A friend of mine is getting married, and this weekend, she and her husband-to-be had an Iron Chef-themed wedding shower. The theme? Battle Basil!
Now, it is increasingly clear to me (and maybe others, who knows), that I like baking more than cooking. I like the measuring, I like the science-experiment-like transformation of one thing into another, and, well, I like chocolate.
Taking all this into consideration, I decided I wanted to make a basil dessert. A fairly creative choice, I thought. While I was at it, I figured I’d put basil and chocolate together — I mean, if you can do it with mint, surely you can do it with basil, right?
Turns out that you can! Also turns out it wasn’t quite as creative as I thought, but it’s all good.
I found this recipe (inspired by a Theo chocolate flavor) on a new-to-me blog called hogwash by a fellow Seattle-ite. Um, YUM!!! Dense and chocolately with more chocolate? It was calling my name. I made a trial run of it for our staff meeting earlier this month, and it was awesome. A coworker of mine, who is quite the baker, made some suggestions to tweak it — I was pretty excited to test that out!
But first…Enter a brilliant idea of mine to attempt to make caprese-inspired cupcakes: half tomato soup cake, half basil cake (white cake with basil sugar and basil-infused butter), topped with mascapone icing. Most brilliant fail ever.
Enter food poisoning.
Enter me not being able to look at basil for several days.
Soon, it was the night before the competition party, and I hadn’t gotten a chance to try my coworker’s suggestions! Not confident enough in my baking knowledge to mess with the batter, and also busy pre-making a Southern-themed brunch for my book club the next morning (including puffy cheddar grits, cream biscuits, and peaches with sweet cream), I decided to keep my experimenting to a minimum.
I made the torte by the book, but decided last minute to mess with the ganache a bit. My coworker’s ideas were inspired by pesto, so I added a bit of mascarpone to the ganache (cheese, get it?), then garnished the whole thing with pine nuts. Those looked crappy, so Aussie suggested I grind them up instead. Some crushed pine nuts and a garnish of basil later, I ended up with one amazingly delicious-looking, hopefully super-tasty torte:
I went to the competition party, precious torte in hand — and was dismayed at the multitude of basil desserts I saw! Tarts, cakes, three kinds of ice cream, even dessert pesto… the competition was fierce. Mine was, though, the only chocolate entry.
Maybe it was the chocolate — or the fact that I used Icelandic chocolate — or maybe it was my pretentious presentation, but regardless…
I won the sweet category!! Sure, the grand champion also fell into that category, which means mine was really second best, but I was still a proud mama. 🙂
So, in case you ever want something a bit different, below is the recipe as I modified it. You can find the original here. The torte is dense, and moist, and the ganache makes you want to bathe someone in it and lick it off… *ahem* And yes, you can totally taste the basil, although if you didn’t know what it was, I don’t think you’d guess.
Chocolate-Basil Torte with Mascapone Ganache (modified from hogwash)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, plus extra for greasing the pan
7 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 loosely packed cup fresh basil (leaves only)
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 oz mascapone
handful of pine nuts, toasted and crushed (I used two nested shot glasses to do this, but I suppose you could be all high-tech and use a food processor!)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with butter. Line the top with a circle of parchment paper, and then butter the paper.
Melt the butter and 4oz of the chocolate in a saucepan over very low heat. Yes, you should stir constantly, but I didn’t and the torte turned out just fine. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as the mixture is smooth and pour into a mixing bowl. Add vanilla and salt, stir, and set aside.
Put basil and sugar into a blender (a food processor would work so much better, but I don’t have one) — make sure the basil goes in FIRST to make your life easier. Pulse until basil is completely chopped up and combined with the sugar. Try not to chop up the handle of your wooden spoon by trying to “help” a bit too eagerly. The mixture will be wet.
Add basil sugar to the chocolate mixture, whisk until smooth (mixture will be a bit grainy). Whisk in eggs one at a time. Sift cocoa powder into mixture and fold it in until there are no dry spots. Pour batter into the pan and smooth the top.
Bake torte for 25 minutes (check after 20) — the top of the cake will begin to crack when it’s ready. Let cool for 5 minutes, then take out of the pan and cool completely on a rack. (Flat side up, pretty please!!)
To make the ganache: melt remaining chocolate and most of the cream in a small saucepan. Add mascarpone and stir until completely combined. If you want a thinner ganache, add more cream. Eyeball this — I wanted my ganache to spill over the sides of the torte, so I made it a little on the runny side. If you want it thicker, just use less cream. Easy-peasy.
Once melted, pour the ganache on top of the torte (you can wait to let it thicken or use it right away to get more drips. Me, I like the drips!) and smooth it out with a flat spatula. To get drips, I just scooted a blob to the edge and coaxed it over. It helps if you talk to it (really, it was a crazy night… at least, that’s my excuse). It’s a good idea to put a plate underneath to catch the drips if you do this!
Sprinkle crushed pine nuts over the top. Do this while the ganache is still wet – that way, if you mess up, you can dig them out and start over. Garnish with a cute little basil leaf.
The original recipe said to store this at room temperature, but I wasn’t sure if that would work with the addition of the mascarpone. I refrigerated it (note to self: add the basil leaf right before serving, not before the fridge!), and while it sweated a bit when I took it out, it was just fine.
The result is moist, dense, and ridiculously decadent. Serves 10.