Monday, April 16, 2012

It has its charms

Chocolate-malt layer cake
Yes, dear reader, you are looking at another chocolate cake, and yes, I still maintain that I am, for the most part, indifferent to chocolate. But what can I say? Chocolate-loving friends deserve birthday cakes too, and how can anyone resist a cake stacked three layers high and filled with gooey, charred marshmallows?
The cake, as you might have guessed by the looks of it, was another one of those layer cakes, wacky and wonderful, dreamed up by the lovely folks at Momofuku Milk Bar. I say was. You're a little too late to meet this particular chocolate-malt layer cake. It was three layers of buttery chocolate cake dripping malt fudge sauce. It was topped with malted milk crumb and torched marshmallows. It was utterly over-the-top. But, as Saturday night slipped into Sunday morning, it was also utterly demolished. All that we left the birthday boy with at the end of the night were a few marshmallows and a mound of chocolate rubble.
Malted milk crumb Fudge sauce components Fudge sauce!
And though chocolate usually doesn't do it for me, even I have to admit that this cake had its charms. Digging into a slice was just that--an excavation. One forkful might be all buttery, chocolate crumbs and gooey fudge, but with the next, you'd crunch down on some cookie-like milk crumb or find a few toasty marshmallows. Buried treasure. Oh the marshmallows! It was a fun cake to eat.
But even more so, (I think, anyway) it was a fun cake, a marvellously fun cake, to put together. I got to play with liquid glucose and Ovaltine. I got to beat butter, eggs, and sugar into a dreamy cloud-mass. I got to set a half-sheet spread with marshmallows ablaze. Nothing too complicated, just good, messy kitchen fun.
Charred marshmallows Chocolate cake batter First layer
And if you're thinking about taking the plunge and putting together your very own Milk Bar layer cake, either this cake or the apple-pie layer cake might be the place to start. Neither requires anything particularly difficult of you (you really just need to read carefully and do what Tosi tells you), and apart from the liquid glucose in this cake, which you can replace with light corn syrup in a pinch, their ingredients are ones that you should be able to source at your local grocery store. Oh, and they're both spectacularly good, (though I, of course, am rather more fond of the apple-pie than the chocolate-malt).
A couple of years ago, Bon Appétit did a feature on Christina Tosi and published a version of the recipe for this cake. You can find it here. It's a little more home-cook friendly but maybe not quite as awe-inspiring from the looks of it. It'll give you a sense of what making this cake involves, though.
Technical Notes for Milk Bar's Chocolate-malt Layer Cake

The directions for this cake were, for the most part, straightforward. Below are a few points of obsessive detail that you might find helpful when making the cake.
  • Fudge sauce: you only need three tablespoons of fudge sauce for the cake batter, but unless you have a jeweller's scale, it might be hard to scale down the recipe to that amount. I used the leftovers on some malt ice cream. If you're making this ahead of time, be sure to give it some time, at least half an hour, to warm up a little on the counter. Alternatively, you can give it a short zap in the microwave to loosen it up. Otherwise, the fudge sauce will just cling to the paddle of your stand mixer and won't incorporate properly.
  • Sifting the cocoa powder: I know, I know, Christina Tosi thinks that sifting is generally a waste of time. But cocoa powder can be ridiculously difficult to incorporate unless you've already broken up the clumps it tends to form itself into. Maybe, if you're lucky enough to have Valrhona cocoa powder lying around (I didn't), this isn't as much of a problem. I didn't sift my cocoa powder, and it didn't incorporate into the cake batter properly. I ended up having to use an immersion blender on the batter. The cake didn't seem to suffer much from all that overmixing--there were just a few more air bubbles in it than there might have otherwise been.
  • Malt fudge sauce: much like the plain old fudge sauce, this malt one stiffens up pretty quickly as it cools. I made mine right before assembling the cake and left it in a bowl over some simmering water until I was ready to use it. It was a little difficult to eye five equal portions from the bowl, so I poured it into a 2-cup glass measuring cup for assembly purposes.
  • The unveiling: the malt fudge stuck to the acetate, so peeling back the plastic on this cake was a little more difficult than with others, but I don't think there's much that you can do about this. The cake still looked fine for the most part.
  • Storage: As Tosi says, the fudge sauce will stick to plastic. If, like me, you don't have a cake carrier or a giant bowl to cover your cake while it thaws in the fridge, you can, like me, tape together a few sheets of acetate and build a plastic ring around the cake or the plate that it's sitting on. Pull some plastic wrap over that, and you've got a temporary cover for your cake. 


  1. You just can't seem to help yourself can you? Another mouth watering layer cake! I've had marshmallows on the mind recently. Here in Zürich it's Sechselaüten, where they parade around in tights and set a giant snowman (the böögg) on fire. For some reason I've come to think of the böögg as a giant marshmallow ablaze, just waiting for it's s'more companions. Anyway, it was fitting so see a s'more-ish cake on your blog today.

  2. Wow! I love when you pull out some momofuku masterpieces to impress us with. I still have that apple pie layer cake on my to-make list... one of these days I'm going to get to it (or her carrot cake one). I love the sound of this one though. What an awesome combination of flavors and textures! Definitely sounds fun to put together, and of course to eat.

    I've been wanting to experiment with a chocolate malt flavor-- have you ever made David Lebovitz's chocolate malt ice cream? I know (or think) you have the cookbook, right? Anyway I'm dying to make it. Haha that could have been served with the cake here, though it does not look like it AT ALL needed anything else to complete it!

  3. Talley, I googled some images of Sechselaüten festivities--burning a snowman effigy looks like fun!

    Amy, I haven't made that particular ice cream. All of the malt flavour in this cake comes from Ovaltine, which is not quite the same thing as malt powder. Ovaltine, I'm guessing, has more sugar and mysterious additives. After we bought some for the cake (something that neither Octavian nor I was particularly familiar with), we both fell really hard for the stuff and were drinking Ovaltine-flavoured milk everyday for a week. Octavian even made us an Ovaltine-flavoured ice cream, so I think I'm a bit malted-out at the moment. But if you do make the malt ice cream, let me know how it turns out!

  4. I don't think I ever made a layered cake before, it is just not something I ever had the opportunity to bake for. But the momofuku cakes really look intriguing, I am always debating whether to buy the cookbook or not. I just don't know if being able to make these cakes would be a good thing or not.

    1. Lena, you just need to round up enough friends to share these cakes with!

  5. Oh, ovaltine! I forgot about/overlooked that part. I haven't had too much experience with it either (although I think I try to imagine that I grew up drinking it for false nostalgia's sake), but there is a coffee shop in Seattle that serves an ovaltine latte that I used to get all the time. It was so, so soooo good. If you have a way to make a latte at home, you should try it out--once you get past your malted-out phase!

  6. This cake looks so good, a bit heavy but so delicious (and you'll never eat it all at once).

  7. Hi! I have just stumbled across your lovely blog! I must say that I am loving the creations I have seen so far, especially this epic cake! Bravo!

  8. Love good, messy kitchen fun :).

  9. Katie,
    Great post. I'm going to try my hand at a milkbar cake this week and am trying to source acetate strips in Chicago. Not having luck. What did you use or look for from the art supply shop (and which shop did you go to)?

    1. Rohit, I just went to Blick on State and Monroe. From what I remember, they have a number of sizes and options. I bought a giant pad of acetate sheets that I cut up into strips. I think I'm only on the third or fourth sheet of probably 20 or 30. I bought way too much! But I'm pretty sure you can buy individual sheets. Just make sure that the sheet is at least as long as Tosi specifies (can't remember if that's 22 or 24 inches). Also, I'm pretty sure that Amazon sells acetate in a convenient roll for bakers like us. I don't know where to find acetate like that locally, though.

      Good luck!