Salted Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

So there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is, it’s Halloween candy season. The bad news is, it’s Halloween candy season. I don’t know about you, but my boyfriend and I have been having a really difficult time resisting some of our favorite candy bars when we head to the grocery store. Our pantry is currently hosting several half-eaten bags of the stuff.

This isn’t the worst thing we could do for ourselves. (After all, everything in moderation, including moderation, right?) But it also isn’t the best thing either…

So I’ve created a compromise: healthy fat, homemade, easily digested, “gourmet makes” style chocolate nut butter cups. Who’s complaining about this? Absolutely no one, that’s who.

Between you and me, reader, we like to get a little bit fancy. We are worldly and distinguished enough to know the difference between curated, fair trade cacao powder and the market brand stuff. However, because our heads are not too far up our derrières, we still appreciate the occasional gas station peanut butter cup. That’s our sweet spot. Right?

So in an effort to stay true to my sweet tooth roots while honoring how far I’ve come as an eater, I bought organic almond butter, but the kind that has coconut oil added into it in order to make it extra creamy. Mara Natha almond butter is the way to go for this recipe, and I say that as an experienced almond-product-eater. But as always, follow your heart.

First, I mixed together melted coconut oil, cocoa powder, agave and salt. (Honey or sugar would work here too, or your favorite sweetener.) I poured a few tablespoons of this solution into muffin liners and placed these in the freezer for a few minutes. After this, I dolloped in a few healthy spoonfuls of almond butter…

creamy nut butter makes all the difference for these sweet treats

Then I poured more chocolate mixture over the top and put this in the freezer to chill some more!

almost done!

Thirty minutes after you begin, you’ll end up with a treat even Claire Saffitz would be proud to serve!

bet you can’t eat just one

Salted Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

Makes 12 cups

  • 1 c melted coconut oil
  • ¾ c cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • About 1 c creamy almond butter
  • Coarse sea salt for topping

Line a muffin tin with paper liners and clear out some level space in the freezer.

Whisk together coconut oil, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl and transfer to a large liquid measuring cup. Pour about two tablespoons of chocolate mixture into each muffin liner and transfer to the freezer for about 5 minutes. Set leftover chocolate solution aside.

When the chocolate is mostly solid, pull the muffin tin from the freezer and dollop one to two teaspoons of almond butter over the top of each chocolate disk. Pour the rest of the chocolate mixture over the top of the almond butter so that it is entirely covered. 

Return to the freezer for about 5 minutes; when the nut butter cups are thickened but not completely solid, pull from the freezer and sprinkle coarse salt over the top. Return to the freezer for another 510 minutes, or until set. Enjoy as is. Keeps well in fridge or freezer!

Triple Decker Chocolate Cake

…seems simple enough, right? Well, with the help of Samin Nosrat, I’m getting a little more curious about the science behind what makes delicious cake just that.

Whether from a box or from scratch, it’s safe to say most households have made a chocolate cake at least once. Nosrat points out in “Salt Fat Acid Heat” that even boxed cake mixes call for some kind of oil rather than butter. Why might this be, you ask?

According to Nosrat, oil more evenly coats flour particles in comparison to butter. This inhibits gluten development which encourages a more tender, moist crumb. This does, in turn, create a cake that is a little denser when compared to butter’s capacity for aeration.

For a classic chocolate cake, I’ll happily take a dense, moist crumb and save the fluffy stuff for another time. And when I found this recipe for a three layer chocolate cake made with oil, I knew I was in for a decadent treat.

i chose to use canola oil for this cake, but vegetable oil or some other neutral oil would work well too

This cake baking endeavor posed an excellent opportunity to test out my new cake strips, which you can see pictured above as the thick, purple strips of fabric.

If you don’t know what cake strips are, you aren’t alone! I only learned of them recently. The idea is simple: buffer the heat between the temperature of the oven and the outermost ring of cake batter in order to more evenly heat the cake as it bakes. This makes for a more homogenous rise across the surface of the cake, which prevents doming.

To test this, I used two cake strips on two cake pans, and baked the third without.

about 3 cups of batter went into each cake pan

Here’s an aerial shot of both the independent variable (no cake strips) and dependent variable (with cake strips).

can you tell the difference? (l: no cake strips; r: cake strips)

Here you can see the dome from the layer baked without strips:

dennnng, check out that dome

Versus a close up of a layer baked with the strips:

in the background is the hump of the layer baked w/o strips–but you can see the outer rim of the cake pan, unique to those layers baked with the strips

The overall height of the layers of cake strips versus no cake strips was different as well, even though each layer roughly had three cups of batter prior to baking.

no cake strips–dense, tight crumb at the edges
with cake strips–fluffier crumb throughout

What do you think?

I have to admit, I am a new cake strips convert. You can purchase them here, if you are moved by this testimony. (And no, they are not paying me to say this! 🙂

After the exciting reveal of the cake strip experiment, I whipped up some buttercream frosting and layered my cake.

dark chocolate shavings make everything better

I was good and waited until after dinner to dig in to this cake…we’ll see if I can follow suit tomorrow!

a thin layer of frosting on the bottommost layer prevents the cake from sliding away from center on the cake plate, which is helpful if your cake is destined to travel places

Yum!

Basic Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Generously serves 12

Cake

  • Butter and all-purpose flour for coating the cake pans
  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • 3 c sugar
  • 1 ¾ c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbs baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ c buttermilk
  • 1 ½ c near-boiling water
  • ½ c canola oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three nine-inch cake rounds and dust with flour, tapping out the excess. If using, soak cake strips for 5 minutes and apply to the exterior of the cake pans without ringing out the water. 

Slowly mix dry ingredients in a stand mixer until combined.

Add wet ingredients and beat for two minutes on medium speed, until everything is thoroughly incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly into the three cake pans, just over three cups worth.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool for 20 minutes before running a knife around the outer edge of the cake and inverting each layer onto a wire cooling rack. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting

  • 1 ½ c butter (3 sticks), room temperature
  • 3.5-4.5 c powdered sugar (taste as you go and make it as sweet as you like!)
  • ¾ c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbs heavy cream or whole milk
  • Dark chocolate bar for shaving on top

Beat softened butter with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy. 

Add vanilla, cream, and cocoa powder and mix until incorporated. Add powdered sugar in increments, tasting as you go, until frosting is of desired sweetness. Frost in between each layer, the top of the cake, and the sides. 

Shave dark chocolate using a vegetable peeler on top of the freshly-frosted cake. Keeps well plastic wrapped at room temperature or tightly sealed in the fridge. Serve with a glass of your milk of choice.