Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Pumple Cake Experiment

My friends had a party this weekend. Not just any party, but a grand bacchanalia of food. It was the annual "This is Why You're Fat" party, a celebration of all things, buttered, battered, deep-fried, married with bacon.

This was my first year attending, and being the competitive person I am, I wanted to make a play for one of the prizes: "Best Meat Treat" or "Best Sweet Treat." This led me to the Pumple Cake (or "pake"). I can't take credit for inventing it, but I will take credit for my own unique spin on the recipe and the hours of difficult, risky work that went into baking it. My Pumple Cake was:

An apple pie inside a spice cake
A pumpkin pie inside an apple caramel cake
A middle layer of coconut-pecan frosting with candied bacon
All covered in cream cheese frosting

Every step of the way was a chance for disaster. Thankfully everything came together (albeit a little lopsided), and the results were decadent and delicious. I took home second place "Sweet Treat." The prize was a gallon of Mrs. Butterworth.

With its wonderful combination of spicy autumn flavors, and its consummate over-the-topness, this dish would be perfect for Thanksgiving--if you can find the 5.5 hours of oven time it takes.

Here's the process:

Since the Pumple is labor intensive by itself--as well as a huge gamble--I went for pre-made ingredients. The pies were Marie Calendar frozen pies. The cakes were Duncan Hines Spice Cake and Apple Caramel Cake. I doctored the cake mixes by adding half a box of instant butterscotch pudding mix to each, and subbing in buttermilk for the water.

I used Betty Crocker coconut-pecan frosting and Pillsbury cream cheese frosting. Neither of these was very good. They had that chemical-y, preservative-y, crappy bake sale taste. I think the single thing I could have done to make the Pumple even better would have been to make the cream cheese icing from scratch. Next time...

Rounding out the ingredient list were the maple bacon, brown sugar, and bourbon for the candied bacon middle layer. Sure, this was indulgent and unnecessary, incongruous even, but for "TIWYF," bacon is almost a prerequisite.

I baked the pies the night before, so that they would have a chance to cool completely overnight for easier de-tinning. The pies each took about an hour and the aroma in our apartment just about made me insane.

The next morning, I jumped in with making the cakes. Mixing the first cake batter proved to be the easiest part of a long, hard road.

I'm not much of a baker, so I had to buy a new cake pan just for this project. My friend recommended Calaphon, and I sprung for the springform. I figured, the less I had to handle the cakes, the better. I think the pan made the process a lot less complicated than it could have been.

After buttering and flouring the cake pan, the next step is to put a layer of batter on the bottom of the pan. With the addition of the pudding mix, the spice cake batter was really thick, so it more like putty than batter. It was a good foundation for the very heavy apple pie.

The Marie Callender apple pie was almost too big to fit in the cake pan. Getting it into the pan was really tricky and seriously got my adrenaline pumping. But with a quick, brave flip, it splatted into the pan and fit with a sliver to spare. The other half of the batter gets spread over the top and sides of the pie.

Baking the "pake" was another big challenge. The box cake mix said it would take about 35 minutes. But 35 minutes in, it was clear this cake was not going to be done anytime soon. An hour in, the edges were getting awfully dark and I was afraid they would burn, but the middle was still gooey. I know others have ruined their pakes with overbaking. But I did some quick research and discovered the trick: I covered the top of the cake with foil, lowered the temp to 300, then let it bake away until it was done. It took almost 2 hours, but it didn't burn.

The springform pan allowed for easy removal. I don't think I could have gotten the cake out any other way. It weighed about 5 pounds, and I was worried the weight of the pie would make it fall through the bottom. But thankfully I could remove the outer ring and slide it onto the cooling rack. In the picture below, you can see the pie crust peeking out through the side of the cake.

While the apple pake was cooling in the fridge, I moved onto the pumpkin. The pie was smaller, lighter, and more structurally sound, so it was far easier over all.

After the pumpkin pake was done and cooling, I moved onto candying the bacon for the middle. I par-fried the bacon, then put it on a parchment-covered baking pan. I mixed a teaspoon of maple flavoring with a couple tablespoons of bourbon, and sprinkled it on each piece. Then I covered each piece with brown sugar. I baked then in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes a side. they got a little dark, so I'd probably bring it down to 8 minutes a side next time.

This stuff was GOOD. I highly recommend it, pumple or not.

Between the layers, we spread the coconut-pecan frosting and added the bacon bits. I had been leery of the bacon and went back and forth and adding it. But in the end, I'm glad I did. The smokey sweet flavor was a perfect counter-note to the sweetness, spice, and caramel in the rest of the dessert.

Getting the pumpkin layer onto the apple layer was another anxiety-inducing moment.

We frosted the outside of the cake with cream cheese frosting, then decorated the top with a dollop of coconut-pecan frosting, candy pumpkins, a sliced gala apple, and a square of candied bacon.

I added it up: The final Pumple Cake has over 13,000 calories. And every bite was worth it.