnight, where it developed its beautiful, dense texture. (I would almost describe it as slightly fudge-like, but it’s not quite that heavy.)
The pudding was made the next night, and IT RULES. We made Vanilla Bean and Chocolate Budino for Baked Sunday Mornings a few months back, and I didn’t care for it; I found the texture to be kind of grainy and the chocolate flavor lacking. Now, this pudding is a totally different story. This is what I think of when I want to eat “pudding”: super thick and dark, milky, glossy, creamy…
The dry ingredients (sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, salt) are whisked in a saucepan with egg yolks, which is supposed to yield a thick paste; I stirred and stirred and didn’t produce anything resembling a paste. I then whisked vigorously, and the closest I came was a crumbly mixture that looked like wet, chunky sand. I proceeded anyway, adding the milk and bringing the mixture to a boil. It started off looking like hot chocolate: thin consistency with a light froth situation on top, and some unmixed cocoa bits.
It finally began to thicken after about 10 minutes of constant whisking, then it quickly got very thick with a beautiful, satiny gloss right before boiling– I was amazed at the rapid transformation! The pudding took a total of about 12 minutes to cook.
After removing from the heat, I added more TCHO chocolate, a few tablespoons of butter, and a couple teaspoons of vanilla, which whisked pretty smoothly into the pudding, though I couldn’t quite get all the tiny lumps out. I’m not sure if they were cocoa powder chunks or unmelted chocolate, but it was not a big deal. I may sift the cocoa powder next time or strain the finished pudding for a slightly smoother texture, but as I said, it was inconsequential in the grand scheme of shoveling Mississippi Mud Pie into my mouth.
The recipe says to allow the pudding to sit for 15 minutes at room temperature to cool, and then press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a “skin” from forming. However, a skin most definitely formed in that 15 minutes, so next time I will just keep stirring to cool the pudding and press on the plastic almost immediately. After an overnight stint in the fridge, the pudding had thickened to become a gorgeous, satiny mound with a lot of “body”. (P.S. I had ample leftover pudding for a few nice après dinner snacks…)
I layered the pudding into the flourless chocolate cake crater, then returned it to the fridge to set while making the sweetened whipped cream. Fortunately, I’m not as apprehensive of whipping cream as I am egg whites! I piled the cream onto the pudding layer in a big, luscious cloud. SO. PUMPED.
Finally, after 4 days of working on this cake-pie, it was ready for glorious consumption. Unmolding the cake was seamless– a springform is the perfect vessel for this MMP, as it allows for a firm shell to bake up with straight sides, thereby housing all these indulgent layers, and then showing off the dark Oreos. Which I love… in case you forgot.
After spending a few minutes oohing and ahhing over the cake, I cut into it eagerly… It cut very easily, though the pudding and cream were a bit soft and flopped over a little. I realized later, after storing it in the fridge for a while, that you can get much cleaner slices if you chill the cake after adding the whipped cream and before serving (let’s say, 30 minutes or so).
So how did it taste, this labor of love? Welp… This is one of the best things I’ve ever made. This cake is absolutely dreamy, with its luxurious chocolaty layers and puffy white cloud on top. Maximum chocolate impact with a mere hint of coffee, just the way I like it. Everything melded together beautifully –4 textures, 3 types of chocolate– in utter muddy perfection. Fortunately, I had lots of people with whom to share this dessert, as it would have been too dangerous to have at home!
So, you’ve got 2 lovely Mississippi Mud Pies to choose from this week on Baked Sunday Mornings. My fellow bakers will attest to the fact that the Coffee Ice Cream Tart (A) is wonderful, and I am here to tell you that the Muddy Mississippi Cake (B) rocks my world. Make your choice responsibly; either way, you are sure to revel in chocolaty goodness, so go ahead and play in the mud!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2013.