Cake Baker’s Apprentice (Chocolate Pretzel Crunch Cake and Pavlovas)

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 10

It’s really not that unusual for someone to leave a panicked comment saying they have offered to make the cake for their best friend’s wedding. I salute them and hope their BFF knows exactly what a loving gesture it is.

My friend Molly asked me to help her come up with a dessert for her best friend’s big day. Molly is a gifted writer, a brilliant adventurer and has the wit and wisdom to keep Andrew Zimmern in line on their shared podcast, Go Fork Yourself, but she is NOT a baker. So, this request was done in a tone of slight trepidation.

Besides working with Andrew she also has a blog called Hey Eleanor, where she chronicles overcoming her greatest fears. She’s jumped out of a plane, bungeed off a bridge, she did stand up comedy (that’s what my nightmares are made of), quit her job and got married (her husband is awesome, so not much risk there).

We’d always talked about baking together for her blog, but why not up the ante by trying to create something extra special for her friend’s most important day. No pressure there. We settled on a rather ambitious menu of individual chocolate pretzel crunch cakes and a rose scented pavlova with lemon curd and berries. She did an absolutely fantastic job, as she does with everything.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 09

Our journey in the kitchen was captured by Matt Lien. I spotted his photos on Facebook after he photographed Sameh Wadi’s cookbook, The New Mediterranean Table. I immediately contacted Matt to gush over his gorgeous work and figure out a way to work together on something, anything. That was just weeks ago and he was game to come over and play in the kitchen with Molly and me. These images perfectly capture how much fun we had and how easily Molly conquered her fear of baking. (Matt had to leave before we were finished, so the pictures of the final desserts are mine, which will be painfully obvious.)

Chocolate Pretzel Cake | ZoeBakes (photo Matt Lien) 01
Chocolate Pretzel Cakes
pavlova | ZoeBakes 01

Follow her adventure and maybe you’ll offer to make your friend’s wedding desserts, or a birthday cake.

Matt Lien Photography | ZoeBakes 05

The hardest part of putting together desserts like this is figuring out the prep list and timing.

prep list | ZoeBakes

We’d set aside three days to get it all done.

Matt Lien Photography | ZoeBakes 01

We gathered all of our recipes, set up a prep schedule and then spent the next three days chopping, baking, drizzling and assembling. You can find links to all the recipes within this post.

Recipes for Pavlova:

Meringue and Strawberry Sauce

Lavender Lemon Curd – this post also has a meringue recipe, but it isn’t the one we used.

Fresh Berries and edible flowers as the garnish

Matt Lien Photography | ZoeBakes 02

Molly had never made meringue before, but you can see she didn’t let that intimidate her.

Molly's Meringue | ZoeBakes


pavlova (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 02

Scooping the meringue can be sticky business.

pavlova (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 03

She did a great job getting them all the same size.

pavlova | ZoeBakes 02

Here is the pavlova all dolled up with the lemon curd and garnishes. Up next the decadent chocolate cakes.

Chocolate Pretzel Crunch Cakes:

Devil’s Food Cake


Toffee and Pretzel Crunch

Caramel Sauce

Devil's Food | ZoeBakes

We baked the cake in thin sheets.

Ganache (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 02

Molly cut the chocolate into tiny pieces to insure it would melt in the hot cream for a super smooth ganache.

Ganache (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 03

To make double sure it would be smooth we strained the ganache through a Chinois.

Ganache (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 04

The ganache was a wee bit thick, so we thinned it out with more cream. The key to successful baking is to staying calm when something doesn’t quite work out the way you thought, there is almost always a fix.

Ganache (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 06

Perfect for pouring.

Ganache (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 05

We put a thin layer of ganache over the devil’s food. This acted as glue for the toffee pretzel crunch.

Matt Lien Photography | ZoeBakes 04

We just crushed the toffee and the pretzels together in a mortar and pestle. We just added it until we liked the taste, no rules on how much of each.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 01

As Molly smoothed out the ganache, I sprinkled.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 02

We gently pressed the crunchy bits into the ganache and then chilled the layers so they would come out of the pan easily.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 03

Once the pans were chilled, we inverted them onto another sheet and peeled the cake out. I got to share my favorite kitchen tool with Molly, since the cake was stuck to the bottom we used the blowtorch to loosen it.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 04

Using a small round cutter she stamped out the layers.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 05

Of course, I got caught snacking on the scraps.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 07

We let some of the ganache cool off enough that we could spread it on the cakes.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 08

This was the part I thought might take some getting used to,

Chocolate Pretzel Cake (Matt Lien Photography) | ZoeBakes 11

but Molly went at it like a pro, with confidence and grace.

Poured Ganache | ZoeBakes

The final touch was to pour the ganache over the cakes to make them perfectly smooth.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake | ZoeBakes 01

Well, imperfectly smooth. But, that makes them even more charming.

Chocolate Pretzel Cake & Pavlova | ZoeBakes 01

Here are Molly’s desserts and I hear the bride was thrilled, so everyone wins.

Thanks to Matt Lien for the wonderful photos and to Molly for bringing such great joy into my kitchen.

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15 thoughts to “Cake Baker’s Apprentice (Chocolate Pretzel Crunch Cake and Pavlovas)”

    1. Wow! Talk about great friends on both sides, really! One to teach and help bake, and one to take on the task of providing that for a wedding! Congratulations on the job well done! Beautiful work!

    1. Hi Lynn,

      Great question, I added a picture of our prep list. This is a typical example of my daily list. I put as much detail as possible, so I have more to check off by the end of the day. Feels more productive that way! 😉

      Thanks, Zoë

  1. As the mother of the bride…I can confidently say we were all thrilled with the desserts! Thank you for helping Molly with this endeavor…it was very brave of her to offer and she pulled it off like a pro!

  2. @The Prestigious School
    Great question! Honestly, transporting them was the scariest part. I had the kitchen plate the desserts, bringing each ingredient separately with a photo and very specific instructions.

    For the pavlova, I put parchment paper in a large rubbermaid container, than did a layer of meringues, then more parchment, then another layer of meringues. No lid! Very important for combating condensation. Lemon curd and strawberry sauce went into containers.

    The chocolate cakes were refrigerated overnight, then loosely covered with saran wrap. We took them off immediately when we arrived at the venue so the ganache would stay smooth & lovely. It was a little scary handing all of my hard work off to another team to plate at the event, but they did a great job!

  3. Zoe! Can’t thank you enough for all the help, I’m sure Molly would’ve managed without you, but (sorry Molly) it would have NEVER been this amazing! Really blew our mind 🙂 — Maggie

  4. Amazing. What great friends (and lucky couple!). Prepping for a wedding myself… many was this for? And do you just make the recipe multiple times? Or?

    1. The recipe link was for cupcakes and called for baking for 18-20 minutes. Similar for thin sheet? Or? And for the ganache: did you use the apricot preserves that were in the linked recipe? Or modified the ganace somehow…..

    2. Hi Helen,

      It is about 15-18 minutes for the sheets.

      We used the apricot preserves, but ended up thinning it slightly. That will depend on the chocolate and temperature.

      Thanks, Zoë

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