Beat the Winter Blues with the Test Kitchen's Favorite Chocolate Desserts
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When the winter doldrums hit, the 42 Burners team has a couple go-to antidotes: a steaming pot of vegetable soup; bright, juicy citrus every which way; and most importantly, a decadent chocolate dessert. The cold, gray weather is the perfect excuse to turn on the oven and whip up something truly indulgent. These are the recipes our food editors pull out when they want to bake their way through the winter blues-turns out they're all fond of pairing chocolate with caramel!
Flourless Chocolate-Date Cake with Salted-Caramel Sauce
For editor at large Shira Bocar and senior editor Lauryn Tyrell, it doesn't get better than this cake. It's actually what lured Lauryn to the test kitchen in the first place. "This cake is the very first thing I tasted here, and it totally sold me on the job," she says. "I thought it was the most delicious thing I'd ever tasted in my life. I couldn't believe it was just out on the pass for anyone to sample."
What's so great about it? For starters, "the texture is magnificent," says Shira. Flourless chocolate cakes often get a bad rap for being dry and crumbly, but not this version: "It's dense like a torte but not too rich." Lauryn thinks the cake's appeal lies in the fact that "there are all these different layers of flavor. It's a real journey." Medjool dates are are plumped up with bourbon, then puréed and added to the batter, amplifying the cake's chocolatey flavor. The date paste is also added to the caramel for complexity, and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt ensures that the dessert doesn't veer too sweet.
The cake's list of attributes doesn't end there: it can also be made ahead (the flavors only get more intense the next day); it freezes beautifully; and it even travels well. Shira has been known to pack the cake, well-wrapped, in her suitcase and fly across the country (Pro tip: wait to make the date caramel at your destination). She also has a genius zero-proof substitution for the bourbon when baking the cake for kids: add two tablespoons of vanilla extract to the 2/3-cup measure and fill the rest of the cup with water.
Chocolate-Caramel Pecan Tart
Assistant editor Riley Wofford is partial to pairing chocolate with nuts, whether it's in a batch of brownies or this candy-bar-like chocolate-caramel tart. She likes that the tart has chocolate in the crust and the filling-the recipe has been in her regular rotation since she first tested it for a story on Thanksgiving pies. Riley even made it for the actual holiday: "My family's traditional Thanksgiving dessert is pecan pie, but everyone loves chocolate and the combo of sweet and salty, so I made the tart instead, and it was a huge hit."
Deputy editor Greg Lofts has always appreciated a classic chocolate soufflé because "you get the richness of chocolate but in this light, ethereal format." This version is a showcase for milk chocolate, so use the best quality you can find. Be sure not to substitute milk-chocolate chips, advises Greg, as they contain waxes or stabilizers that prevent them from melting properly. And don't be afraid to build the soufflés in advance: pop them in the fridge, then bake them off when it's time for dessert. "The whole point of a soufflé is to bring it out while it's still warm, all puffed and beautiful, and let your guests dig in," explains Greg. You don't want anyone to miss that exquisite moment when the soufflé collapses on itself.
Salted-Caramel Six-Layer Chocolate Cake
Greg's other favorite chocolate dessert is the polar opposite of a soufflé: it's a dense, moist chocolate cake layered with burnt caramel and frosted with dark-chocolate buttercream. Finished with flaky sea salt, the towering dessert is an undeniable showstopper, making it an excellent choice for birthdays. "It's really impressive because at first it just looks like a tall chocolate cake, but when you cut into it, you see the magic of the layers and the gooey caramel," says Greg. Creating that wow factor of course takes longer than your average sheet cake so consider this recipe firmly in the project category: "It's not the kind of cake you bust out on a Tuesday night," says Greg. "You wake up on Saturday morning and plan your day around it, but it's so worth it." Sounds like the perfect winter weekend.