Last week I lamented over my choice to order layer cake for dessert when Mike and I had a date night. I believe this cake more than makes up for that dried out, caramel deficient disappointment of a cake. The cake is moist all on its own. The caramel is thick, rich, and oozy, but doesn’t make the cake overly sweet. Sprinkling sea salt on whipped chocolate ganache-like frosting adds dimension to each bite, giving the sweet cake a salty kick. The cake is heavy without being dense. And when I say heavy, I mean wielding a two-handed weapon heavy, -2 to diabetics.
The components can be made ahead, stored in the fridge, and assembled up to three days later. You’ll need to warm up the caramel a bit prior to spreading it in between the layers. I warmed mine over a pot of boiling water in a heat proof bowl for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. You will want a consistency that is spreadable enough to not rip up the cake, but not super thin and liquidy. You may also use the microwave to warm it in short 10-30 second bursts. It’s faster, but less precise.
If you made the frosting ahead of time and refrigerated it, you will need to whip it with electric beaters before frosting the cake. (Whip it good.) Let the bowl sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then break up the frosting with a spoon, if needed. Beat frosting until it is smooth, light, and fluffy.
Salted Chocolate Caramel Layer Cake
Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pans
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablepoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
12 ounces semisweet chocolate + 4 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
Garnish: sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cake: Butter three 9-inch round cake pans and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Sift flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt into the bowl of a mixer. Beat on low speed until just combined. Add buttermilk, water, vanilla, and oil; beat on low until just combined. Raise speed to medium and add eggs one at a time. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Divide batter among pans. Bake until cakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool in pans set on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks and let cool completely.
Make the caramel: Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cook until mixture is dark amber, about 14 minutes. During this time, don’t stir the mixture. However, you will need to gently move and fold the mixture on the edges into the middle, allowing the mixture on the top and middle to cook evenly. It will also prevent the mixture on the bottom and side from scorching. Remove from heat, and carefully pour in cream (mixture will bubble violently); let mixture settle for a minute; stir until smooth. Return to medium-high heat and cook until a candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees, about 5 minutes. Pour caramel into a medium bowl, stir in 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and let cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. It is easiest to fold the caramel over the butter to allow it to melt quickly. Let cool completely.
Make the frosting: Whisk together cocoa and warm water in a bowl until cocoa dissolves. Beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt in a bowl with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in melted chocolate and then cocoa mixture. Beat frosting for a few minutes, until smooth, fluffy, and lightened in color. Let stand for 30 minutes before using.
Cut each cake in half using a large serrated knife. Except for the top layer, cut the rounded part of the other layers off, leaving a flat surface for stacking. Top each layer with 1/2 – 3/4 cup of caramel, using an offset spatula to spread the caramel toward the edges. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. Frost cake.
Recipe slightly adapted from Martha Stewart