Chocolate Salted Caramel Layer Cake

IMG_1956Layer Cakes and me have never really gotten along.  To me a perfect cake is something that comes out of the oven in one piece and maybe requires a simple garnish, a swirl of sour cherries or a dusting of sugar.  Given this proclivity hy is it that I break down every couple of years and try and make a layer cake?  What is it about them that tempts me?  In this particular foray it was a new cookbook (Baked: New Frontiers in Baking) and flavor: Salted Caramel and Chocolate.IMG_1954From the start I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

Matt and Renato, the boys are Baked, are found of two ingredients that show up in a lot of their recipes which I abhor: Corn Syrup (because I have gone on about this so much over the years suffice to say if you choose to make this recipe: use Organic Corn Syrup or Lyle’s Syrup…as I did) and Vegetable Shortening.  In trying to figure out why they so often use a combo of butter and shortening I did some reading, nothing I found said anything about, tho I did find an amusing paragraph in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible about the use of shortening which made me chortle:  Butter is one of my favorite flavors.  The best fresh, unsalted butter has the flowery, grassy smell of a summer meadow.  It seems downright unfair that this indispensable ingredients should be not equally wonderful for one’s health. But it isn’t. So the only solution is to eat smaller portions – but never substitute any other solid fat….(I) unequivocally prefer the flavor of butter to other shortenings.

Needless to say I feel the same so searched out and found amore traditional Chocolate cake recipe which was in many ways very similar to the one in Baked just minus the shortening. Also the Baked recipe made a huge three layer cake which seemed just too over the top for me, even though it takes a very pretty picture.   The recipe the follows is for a single cake which I made in 2 9″ round pans.

Basic Versatile Chocolate Cake

Preheat the oven to 350 F

If making one cake butter a 4″ deep 9″ round cake tin, place a parchment round on the bottom of the pan and butter it as well, dust with four or cocoa.  You can easily split this cake into two 9″ pans or if you want make cupcakes.

Over barely simmering water, place a heat proof bowl with 4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate. Turn off the heat and let the chocolate melt, giving it the occasional stir with a spatula or wooden spoon. When nice and smooth and totally melted remove from the hot water and set aside.

In a medium bowl sift the dry ingredients: 2 cups cake flour, 2 teaspoons of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon Salt, 6 Tablespoons Cocoa powder.

In the bowl of a standing mixer add 8 tablespoons of room temperature unsalted Butter.  With the paddle attachement cream the butter, once creamed add 2 1/2 cups of Light Brown Sugar and 2 teaspoons of Vanilla.  Beat until light and fluffy.

One at a time add 3 Large room temperature Eggs.  Beating well after each addition. When the last egg has been incorporated fold in the melted chocolate.  Add half the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated then stir in 1/2 Cup of Buttermilk (at room temperature) stir in the rest of the dry ingredients.

With the machine on slow very gradually add 1 1/4 cups Boiling Water.

This makes for a thin batter, don’t worry!  Pour into prepared pan (s). Place on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of the preheated oven for about 45 minutes.   The cake is done with a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  If making cupcakes you only need to bake then for about 18-20 minutes.

Once done remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.Now here is where things get tricky. After the cake is cooled the next step is to “soak” it in caramel sauce then beging the chocolate butter cream layering.  IMG_1957Here is where things get tricky . cakes when they bake dome so they are not totally flat surfaces, also when they bake the top of them tends to seal so the crumb stays moist and light.   There were no instructions to trim the top of the cake, so I didn’t but  then what happens is that when you put the caramel on the cake it kind of sits there or worse it runs off the cake and pools.  After the fact it did occur to me that I could have poked the cake all over with my wooden cake testing skewer to create a zillion holes for the caramel to seep into….but like I said that bright idea came to me after the fact.

Caramel Syrup

I did not use corn syrup instead I replaced it with Lyle’s syrup, next time around I think I would just use water… instead of 1/4 cup add 6 Tablespoons and forget about the 2 tablespoons of corn syrup the recipe originally asks for (but that I don’t include below).

Make sure the cream is at room temperature.

Add 1 cup of Sugar to a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, stir in 6 Tablespoons of water and turn the heat up to medium high.  Don’t stir this mixture, but rather swirl the pan on occasion to make sure the sugar is melting evenly.  The recipe as written is wrong when it says to heat the sugar to 350F (it asks this twice) the hard ball stage of sugar is 250F if you were to cook the sugar much past 250 it will smoke and burn.  You can tell your carmel is ready when the sugar takes on a golden color – it will very quickly start to go from golden to brown so watch this like a hawk and the minute it is nice and amber remove from heat, let sit for a minute then add 1 Teaspoon Fleur de Sel, and 3/4 cups Heavy Cream.   With a wooden spoon stir constantly, when you add the cream to the carmel it will make a big fus, not to worry it will calm down in a few minutes time as the carmel cools and the cream is incorporated.

IMG_1958At this point you can place one of the cooled layers on a serving platter and start brushing it with caramel.  I think if you are up for it to take a serrated knife and cut the “dome” of the cake off to create an even, open surface would be helpful.

Next thing you’ll need is….

Chocolate Caramel Buttercream

This is enough for a 2 layer cake.

Make sure your cream and butter is room temperature.

In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan add 1 cup of Sugar and 6 Tablespoons of Water.  Heat over a medium high flame. Swirl on occasion until the sugar is melted and the caramel is a deep amber.  Remove from the heat.

After a minute add 3/4 cups of Heavy Cream, stirring with  wooden spoon until well incorporated – a couple of minutes.

In metal bowl of a standing mixer add 1/2 pound of 70% Chocolate finely chopped.

Pour the warm caramel over the chocolate.  Let it sit for a minute to allow it to melt, then gently stir to mix together and make sure the chocolate is completely melted.  Let cool to room temperature.

You want 1/2 pound of unsalted Butter at or near room temperature – it should still have a slight chill to it.

Place the caramel chocolate mixture in the standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachement. Mix over low speed for a minute or so – the bowl should feel cool to the touch, then gradually add the butter, a little at a time.  When the butter has all been added, scrap down the sides and then beat on high speed until nice and fluffy.

Now back to the cake…..cover the caramel coated layer with a thick layer of icing, then sprinkle a generous 1/2 teaspoon of fleur de del over it.  Top with the second layer and repeat.  Now you can cover the sides, this is called a “crumb coating” once the entire cake has been iced once put it in the fridge for about 2o minutes until the icing has firmed up nicely, then take it out and do one more icing, finishing it off with a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel.IMG_1959Personally now that I have guided you through this I’m not sure it is worth it. Certainly it’s delicious,  I just ate how time consuming and lopsided and challenging the process is. I certainly would love to people who make layer cakes and have mastered the art.  I think you could make a lovely single cake, frost it and serve caramel sauce on the side.

The chocolate cake recipe I use here is an adaptation of Alice Water’s Chocolate Cake from her amazing book The Art of Simple Food.

About urbanfoodguy

I'm a self taught cook with a dedication to buying and eating food that is as humanely and sustainably raised as possible. Which is why in addition to recipes you will see a lot of environmental/political reporting here. I started cooking when I was about 6, it's something I always loved to do. Watching Graham Kerr - aka "The Galloping Gourmet" - was what got me started and I have never really looked back. Over the years I've been a private chef, a caterer, and a food stylist for magazines such as Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Real Simple, Oprah, Martha Stewart's Everyday Food and many more. I've also worked in the prep kitchen for the Food Network on the Bobby Flay and Paula Deen shows. Now I work at home in my kitchen sharing with you here recipes that I create or that other people have created that inspire me and I think you will like. I love my neighborhood (the Lower East Side of Manhattan) and I love to travel. Because NYC is such a big place I tend to focus mostly on my 'hood and the ones that are close by: The East Village, Bowery, Chinatown and Williamsburg. My love of travel has no limits really, I'm always ready to get on a plane. I was lucky enough to have a business for many years that allowed me to spend a lot of time in South East Asia. These days I've been spending time in Mexico, Germany, Canada and the West Coast of the U.S., but check back you never know where I might end up. I do consulting, cooking classes, and freelance lifestyle writing so if you are interested please send me a note:
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6 Responses to Chocolate Salted Caramel Layer Cake

  1. Leslie-Anne says:

    I can hear your frustration at the process, but as someone who makes lots of cakes I want to assure you that, like all skills, the more you do it the easier it is. As you have discovered it is important to trim the dome from the top of the layers (once the cake has cooled) so that they sit nicely on each other. I think I’m going to have to try this recipe because it looks delicious!!

    • urbanfoodguy says:

      My frustration isn’t with the process it’s with the shitty instruction in most cookbooks – like why don’t they tell me to trim the dome? Why does there icing look caramel and not chocolate when the recipe clearly calls for so much chocolate it is impossible to image it looking like anything but….I did food styling and many cook books and for many, many food magazines and I have seen first hand how things are changed to “make a better” picture that have nothing to do with the actual recipe. Then recently there have been a spat of cook books that have wildly incorrect recipes – which when I brought this up to a friend in publishing she just shrugged and said: well there never going to republish is so they don’t care. So if cookbooks aren’t about cooking from then what are they for? The answer is that cook books have become coffe table books – they are no longer bought to cook from but rather to look at the pretty pictures – and this frustrates me greatly! Also this particular recipe is just poorly written in my opinion, the caramel sauce has un needed corn syrup is too thick to truly “soak into” the cake and the process of de-doming and making a layer cake are totally omitted. My goal in writing about it, as much as I eve have a goal,is to point out what is required to make a layer cake successful and to look at a recipe with an eye for what is missing – like oh how to make you layer cake look as pretty as the picture in the book?

      I love making cakes and have made my fair share – I’m just not a big fan of layer cakes as I think they are excessive and you can achieve everything you need without layers (and “bonus” no pesky de-doming required!)

      On a personal note I totally love to be back in contact with you Leslie-Anne and am thrilled that you are reading this her blog-thingy 😉


  2. pam says:

    i was very privileged to eat a slice of this cake – thank you Mark!- and it was tremendously good. (ok,to me honest i had a slice AND then cut myself just an eensee bit more……;-)).

  3. Pingback: Coconut Macaroon Chocolate Layer Cake | Urbanfoodguy

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