Awful, terrible, no good office lighting!
This was another cake-for-a-co-worker type of adventure. He asked for a trifle, and I went looking for something that I would be excited about making. Almost immediately I found this recipe for Espresso and Mascarpone Icebox Cake and knew that it was leading me in the right direction. It had a few glaring flaws for me, though. First- store bought cookies. No, no, and no. Second- it was lacking a lot of diversity of flavor, which just wasn't going to cut it for me. Luckily- these things were both easy to remedy.
First, I found this recipe for chocolate wafers via Smitten Kitchen. She had made them specifically for using in an icebox cake, so I knew they would be perfect. I made mine with an extra dose of salt, and a teaspoon of instant espresso powder (it enhances the chocolate flavor immensely, plus I love a salty cookie). It was my first time making slice and bake cookies, and I actually really loved doing it. They came together easily and beautifully, with enough leftover for us to munch on. I made these a day in advance.
Second, I knew that I wanted to somehow incorporate caramel. And no, store bought wouldn't work for this part, either. I used this recipe for a basic caramel sauce, that I ended up just slightly burning while making... but with a good grind of sea salt and a splash of homemade vanilla extract- I just called it burnt sugar sauce instead. And it was delicious. I don't know how to tell you how to properly burn something, aside from letting it cook just a tad bit longer than you think you should. I had checked mine, and thinking it needed a bit longer than it really did- came back to very clearly overcooked sugar. Would I do it again, the exact same way? Yes, and yes. I love the smokey, almost burnt marshmallow taste of it. It would be wonderful cooked properly as well.
With those two additions, I knew that I had something worth working with. So, following the original icebox cake recipe as a guideline, I made it my own.
I used three layers of wafers, rather than the two suggested- starting with a layer of wafers on the bottom (14 wafers per layer). Instead of just using the plain whipped cream/mascarpone mixture between the main layers- I added a nice drizzle of my burnt sugar sauce as well. The final/outer layer of espresso flavored cream was also fancied up a bit by adding homemade vanilla extract, and once again a drizzle of burnt sugar. Make sure not to whip this until right before you'll be covering the cake, as it tends to melt back into liquid over time. When I decorated the cake- I used toasted hazelnuts around the edge, drizzled my burnt sugar sauce over those, and then finally (which isn't pictured above) sifted unsweetened cocoa powder over the top of the entire thing.
All I can say is that you would have to be a fool not to make this. It's 110% worth the extra time and effort to make your own wafers and caramel. The compliments I got from this were ridiculous and wonderful, and if I were to make it again- I would do everything the exact same way.