I know that by now my birthday was like over a week ago and I should get over it.
Except I can’t, because … this cake. Guys, this cake.
I don’t know what came over me because I was already super excited to have not only picked out what cake I was making but I had all the ingredients ready to go… Then, at the last minute, it happened.
It was just a quiet night, like any other night, lounging in my super awesome grown up monkey pajamas, watching
Keeping up with the Kardashians some critically-acclaimed drama on TV with some of my best friends a stack of cookbooks by my side, and I opened the book directly to this.
It was a sign. From the heavens above. A sign.
I had to make this cake.
You see, when I received this book some Christmases ago, I had never made a “real” cake nor caramel and making both at the same time seemed like an insane task that was doomed for failure.
Now, several years later, I was still pretty sure that I might fail, but there was a chance that I could not only accomplish this goal, but that it would make a fine birthday gift to myself.
The gift of self-satisfaction and accomplishment. And cake.
I like cake.
I especially like cake when it is sandwiched between layers of gooey caramel, and salted-caramel-chocolate frosting and then finished with a light dusting of crunchy fleur de sel.
I’m not usually the type of person who usually really cares for frosting. I’m usually that weirdo who is always scraping it off of my cake and pushing it to the side while people stare at me in horror “BUT THE FROSTING IS THE BEST PART”
1. If the frosting is the best part of your cake, your cake is awful.
2. If your cake isn’t awful and you still like the frosting best, then you’re awful.
Ok, you’re not awful. In fact we should probably be best friends because then I can eat all of your cake guilt-free while you eat all of my frosting. It’s better for the environment – no waste!
But this frosting. I would inject it into my veins if I could just to get it inside of me. It’s so fluffy and creamy and sweet and delicious and amazing and … you get the point. You should make it. Even if you don’t make the cake. Eating a bowl of frosting is a totally acceptable thing to do.
I did learn three things in the process of making this particular cake.
First – I HATE chopping chocolate. Like, really hate it. An absurd amount.
Sometimes I will even skip making a recipe JUST because it calls for chopped chocolate. I will instead find a recipe in which I can use cocoa powder instead.
Chopping chocolate is messy and annoying and awful and it takes forever and shoots chocolate particles all over my kitchen.
My million dollar idea? Let’s sell pre-chopped chocolate! You know there are chocolate crumbs in factories somewhere – LET’S BAG THAT SH*T AND SELL IT!!
Second – If you have ever made caramel before, you know when it’s done. Trust yourself.
The book’s recipes call to bring the caramel to 350F degrees. I did not follow my instinct and instead waiting for it to reach the 350F degree mark, and then had to dump it down the drain because burned caramel, as it turns out, is not actually very delicious (trust me, as someone who hates wasting food, I really did try to salvage it and make it work in the recipe).
Lesson learned: Do not burn your caramel. Instead, do it like this:
I took mine off the heat a bit before 350 but the temp kept going up all on its own. When all was said and done I think I still added the cream a tiny bit before the official 350F mark, but just trust your eyes. And your nose. You want an amber color, maybe dark amber… think : color of brown sugar. If you see black or any HINT of black-like color, you’re done for. Just let it go and start over.
Third – I need to buy another 8-inch cake pan.
As for the frosting – Future Husband is NOT a fan of dark chocolate (I will get him to the dark side eventually, but he’s not there yet). Since I didn’t want to eat a whole cake (or two, for that matter) by myself, I used milk chocolate in the frosting recipe. And I loved it. It was amazing. If you’d rather use dark, go for it.
Dark chocolate will be amazing, but I liked the combo of the dark chocolate cake with the caramel layers and milk chocolate frosting. It was a winning combination for sure.
For the cake
- 3/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/4 cups hot water
- 2/3 cup sour cream
- 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter,softened
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar, firmply packed
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
For the salted caramel
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon fleur de sel
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup sour cream*
For the frosting:
- 1 pound chocolate, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
- 2 cups unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
For the cake
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare three 8-inch round cake pans with butter and parchment.
- In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder, hot water, and sour cream; set aside to cool.
- In another medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together until combined; set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until well smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides and add the sugars to the butter mixture, beating until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Scrape down the sides again and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and mix again for another 30 seconds.
- With the mixer on low, carefully add the flour mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. (flour-cocoa-flour-cocoa-flour). Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure the batter is well-mixed.
- Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely.
- *These cakes are VERY delicate. Since I made mine a week in advance, I very carefully wrapped my cooled cakes and kept them in the freezer until I was ready to use them. Be gentle.
For the salted caramel:
- In a small saucepan, combine the cream and fleur de sel. Bring to a simmer over very low heat until the salt is dissolved. (I hate dirtying extra pans, so I cheated and warmed mine in the microwave for just under a minute, stirring to ensure the salt dissolved).
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup water, the sugar, and corn syrup, stirring them together carefully so you don't splash the sides of the pan.
- Cook sugar mixture over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350 degrees F*(see note above), 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 1 minute.
- Add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Whisk in the sour cream. Let the caramel cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the cake.
- *You can make the caramel up to two days in advance.
For the frosting:
- Put the chopped chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.
- In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over very low heat (again, you can cheat with the microwave if you like. You don't want to BOIL the cream, only heat it to a gentle simmer).
- Meanwhile, MAKE ANOTHER BATCH OF CARAMEL. Don't worry, you just did this at least once (or twice, if you're me) so you've got some practice in...
- In a medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup water, the sugar, and corn syrup, stirring them together carefully so you don't splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350 degrees F*(unless yours is done before it reaches 350F), 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the caramel cool for 1 minute.
- Add the cream to the caramel and stir to combine. Stir slowly for 2 minutes, then pour the caramel over the chocolate.
- Let the caramel and chocolate sit for 1 minute, then, starting in the center of the bowl, and working your way out to the edges, slowly stir the chocolate and caramel mixture in a circle until the chocolate is completely melted.
- Let the mixture cool, then transfer it to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
- Mix on low speed until the bowl feels cool to the touch (This took about 8 minutes and I started to worry about my poor mixer but he pulled through).
- Increase the speed to medium-high and gradually add the butter, beating until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and beat on high speed until the mixture is fluffy. Transfer to a container until ready to use.
- *You can prepare the frosting up to two days in advance. Bring to room temperature before using.
To assemble the cake:
- Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Spread 1/4 cup of the caramel over the top and let the caramel soak into the cake.
- Spread 3/4 cup of the ganache frosting over the caramel and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the fleur de sel over the frosting.
- Top this with the second cake layer and repeat with caramel, frosting, and fleur de sel.
- Top this with the third cake layer and spread with caramel. Crumb coat the cake and place cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up the frosting.
- Frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. This frosting is amazing. I would say it spreads "like butter" but it spreads SO MUCH BETTER than butter. It spreads like a soft, buttery, cloud.
- Garnish with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.
* You may notice that my cake is only two layers while the recipe makes three layers. I realized (a bit too late) that I only had two cake pans of each size, so I opted for a 2-layer cake, and got about 12 cupcakes in addition to my two cake layers. This worked out in my favor as now I have a bunch of frozen cupcakes to enjoy at my leisure.
* This cake can seem overwhelming. Help yourself out by breaking it into steps. Day one: Make caramel. Day two: Make frosting. Day three: Make cake. Day four: ASSEMBLE ALL THE THINGS .
* This cake can be stored in a cake saver at room temperature (cool and humidity free) for up to 3 days. If your room is not cool, place the cake in a cake saver and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.