I Really Want to Like This Cookbook: Pretzel Cake Truffles

I want to start out this post by saying that I really like Christina Tosi and have so much respect for all of the success she's worked very hard to achieve. I own her first cookbook Momofuku Milk Bar and have had good experiences with many of her recipes (although not always on the first try). I was so excited when I learned she was releasing a cake cookbook. So I pre-ordered All About Cake and the day that it arrived, I dove right in and decided to make her recipe for Pretzel Cake Truffles. So far, this is the only recipe I've tried from the cookbook because my experience with it has dampened my enthusiasm for the cookbook overall.

I made Tosi's delicious Strawberry Lemon Cake Truffles recently, so I figured that the pretzel cake truffles would be no big deal. The truffles are comprised of pretzel cake, a white chocolate coating, and pretzel sand. I found a problem in the recipe for each component.

First, I made the pretzel sand. This is a somewhat laborious process but my complaint is not with the method but with the ingredient list. It calls for 45 grams of "malt powder." Not malted milk powder -- because Ovaltine is actually a separate ingredient in the sand and identified by brand name. There is a note accompanying the recipe that says, "Find malt powder (this recipe's secret weapon) in a gourmet food store or online!" However, the recipe doesn't specify whether you should use diastatic or non-diastatic malt powder -- and I checked the section in at the beginning of the book where Tosi discusses various ingredients; malt powder isn't mentioned. Diastatic and non-diastatic malt powders are not the same thing. I happened to have some non-diastatic malt powder on hand (I add it to the water when I boil bagels to create a shiny crust) and I made an educated guess that it was the more logical choice because diastatic malt is typically used to aid in yeast development. But I was irritated that these wasn't any guidance on what type of malt powder should be used.  

Once I decided to use my non-diastatic malt, I made the pretzel sand by mixing sugar, cake flour, malt powder, brown sugar, baking powder, baking sugar, and salt; adding grapeseed oil and mixing to form crumbs; baking the crumbs letting them cool completely; mixing the cooled crumbs with ground pretzels and malted milk powder (I didn't have the specified classic malt flavor Ovaltine and figured that the Carnation malted milk powder I keep on hand was close enough); poured melted white chocolate (I used Cacao Barry Zéphyr Caramel) over the crumbs and tossed them occasionally until the chocolate hardened; and blitzed the chocolate-covered crumbs in the food processor to form a "fine sand."

I made the pretzel crumbs the very day the cookbook arrived and planned to make the remaining components the following day. But when I read through the pretzel cake recipe I was confused. The cake ingredient list calls for 150 grams of mini pretzels. But when you read through the instructions, you're supposed to grind all of the pretzels into a fine powder, resulting in 32 grams, or 1/4 cup of pretzel powder. I actually tweeted @ChristinaTosi to ask her about this inconsistency but received no response. So the next day I decided to make the cake with 32 grams of ground pretzels, figuring that the explanatory instructions were more likely to be accurate than the ingredient list. To make the cake batter, you cream softened butter with sugar and molasses until light and fluffy; add eggs and beat on high for several minutes; slowly stream in a mixture of buttermilk and oil and beat on high for several more minutes; and add the dry ingredients (the pretzel powder, cake flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda). I poured the batter into a parchment-lined 9-inch by 13-inch pan to bake.

When I pulled the cake out of the oven it didn't look right at all. It was cooked through but sunken in the middle and noticeably concave. I broke the cake into crumbs with my fingers after it was cooled, and it felt very oily - although this wasn't entirely unexpected because the cake from Tosi's strawberry lemon cake truffle recipe was also very oily. I added whole milk to moisten the cake crumbs until I could knead them into a ball; I needed to use more than the specified half cup of milk. Then I used a #60 scoop to portion out the mixture into balls. I got 56 truffle centers.

You are supposed to coat the truffle centers in a mixture of white chocolate and grapeseed oil before rolling them in the pretzel sand. The recipe for the white chocolate coating specifies 350 grams/6 ounces of melted white chocolate. This is an error, because these two weights are not equivalent. It should either be 350g/12 oz. or 170g/6 oz. I'm pretty sure that 350 grams/12 ounces is the correct amount -- both because the recipe says you should have two cups of coating and because the larger amount is consistent with the coating recipe I used for Tosi's strawberry lemon cake truffles. But I also know from my previous cake truffle experience that if you're using high-fluidity couverture, you can use a lot less chocolate (about half as much) and also skip the vegetable oil. I used about 200 grams of Cacao Barry Zéphyr Caramel, without any oil. I would have used regular white chocolate but I didn't have on hand.
Anyway, after finally having all of my components ready, I coated the truffle centers in white chocolate and rolled them in the pretzel sand. That's when I discovered that I needed less than half of the recipe of pretzel sand to coat all of my truffles, which was slightly irritating. I would have made just a half batch of the sand if I had known that's all that I would need.

For all of my grumbling about the recipe, I have to say that these truffles were delicious. I preferred eating them straight from the freezer when they were nice and cold. The truffles did not freeze hard, but had a satisfyingly firm texture. I thought it was difficult to specifically taste pretzels, although the truffles definitely delivered a nice hit of both salty and sweet. And my tasters enjoyed them as well -- so at the end of the day, I consider the project a success.

A few days later I decided to make another batch of pretzel cake truffles -- because after all, I did have all of that extra pretzel sand just sitting in the fridge. I suppose I should have just tried the cake recipe with the full 150 grams of pretzel powder but instead I slightly upped the amount of both the ground pretzels (to 50 g total) and cake flour (to 120 g total) in the cake batter. The cake recipe calls for 250 grams of sugar, so normally I would think that it should use approximately the same weight of flour + ground pretzels -- but many of Tosi's cake recipes call for significantly more sugar than flour. For instance, her vanilla cake recipe calls for 250 grams granulated sugar, 60 grams brown sugar, and only 185 grams of cake flour. With the additional pretzels and flour, my second pretzel cake was an improvement -- it baked up level instead of sinking in the middle. However, it was still oily and I would not recommend eating this cake as a cake (i.e., as opposed to crumbled up into cake truffle centers). So I'm not going to be making Tosi's pretzel layer cake, which uses the same pretzel cake recipe but cuts it up into three round 6-inch layers and assembles them in a cake ring with stout ganache, pretzel crumbs, and honey frosting.

I started out this post by praising Christina Tosi, and of course I still admire her talent and creativity. But few things irritate me more than cookbooks with errors or omissions, even if the results turn out okay. I hope I eventually warm up to this cookbook but at the moment I'm just not feeling it.

Recipe: "Pretzel Cake Truffles" from All About Cake by Christina Tosi.

Previous Post: "Like a Bite-Size Tall Glass of Cool Lemonade: Strawberry Lemon Cake Truffles," June 23, 2018.