Chocolate and Salted Caramel Layer Cake

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It’s the new guy’s birthday at work. I needed a new recipe to try this weekend and he needed a birthday cake. I told him to shout out some delicious words and I’ll make something automagically. He said “milk chocolate” and “salted caramel”, so a four layer chocolate and salted caramel cake I did make. This was also my first attempt at a layer cake. That whole “cut layers horizontally AND evenly” thing is nerve-wrecking, but I managed to do it without a level lol. Go me.

*pats self on back*

This cake is great if you want to do a couple steps a day over a few days so you’re not tackling a layer cake all at once. Make the caramel on a Wednesday, bake the cakes on a Thursday, whip up the frosting on a Friday and throw it all together on a Saturday.

It is vitally important that you DO NOT use table salt for this recipe. Okay… table salt won’t make the cake burst into flames or anything, but you’re RUINING IT. Just letting you know. You don’t have to get fancy Maldon sea salt like I did (although it’s totally worth it), but please use sea salt. Preferably sea salt you can grind to the size you like. If you refuse to listen to me and for some reason you’re just absolutely anti-sea salt (which would be ridiculous, but there are ridiculous people out there), use the table salt in the cake batter and the caramel but do NOT sprinkle it on top of the cake as garnish. That’s just… ugh.

I can’t even talk about this anymore. It’s upsetting me.

Let them eat cake!

Let's start with the cake - cocoa powder, milk, sugar, flour, vegetable oil, baking powder, baking sodea, vanilla extract, eggs and sea salt (I broke out the fancy stuff).

Let’s start with the cake – cocoa powder, milk, sugar, flour, vegetable oil, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla extract, eggs and sea salt (I broke out the fancy stuff).

Normally I just dump all my dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine, but I noticed my cocoa powder was lookin' a little... chunky? So I decided to sift her.

Normally I just dump all my dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine, but I noticed my cocoa powder was lookin’ a little… chunky? So I decided to sift her.

See all the little clumpys I avoided by sifting? Just push those through the sieve with your fingers. Having those lumps in my cake batter would have driven me insane.

See all the little clumpys I avoided by sifting? Just push those through the sieve with your fingers. Having those lumps in my cake batter would have driven me insane.

Add the sea salt in. I just wanted you to see how glorious the texture is for this Maldon sea salt. Just soft and crunchy and flaky. Mmm. Salt.

Add the sea salt in. I just wanted you to see how glorious the texture is for this Maldon sea salt. Just soft and crunchy and flaky. Mmm. Salt.

Whisk all the dry ingredients to combine thoroughly. Make sure you get that baking powder and soda evenly distributed.

Whisk all the dry ingredients to combine thoroughly. Make sure you get that baking powder and soda evenly distributed.

Dump in the wet stuff - milk, eggs, vanilla extract... everything except the boiling water.

Dump in the wet stuff – milk, eggs, vanilla extract… everything except the boiling water.

Left: you can see how thick the batter is before adding the boiling water.  Right: After adding the water, the consistency is much thinner than a traditional cake batter. Don't freak out. It's fine. keep going.

Left: you can see how thick the batter is before adding the boiling water.
Right: After adding the water, the consistency is much thinner than a traditional cake batter. Don’t freak out. It’s fine. keep going.

Divide the batter evenly between your cake pans. Please don’t skip the butter/flour/parchment step of prepping your cake pans. Or else you’ll end up with…

... a casualty like this. I had to start over and bake a whole other cake round (I just halved the original cake recipe). This is what happens when you 1) don't butter/flour/parchment your pans and 2) you try to invert it onto a wire rack to cool before it has cooled down enough in the pan itself. Learn from my mistakes. You've been warned.

… a casualty like this. I had to start over and bake a whole other cake round (I just halved the original cake recipe). This is what happens when you 1) don’t butter/flour/parchment your pans and 2) you try to invert it onto a wire rack to cool before it has cooled down enough in the pan itself. Learn from my mistakes. You’ve been warned.

Time to make the caramel!

Light corn syrup, sugar, salt, cream and butter. Easy peasy!

Left: Dump everything into a pan and leave it alone. Let the sugar dissolve. Don't stir. I know it's tempting. Middle: You should still be leaving it alone.  Right: At this point I swirl the pan around a bit to prevent any caramel from burning in any potential hot spots. You still shouldn't have stirred anything. Let the sugar get a deep amber color before removing from the stove and adding the cream.

Left: Dump everything into a pan and leave it alone. Let the sugar dissolve. Don’t stir. I know it’s tempting.
Middle: You should still be leaving it alone.
Right: At this point I swirl the pan around a bit to prevent any caramel from burning in any potential hot spots. You still shouldn’t have stirred anything. Let the sugar get a deep amber color before removing from the stove and adding the cream.

Place the caramel in a medium bowl and stir in sea salt. Let cool for about 15 minutes before adding in the butter.

Add in butter, one tbsp at a time until incorporated fully. See how much lighter it gets? And also, more delicious?

Add in butter, one tbsp at a time until incorporated fully. See how much lighter it gets? And also, more delicious? Let this cool ALL THE WAY before doing anything with it. Get your finger outta there…

Now let’s put it all together.

Seriously. This is the part I was afraid of most - cutting even layers out of each cake. I found that throwing the cake in the fridge for an hour or so helped firm up the texture a bit and make cutting easier. Next time I may even pop them in the freezer for a while to help the process. I don't have any tips or tricks for this. Just... cross your fingers and keep your hands steady lol

Seriously. This is the part I was afraid of most – cutting even layers out of each cake. I found that throwing the cake in the fridge for an hour or so helped firm up the texture a bit and make cutting easier. Next time I may even pop them in the freezer for a while to help the process. I don’t have any tips or tricks for this. Just… cross your fingers and keep your hands steady lol

Voila magic! i did it! *pats self on back* BTW if you have a cake platter, you should be using it now. I do not have one, so I’m using a ghetto rigged upside down spring pan with a piece of parchment on top. You gotta do what you gotta do…

Pour 3/4 cup of cooled caramel onto first layer.

Top with the other half of the cake.

Top with the other half of the cake.

More caramel...

More caramel…

...and more cake until you end up with 4 layers.

…and more cake until you end up with 4 layers.

Boop! I ran my knife around the outside and tried to clean up / smooth out the caramel that spilled over from stacking the layers. That knife was DELICIOUS.

Frosting times! I just used a large spoon and a swirling motion. I'm sure there are more proper tools for this and better youtube videos explaining more in-depth than "make a swirly motion". Go ahead and check those out.

Frosting times! I just used a large spoon and a swirling motion. I’m sure there are more proper tools for this and better youtube videos explaining more in-depth than “make a swirly motion”. Go ahead and check those out.

Buttercream frosting is the Spanx of the baking world. This frosting is hiding a multitude of crookedness and bulging cake pieces. Frosting FTW.
At this point, I threw her in the fridge for 20 minutes and let the frosting set. Then I wrapped her tightly in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge. Yes, this cake is a girl and she’s deliciously fierce.

chocolatesaltedcaramelcake23

Top with fancy sea salt (if you use table salt here I just don’t know what to do with you. Just… promise not to do it, k? And promise not to tell me if you do).

Cut yourself a BIG OL' SLICE.

Cut yourself a BIG OL’ SLICE.

Mmmm.

Mmmm.

 

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Layer Cake with Mascarpone Cocoa Frosting

adapted from martha, all recipes
makes 1 four layer cake (~12 servings) in about 3.5 hours

Ingredients
for the cake

2 cups white sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

for the caramel

2 cups granulated sugar
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
Coarse, flaky sea salt (I use Maldon)
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

for the frosting

grab the recipe from the Guinness Cupcakes with Mascarpone Cocoa Frosting post

Directions

[info_box]Tiny Kitchen Hint: This cake can be made ahead of time. The caramel can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before using. Cake layers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days (they actually taste better when refrigerated and have a better texture for stacking). When finished, the frosted cake can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.[/info_box]

 

for the cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two nine inch round pans. Line bottom of each pan with parchment. Butter and flour parchment. (Nothing is worse than a stuck cake, y’all. Do this little step as insurance.)

In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer. Stir in the boiling water last. Don’t worry, the batter will be thin. Pour evenly into the prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool in the pans on wire racks for 20 minutes, then invert cake and place on a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

 

for the caramel

Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, and 2 tbsp of water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cook, without stirring, until mixture is dark amber, about 14 minutes.

Remove from heat, and carefully pour in cream (mixture will spatter); stir until smooth. (Note: if you are sensitive to heat, you might want to wear an oven mitt. The steam is real, y’all).

Return to heat, and cook until a candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees, about 2 minutes. Pour caramel into a medium bowl, stir in 1/2 – 1 teaspoon coarse salt, depending on how salty you like your caramel, and let cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Let cool completely.

 

to assemble

Trim tops of cakes using a serrated knife to create a level surface. Cut each in half horizontally to form 2 layers. Transfer 1 layer to a serving platter, and spread 3/4 cup caramel over top. Top with another cake layer, and repeat with remaining caramel and cake layers, leaving top uncovered. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.

Frost top and sides of cake in a swirling motion. Top with flaky sea salt (DO NOT USE TABLE SALT. I’ll hunt you down and throw your cake on the floor if you do).

 

Notes:

If you want to make this, don’t overwhelm yourself thinking you have to do it all at once. Each step can be made ahead of time and stored until you’re ready to assemble the final cake. Or you could make it a big ol’ Sunday project like I did.

A few notes about cake storage:

Pre-assembly storage: Store cake layers tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. Can also be stored at room temperature, barring any extreme heat and humidity issues in your kitchen. The microwave is also an excellent place to stash a cake! It’ll be okay at room temperature for about 3 days.

Post-assembly, pre-frosting: Wrap layered cake tightly with plastic wrap, covering all surfaces (vs just lightly draping plastic wrap over cake). Can also be stored at room temp, see above. It’ll be okay at room temp for ~3 days.

Post-assembly, frosted: Place frosted cake in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to allow the frosting to harden, then wrap tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Again, can be stored at room temp barring any heat/humidity issues. It’ll be okay at room temp for ~3 days.

 

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