Editor's note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn't. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Yes, they're made in a cake pan, but to call these desserts "cakes" is highly misleading. Their texture is so moist and dense that they're closer to Britain's iconic Sticky Toffee Pudding than to a dry, light American layer cake. Add to that the rich, brown-sugar, butterscotch and toffee flavors, highlighted by an Irish whiskey sauce, and they seem to be in a class all their own. While they're an obvious choice for a Saint Patrick's Day feast, serve them warm on any cool evening and I guarantee your diners will feel snug and satisfied.
Both the cakes and the sauce can be made up to a day before serving them, stored covered and re-heated.
To assure their success, remove the cakes from the oven when a tester comes out with moist crumbs attached. If you wait until a tester comes out clean, they'll be too hard and dry. When making the sauce, make certain that the granulated sugar is completely dissolved.
Irish Whiskey Sticky Cakes
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
Makes 4 in Bundtette-style pan with six-ounce cups
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour (spoon and level)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
A generous 1/4 teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg at room temperature
1 tablespoon of Irish Whiskey
3/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 tablespoons of butterscotch chips
1/4 cup of medium-chopped pecans
2 tablespoons of toffee bits
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons Irish whiskey
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 large egg
Make the cakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Generously grease the bundtette-style pan with a vegetable oil-flour spray. (Use way more than you would at sea level.) In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk until well mixed. Set this aside.
Cut the room temperature butter into pieces, combine in them with the brown sugar in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth and fluffy. (Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed throughout this step.) In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk the egg, whiskey, and vanilla until combined. Add this to the butter-sugar mixture and beat until batter is smooth and well blended. Add the flour mixture and stir by hand or with your mixer on the lowest speed only until the flour is no longer visible. By hand, stir in the chips, chopped pecans, and toffee bits.
Spoon the batter into the prepared bundtette cups, filling them about three-quarters full and smoothing the tops. Bake until the tops are set and colored and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. This takes about 30 minutes in my oven. Remove the pan to a cooling rack. Cool about 15 minutes, then, carefully invert the pan and release the cakes. Set them on the rack and let them cool until only slightly warm. Serve with warm Irish Whiskey sauce. The cakes can be cooled completely and re-heated until warm to the touch in a microwave or in a 300 degree oven.
While the cakes cool, make the sauce: Melt the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir in the sugar, whiskey, nutmeg and salt and continue stirring until the sugar is dissolved. (To test this, take a small spoonful of the mixture and rub it between your fingers. It should be absolutely smooth.) Remove the pan from the heat. In a small bowl, whisk the egg until it is frothy. Slowly pour HALF of the beaten egg (about two tablespoons) into the butter mixture, whisking rapidly the entire time. Return the pan to the heat and increase it to medium-low. Gently stir, bring the mixture to a simmer or very slow boil. Continue cooking and stirring until the sauce thickens, about 2-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve or set aside to cool and store covered in the refrigerator. Reheat the sauce over low heat. If it separates, take it off the heat and whisk in a small amount of warm water. Serve warm, over warmed cakes.
The cake recipe is inspired by one developed by Martha Stewart.
The sauce recipe is a variation of one in The Joy of Cooking.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC's Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.