I had such a sheltered childhood. As an immigrant child, I did not experience some of the classic American treats that most of my peers knew and loved. Things like peanut butter and jelly and milkshakes were foreign to me, and I stayed wary and suspicious of these unfamiliar delicacies until I grew old enough to realize what I had been missing! Late-blooming confectionary discoveries peppered my 20s and continue to delight me in my 30s, including this recipe for Devil Dogs with Malted Buttercream Filling. Devil Dogs? Huh? This was one snack whose path I had not yet crossed during my roving pastry excursions of the past several years. As usual, Baked Sunday Mornings is expanding my horizons. This week’s baking assignment is from the Malt chapter of Baked Elements, and it’s a keeper. I knew nothing of the history or origins of Devil Dogs, and I believe that to bake with purpose and growth in mind, it is important to study the evolution of the pastry at hand– to the Internets!
News to me, but probably not to most people growing up in the United States, is that Devil Dogs (which came into the world in 1923) were originally produced by a company called Drake’s, a family-owned bakery in Brooklyn many, many moons ago. (I didn’t feel quite as ignorant when I learned that their products have been largely concentrated on the East Coast.) As with most long-running American bakery brands, they eventually sold out to a corporation, setting into motion a string of sales and rebranding over the intervening decades, including entanglements with the likes of Hostess and other companies that mass-produce snack cakes that would likely survive a nuclear apocalypse. (A zombie apocalypse is another story altogether… but I suppose that’s neither here nor there at the moment.) But I won’t play my little violin while lamenting the pathetic and depressing state of food manufacturing in this country—I could write volumes on that subject; the Drake’s version is merely the inspiration for these homemade Devil Dogs, and although I’ve never actually tasted a real one of those, I’m overarchingly confident that this lovingly baked version is far superior. Plus—hello—they have malted buttercream in the middle.
So, for anyone else living under a rock, growing up with immigrant culture, or living in another country without access to chemically-fortified American snack foods, a Devil Dog is a snack cake consisting of two chocolate devil’s food cakes (roughly shaped like bones) sandwiching a creamy filling. These are quite customizable, which is generally a feature that I appreciate in my baked goods; in this case, I stuck with the recipe as written because… MALT.
The devil’s food batter is extremely easy to make– typical butter/shortening/sugar creaming, followed by the addition of an egg yolk, vanilla, and melted chocolate, then alternating additions of the dry ingredients and buttermilk. (And where there is buttermilk, tastiness is sure to ensue.) Mixing times were even shorter than stated in the book, so it came together very quickly. The batter is VERY thick, so it’s important to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl often to make sure that all ingredients are fully incorporated.
After a 10-minute nap in the fridge, the batter went into a pastry bag for piping into “bone” shapes directly onto a baking sheet. I wasn’t too optimistic about how the Devil Dogs would look because the freshly piped batter did not look terribly attractive, but they baked up truly like little chocolate bones! It’s important not to overbake these, as they will be dry. I baked mine for 5 ½ minutes, and next time I would probably pull them after exactly 5 minutes to make ‘em a touch moister, though I would not call them dry. The recipe yielded 18 assembled dogs, since I made them a little smaller; does that make them Devil… Puppies??
So that part went well… but then there was the frosting. First of all, this recipe was super last-minute for me (i.e. this morning) due to a very hectic couple of weeks; then, when I was ready to start on the frosting, I realized that I was out of whole milk. *smacks forehead* Once I was finally ready to get going after a quick run to the store, my malt powder was being temperamental, I daresay more than usual. Every time I use malt powder, it dries and clumps up almost instantaneously, making it a fussy ingredient. (I put up with it because it is so damn delicious!) In this frosting recipe, you dissolve the malt powder in boiling water, which I was hoping would disintegrate the clumps. Despite letting the mixture sit for a while, the wretched chunks persisted. I poured it into the mix of milk and cream on the stove, hoping that the heat would dissolve the remaining bits. This actually seemed to work, until I whisked in the flour, at which point it became lumpy again. The mixture thickened considerably after a couple of minutes, sort of resembling the consistency and color of oatmeal.
I wasn’t sure what to think about this mixture, as the instructions say to “stream” the malted milk brew into the whipped butter and sugar waiting in my stand mixer bowl. The texture was more appropriate for scraping than streaming, but I proceeded anyway. After about 4 or 5 minutes, the frosting consistency was light and fluffy– perfect for piping. However, there were still tiny lumps throughout the mixture, which I had thought were flour, but I then realized were… malt powder. It almost looked like I had mixed in crushed malt ball candy. I was expecting some sort of crunchy element, but they were just small bits that melt on your tongue in a burst of malt flavor, and well, there are worse things. (Incidentally, to maximize the malt flavor, I use non-diastatic malt powder instead of malted milk powder, which is much more potent.) Still, I would like to get the hang of working with malt powder sans drama– my relationship with malt is starting to take on a love-hate nature. I’m debating experimenting with barley malt syrup instead, though I’m not sure how substitutions would work. If anyone has any thoughts on that, please comment below on pros/cons…
Anyway, despite this annoyance, the frosting was absolutely delicious with a deep, nutty malt flavor, and I do actually like the speckled look of it. Into the pastry bag it went, from whence it was dispensed onto half of the little chocolate bones. Some of my cakelets looked more like X-chromosomes than bones, but once they were filled, they did actually look similar to the Devil Dogs pictured in the book! (That feeling is so satisfying, isn’t it?!) It’s best to let them set for about 15 minutes so the filling doesn’t immediately squish out of the sides.
Biting into a Devil Dog was like a little slice of snack cake heaven– soft, chocolaty, malty, fluffy deliciousness filled my mouth. It became immediately apparent that I would have to pack them up right away to take to work in the morning… or all 18 would get eaten by the time I settled in for Walking Dead in the evening. These are perfectly snack-sized, rich but not overly decadent, and definitely addictive! I love the darling bone shape, but you can also pipe them as single lines, and for that matter, since the batter is so stiff, I suppose you could pipe them into rings, hearts, or any shape your chocolate-craving heart desires. The batter should also work really well for chocolate whoopie pies with all sorts of fillings. (At this moment, I’m thinking pumpkin cream cheese… mmmm…)
I am pretty certain that these are a hell of a lot yummier than anything produced by Drake’s or any other corporate evil empire. (Unless of course you prefer your baked goods all laced up with those tasty chemicals and additives…) Do yourself a favor and whip up a batch for a party, a picnic, or just to attract new friends. You can find the recipe for Devil Dogs with Malted Buttercream Filling at Baked Sunday Mornings– check out how my baking buddies liked them too!
P.S. There is quite a bit of frosting left over, which may or may not be good right from the pastry bag into my mouth… I should probably conduct an experiment to confirm my suspicion…
Happy Halloween, everyone!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2013.