Nomtastic! Pumpkin Cake w/ Chili Ganache and Thai Cashew Brittle


This rather unusual sounding concoction was, in a way, born of necessity. See, I come across lots of recipes I want to try, but don't always have the time to try them one at a time. So, what to do? Just make a frankencake! I pick and choose the elements of each recipe I like, mash them all together, and hope that what emerges is, if not beautiful, at least edible, and if I'm really lucky, nomtastic.

It started when I saw this recipe for Thai Cashew Brittle in this month's issue of Cooking Light Magazine. Now, I am a sucker for that salty-sweet dichotomy and the idea of that combined with Thai spiciness was enthralling. Candy making is fairly new to me. I started making homemade marshmallows for Christmas last year and found I have an affinity for it. I made a dark chocolate chipotle marshmallow rolled in chocolate sprinkles that was nomtastic to the enth degree. Blew Jet-Puffed right out of the water!

 Brittle, though, was a little intimidating. Might have been that
 boiling- hot- sugar- thing, much hotter than marshmallow base I had grown comfortable with. But I decided to go for it, and because I'm not really a person to eat handfuls of brittle on their own, I figured it would taste best as a topping to a cake, something slightly spicy to complement the exotic flavors in the brittle. And then, top it with a spiced chocolate ganache, because, well, why not?

But patience, precious. First, the brittle. This is what I used:

The Cooking Light recipe calls for lemongrass and fresh ginger. I'm not really fond of lemongrass, so I left it out, and figured powdered ginger would work fine. Sambal Oelek is a Thai chili paste, packed with flavor, so that is a must. Luckily I always keep some on hand. The nuts, Sambal Oelek, ginger, baking soda, and butter are all added off heat as soon as the water, corn syrup and sugar mixture arrives at 335 degrees F.

You also need a candy thermometer, and you have to watch it very carefully. Once the mixture starts to boil, don't disturb it. Just watch. I was
 a little nervous about how long it was taking for the temperature to rise, but just keep waiting. It took mine about 30 minutes. But eventually it changes from this:

To this:

Once it reaches 335, remove from heat, add the extra goodies (my mixture did bubble aggressively), and mix quickly. Pour it carefully onto a baking sheet lined with greased  parchment paper.
Work quickly because it starts to set up almost immediately. I also sprinkled my brittle with a little cinnamon for good measure.

And voila, I made brittle! I was pretty proud of myself.

This needs to set for two hours, but while it's setting up you can make the cake.
I found this pumpkin cake on Martha Stewart's website. I like that it is just one layer.
Not too much, not too little.

The whole brown butter icing element with this recipe will be omitted, and the chili ganache added instead.

So, prepare the cake according to the directions. I add a little pumpkin pie spice to the batter as well.

The batter turns out very light and frothy, almost like a chiffon cake. Not sure why, but once baked it is very moist and rich.

After the cake has baked and cooled, you're ready to make the ganache. Ganache is a super simple recipe, but there are still variations depending on what you want to do with it. I used 3/4 cup whipping cream to 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate chips. This is where I messed up. OK, it still made an awesome, luscious, sinfully good ganache. But it ended up being too much for that relatively small cake, and a bit too thick. It set up more like a ganache you'd use for truffle making. My bad. Next time I would use perhaps 1/2 cup cream to 4-6 ounces of chocolate. Though honestly I didn't hear G complaining about the ganache being too thick.

Whichever ratio of cream/chocolate you use, the technique is the same. Pour the cream into a small saucepan and heat just until boiling. I added a pinch of ginger and chili powder. This time I used chipotle but next time I might try curry powder or perhaps garam masala.

The moment the cream starts to boil, pour it directly over the chocolate chips.

Let it settle for a moment, then stir very gently.

Keep stirring, and like magic
that lumpy mess will turn into a pool of rich, spicy chocolate joy.

Let it cool for a few minutes, and while it cools
break up the brittle into shards. I used a meat mallet, which
gets the aggression out. Another suggestion, I thought I'd be artsy and arrange big honking shards of brittle on the cake, which is an okay idea, but upon re-consideration I decided next time I would run the larger pieces through my food processor. I think I was just impatient and wanted the cake, like,
yesterday. Oh, and a word of caution: the brittle has kick.
But somehow the mix of sweet pumpkin, spicy chocolate, and salty, exotic candy all work together to make a pretty nomtastic cake, if I do say so myself.

I kept this covered in foil on the counter for a few days. The brittle did soften a bit on the cake, which is actually good for sensitive teeth!

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  1. Oh wow! Everything looks delish! The combo of the cake and the brittle sounds like they were made for each other :)
    I couldn't make this to save my life! You are so talented :)

  2. Thanks so much Su! I've always been of the mindset that my cakes might be a little messy and not expertly decorated and I make mistakes at times, but I'd rather eat a delicious, messy cake than a "perfect" one that's dry and tasteless, lol! I started cooking/baking about 10 years ago when I got jealous of the accolades my cousin earned after making a dinner for family. Literally, I was like "well, I can do it too!" Before then I couldn't even crack an egg. Petty, yes, but it got the job done!


Please leave me comments if anything strikes your fancy or if you have any helpful suggestions. Remember, I'm no expert and am just sharing my truth. Hopefully you will find something useful to take with you!

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