Who doesn’t like S’mores? I'd like to meet that person. Well, actually, for a long time, I was that person. S'mores seemed like a dessert that was less than the sum of its parts; how could marshmallow and chocolate turn out so unappealing?
But then I had a breakthrough. I had a soft, warm cake based on S'mores, where the chocolate oozed over a graham base, with a toasted marshmallow on top. It was heavenly. I realized that the thing I objected to in a traditional S'more was the texture; a poorly made S’more is hard to eat, with that crunchy graham cracker, hard chocolate, and a rubbery marshmallow falling apart and getting your hands all sticky.
The key to a great S’mores dessert is to meld those layers together so there is soft chocolate-graham-marshmallow goodness in every bite. That’s what this pudding cake does: graham crackers layered with rich chocolate custard and smoky marshmallows.
S'mores Pudding Icebox Cake
Serves 8 to 10
For the chocolate custard
6 ounces (170 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (240 ml) cream
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
2 cups (480 ml) whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the S'mores pudding cake
1 batch (4 cups) chocolate custard
25 to 30 chocolate graham crackers, from about 4 sleeves
3 cups (162 g) mini marshmallows
1 (13-ounce / 368-g) jar marshmallow creme
Make the chocolate custard
Prepare the chocolate: Place the chopped chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl.
Make a cornstarch and egg slurry: Put the cornstarch and salt together in a medium bowl and whisk to make sure there are no lumps. Slowly whisk in the cream, making sure there are no lumps. (To be really sure, reach into the bowl and gently rub out any lumps between your fingers.) Whisk in the egg yolks.
Warm the milk: In a 3-quart (2.8-L) saucepan over medium heat, whisk the sugar into the milk. Warm for 3 to 5 minutes, until the sugar dissolves, bubbles form around the edges, and the entire sur- face of the milk begins to quiver. Turn off the heat.
Temper the slurry: Pour 1 cup (240 ml) of the hot milk into the bowl with the slurry, whisking constantly. The mixture should come together smoothly, with no lumps. If you see any, add a little more liquid and whisk them out. Pour it back into the pan, counting to 10 and whisking constantly as you pour.
Thicken the pudding: Turn the heat back on to medium and bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking frequently and vigorously, working all the angles of the pot and scraping the bottom. Continue whisking for about 5 minutes, until the custard becomes very thick and starts to boil, with large bubbles that slowly pop up to the surface. Boil for 2 minutes, whisking constantly.
Flavor the pudding: Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Stir the chocolate into the pudding and let sit for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk gently until the pudding is smooth and glossy and has fully absorbed the chocolate.
Chill the pudding: Immediately pour the hot pudding into a shallow container. Place plastic wrap or buttered wax paper directly on the surface of the pudding (if you don't like pudding skin). Cover and refrigerate.
Assemble the S'mores icebox cake
Smear a thin layer of custard in the center of a 9-by-13-inch (23-by- 33-cm) baking dish. Cover the bottom with a layer of graham crackers and spread a third of the custard on top of the crackers. Sprinkle a third of the marshmallows over the custard, and torch them lightly with a kitchen torch, until soft and browned. (You can also put them under an oven broiler for 45 seconds.) Repeat twice with an ending of graham crackers. (There will be four full layers of crackers, and three of pudding.)
Warm the marshmallow creme in the microwave or in a saucepan. Pour it over the top of the cake and spread while it is still warm. Refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours, until the crackers have softened to a cakelike texture (test this by inserting a thin knife along the side and bringing up a few crumbs).
This cake can be made up to 24 hours ahead of time, but it is best consumed within a day or two, as it will get soggy if it sits too long.
When you’re ready to serve, use a kitchen torch or the broiler to brown the top of the cake until it’s tan and toasty.
Recipe reprinted from Bakeless Sweets: Pudding, Panna Cotta, Fluff, Icebox Cake, and More No-Bake Desserts by Faith Durand (Stewart Tabori & Chang, 2013). See more photos of the recipes in the book at Bakeless Sweets' website.