Kitchen confession here: I totally make things "for others" knowing full well that it's really want I want to make for myself. Such was the case with my husband's birthday cake. His favorite dessert is probably cookies. So, I naturally decided that the best dessert for his special day would be
cookies this überdecadent, over-the-top, chocoholic Mississippi mud pie. Makes sense right? Since I love he can tolerate layer cakes and chocolate? And it was all mine for him?
Be warned, though, that this decadence comes at a price--a price in ingredients (heavy whipping cream, good quality dark chocolate, prepackaged chocolate cookies, instant espresso powder, whole milk, nearly 1/2 pound of butter, oh yeah and almost a dozen eggs) and, perhaps more daunting than your grocery bill, a heavy price in time. Each of the four layers is made from scratch, starting with the chocolate cookie crumb crust, the flourless chocolate cake and chocolate pudding center, and all the way to the whipped cream topping. So, don't be surprised as your kitchen sink (and counters and appliances) become hidden by all the pots, pans, bowls, and utensils you'll use to prepare the dang thing.
If it tells you anything, even with all the hassle and clean-up, I'd say this is still worth it. (The majority of reviewers and bloggers I found referencing this recipe felt the same way--great minds!) And it's probably for the best that the labor limits you to making it only once a year because there's no way any of us would come out of this dessert the same size we were going into it!
Because this recipe is so labor intensive with four separate homemade elements to worry about, I'd highly recommend consulting others' advice. In particular, I found the reviews at Martha Stewart's site to be helpful as well as Grace's suggestions on her blog Grace's Sweet Life/La Mia Vita Dolce. The step-by-step picture demonstrations at Stellina Sweets were perhaps the most helpful for me thanks to Dafna's friendly approach. Not to mention that her cake and pudding didn't turn out picture perfect either, giving me courage to share my own.
The recipe calls for a 9" springform, but I only had a 9-1/2" one. The ingredients for the flourless chocolate cake turned out to be sufficient to fill the extra pan space, but I definitely came up short with the crust and the pudding. Instead of being able to leave just a 1/2" gap between the top of crust and the top of springform pan as the recipe directs, I ended up having a 1" gap. If you look carefully at the four adjacent pictures above, you can see that my cookie crust does not go up nearly as high as the other three. You'll have to plan accordingly based on the exact dimension of the pan you plan to work with.
My crust problem could also be because I didn't do a good job evenly patting it into the springform pan, making it unproportionately thick at the bottom edge. I think next time around I'd like to try the crust using chocolate wafer cookies instead of Oreos. While Oreos sound yummier, they made for a really tough crust, making it harder to spread into the pan, harder to cut through when serving, and very hard to chew through at the edge.
I made a big mistake in the flourless chocolate cake step--my coffee was way too strong, not to mention that I accidentally added more of it than I was supposed to. However, the cake tasted just fine, so thankfully the luscious dessert is forgiving when it comes to flavor. Some blogs I read even altered the type of sugar and flavoring when they made it, such as substituting brown sugar and adding a splash of hazelnut liqueur. All that to say that this is probably the best layer to play with in terms of your own adaptation. Next time I might take the instant espresso powder down to just 1 tablespoon. I don't even remember any coffee flavor; I just think 2 tablespoons of a specialty ingredient is a little too over-the-top, even for me.
Above all, be warned that the cake will deflate! Mine did not stay beautifully level like Grace, Martha, and Jaclyn's did (pictured above). While I'm tempted to blame it on my spingform pan, I noticed many reviewers experienced the same problem. It could just be that the nature of whipped egg whites is to fall after baking.
For the pudding it took me about 10 minutes for the milk mixture that serves as the pudding's base to come to a boil over medium heat, and that was after I had purposely preheated the electric burner. The whole pudding cooking process is tricky! You don't want to overcook it (which would result in scrambled egg yolk chunks throughout your chocolate pudding) but you don't want to undercook it either (which would result in a runny chocolate sauce instead of a thick pudding). I'm not sure what else can be done about helping it to set up. You can see the lava effect mine had in the picture above, and that was even after a full day of chilling. What I can say is that next time around I will sift the dry ingredients together before cooking to avoid lumps that were visible in my pudding. If I'm being extra picky, I'd also cut the vanilla to just a teaspoon; two teaspoons just tasted like too much to me.
For the best presentation, some recommended freezing the pie before slicing to help firm it up, allowing the knife to cut cleanly rather than becoming glopped with cake and pudding. The creator of the recipe, Matt Lewis, recommended using a hot knife as seen in the video segment on Martha. No worries, though. Even if it looks ugly, it's gonna taste AMAZING! Even when you're washing dishes for an hour because you dirtied every utensil in your kitchen to make the thing, the taste (and hopefully the abundant leftover mud pie) will console you.
Mississippi Mud Pie/CakeThe ingredients and directions below are very close to the original but include slight tweaks I made while preparing it the first time around. You can view a printer-friendly version of the original recipe as featured by Martha Stewart on her website: http://www.marthastewart.com/print/348641.
For the chocolate cookie crust layerNonstick cooking spray
16 ounces chocolate sandwich cookies (about 35-40 Oreos, more than a regular 14.3-ounce package of regular Oreos), crushed
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the flourless chocolate cake layer4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
6 ounces dark (60-70%) chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/4 cup strong coffee
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
For the chocolate pudding layer3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
2-1/2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 ounces dark (60-70%) chocolate, chopped
For the whipped cream topping1-1/4 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
Prepare the chocolate cookie crust: Preheat oven to 300°. Lightly spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line pan with parchment paper and lightly spray parchment and sides of pan.
Place cookies in the bowl of a food processor; process to very fine crumbs. You should have about 3-1/2 to 4 cups. Transfer to a small bowl. Add melted butter and stir until well combined.
Pour crumb mixture into prepared pan and press evenly with hands into bottom and up sides, leaving about 1/2 inch between the top of the crust and the top of the pan. Transfer to freezer until crust is set, about 10 minutes.
Transfer crust to oven and bake until dry to the touch, about 10 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool.
Make the flourless chocolate cake: Increase oven to 350°.
Place butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water to melt; stir to combine. Remove from heat. In a small bowl, whisk together espresso powder, coffee, salt, and vanilla; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks on medium-high speed with 1/2 cup sugar until light and almost doubled in volume, about 5 minutes. Add melted chocolate mixture and beat until just combined. Scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl and mix on low speed for 5 seconds. Add coffee mixture and beat until just combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix on low for 5 seconds.
In the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a clean whisk attachment, beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually increase speed to high and slowly add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, beating until soft peaks form.
Transfer 1 cup egg white mixture to chocolate mixture and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold to combine, about 30 seconds. Add remaining egg whites and continue gently folding until they are almost completely combined; do not overmix. Pour into cooled cookie crust and transfer to oven. Bake until cake is set but still jiggles slightly, 38 to 42 minutes. It may not appear completely cooked. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cake will deflate in the center as it cools. Tightly wrap cooled cake and springform pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least overnight.
Prepare the chocolate pudding: In a medium bowl, combine butter, vanilla, and chocolate; place a sieve on top so that bowl is ready to receive following mixture and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, sift together sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Add egg yolks and whisk until combined. The mixture will look like a thick paste. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly.
Place saucepan over medium heat and bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly to prevent it from burning on the bottom of the pan. Once it comes to a boil, immediately pour milk mixture through the sieve on top of the medium bowl with the chocolate and butter. (Chocolate and butter should melt immediately from heat of milk mixture especially if you've done a good job chopping your chocolate and cutting your butter so they're more easily melted.) Whisk until combined. Continue whisking until mixture is cooled slightly. Whisk occasionally while pudding stands at room temperature, about 30 minutes. Press a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper directly on the surface of pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Transfer to refrigerator until chilled, at least 3 hours or overnight. Skin will form on pudding.
Stir pudding to loosen and incorporate skin, until smooth throughout; pour on top of cake, making sure to stay within the cookie crust border. Using an offset spatula, spread pudding to form an even layer on top of the cake. Transfer to refirgerator for 30 minutes.
Prepare the whipped cream topping: In the chilled bowl of an electric mixer fitted wiht a chilled whisk attachment, beat cream until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Sprinkle sugar over cream and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream over chilled pudding layer, working all the way out to the sides. Unmold cake and serve immediately. The cake can also be kept, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 days. Yield: 12-16 servings.