Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Layer Cake
I had a birthday last Friday......and I am now officially 35. That's still young, right? Right???
Grant surprised me with a bouquet of pink roses on the Monday before my birthday.....flowers to enjoy for the whole birthday week. They were so beautiful and I just loved seeing them brighten our dining table.
On my actual birthday, he got goodies from Panera Bread for the family to share and he and Corban made scrambled eggs to accompany them. Then Corban made me a birthday crown and the kids insisted that I dress up like a queen.....so I went all out and donned the bridesmaid dress I wore in my sister Sarah's wedding (11.5 years ago), high heels, and bright lipstick....oh, and I can't forget the fancy jewelry.....
the children were so delighted! I have to admit, it was really fun to be a queen for a morning.
This was the first birthday I've gotten to celebrate with my family (parents and some siblings) since we moved to Virginia 9 years ago. Although my mom and sister offered to make my cake, I insisted on doing it myself. It's all part of the fun.....deliberating for at least a month ahead of time on what to bake.....and then actually doing it.
So salted caramel is all the rage right now....you can find it everywhere. And for good reason - it's fabulous.
Let me just tell you something.
Anyone who tells you that making homemade caramel sauce is "easy" is either incredibly lucky, incredibly talented, or just wants to make you feel like an idiot.
I am a pretty decent baker - and I have failed at caramel sauce five times over the past year. And each time, I convinced myself for at least a few days that I would never attempt it again. But of course, I just had to try "one more time".
Cooking sugar is a finicky business. Cook it too fast, you get crystallization. Hard lumps. Giant mess, not fixable. Cook it too long, just seconds too long....and it's burnt. Not fixable. I've done both. Ick.
I found that following Mel's instructions were very helpful.....although the first time with this caramel sauce, I failed miserably again. I might have shed a tear. But I decided to give it one more shot.....lo and behold, when I cooked the sugar at a lower temperature in the first stage, it worked out so much better. The sauce was perfection. I almost hated to make buttercream with it because it was so darn good by itself.
But I didn't regret it.
The original recipe called for a Swiss meringue buttercream, which I'm sure would have been delicious, but I went with a traditional buttercream because it doesn't take as long and I thought the caramel flavor would be more prominent. It turned out even better than I imagined. I just wanted to eat it by the spoonful.
But the chocolate frosting is also amazing.....it is so silky and smooth, rich and dreamy......like having a truffle melt in your mouth. I can't even tell you how amazing this frosting is. Paired with my favorite chocolate cake and the caramel buttercream - it was a match made in heaven.
I could seriously eat this cake every day and not get tired of it.
Oh, so the cake is humongous. I made 1-1/2 times the original recipe of cake (change is reflected in my recipe) so it would be 3 layers instead of 2. You could easily just make a 2 layer cake and fill and frost it with the caramel buttercream and leave off the chocolate frosting altogether, and it would be a great cake. Or you could just decrease the amount of frosting and filling if you wanted a smaller cake. Personally, I don't mind having extra frosting around the house. You can always find something to do with it.
Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Layer Cake
3 cups sugar
2-1/2 cups + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder (I use Hershey's Special Dark)
2-1/4 tsp. baking powder
2-1/4 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup oil (I use expeller-pressed coconut oil)
1-1/2 cups boiling water
2 tsp. instant coffee granules (optional)
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1-1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
5-6 cups powdered sugar
12 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used 8 oz. Bakers semisweet, 4 oz. Ghiradelli bittersweet)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup very hot water
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt
Fleur de sel, for garnish (optional)
To make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Grease and flour three 9" round cake pans and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine sugar, flour, cocoa powder (sifted), baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add eggs, milk, and oil and stir on medium speed for 2 minutes.
Add coffee granules to boiling water if desired (it enhances the flavor of the chocolate but isn't necessary) and pour slowing into the batter, mixing on low speed. Batter will be very thin.
Distribute evenly between the three cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.
To make the filling:
In a heavy saucepan, slowly combine the sugar and water, taking care to not let any of the mixture splash up onto the sides of pan. Set the pan over low heat and stir the mixture gently until the sugar is dissolved, about 10 minutes. Don't stir vigorously or the syrup will splash onto the sides of the pan and cause crystallization later, which is very bad. Make sure the sugar is completely dissolved before letting the mixture come to a boil.
Once the sugar is dissolved, increase the heat to medium-high and bring the syrup to a boil. Cover the saucepan and let the syrup boil for 2 minutes. Uncover, reduce the heat to medium, and continue to boil, without stirring, until the edges turn golden brown. Then carefully and gently swirl the pan until the syrup turns a dark amber color. Do not scrape the sides of the pan.
Remove from the heat and add the butter. Gently stir until the butter is melted. Stir in the cream. Mixture will foam up, so be careful. If the sauce becomes lumpy and isn't whisking together, set the pan over the still-warm burner and stir until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and salt. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any lumps if necessary.
Pour into a bowl and cool to room temperature. Use the fridge or freezer to help you out if you're in a hurry, like I was.
Once it's room temperature, place 1-1/2 sticks of butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add caramel sauce and slowly add powdered sugar, beating until the frosting is desired consistency.
To make the frosting:
Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Set aside and let cool to room temperature. In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and water and stir until smooth. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, powdered sugar, and salt. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, gradually blend in the melted and cooled chocolate until well incorporated. Blend in the cocoa powder-water mixture until smooth.
To assemble the cake:
Level the cake layers if necessary. Place one of the cake layers on a cake board or serving platter. Top with a little more than 1/3 of the caramel buttercream and smooth in a thick, even layer. Place a second cake layer on top and smooth an equal amount of buttercream on it. Place the final cake layer on top. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the chocolate frosting and smooth with an offset spatula. If desired, use additional caramel buttercream to pipe decorative accents on the cake. Before serving, sprinkle with fleur de sel, if desired.
Sources: Cake adapted from Hershey's, inspiration and frosting from Annie's Eats, Caramel Sauce from Mel's Kitchen Cafe