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dark chocolate salted caramel layer cake

November 19, 2011

Are you ready for this beast? Dark chocolate cake, buttercream with bits of salted caramel, salted, creamy chocolate frosting. I’m not quite sure you’re ready.

I actually have two recipes for chocolate-salted caramel cake, because I am that fixated on the combination. When the time came to try out one of them, I naturally gravitated toward the more complicated one. But you know what? Even that one wasn’t all that difficult. The cake is pretty much your standard, plushy chocolate version, the caramel-making is a bit tricky but more in a keep-your-eye-on-it way than a zillions-of-ingredients way,* and the chocolate frosting and buttercream filling can mostly be left for a mixer to deal with. Actually, the most complicated thing about this cake is getting all the chocolate frosting on before it weirdly starts to harden into a stubborn layer on your cake. But that might’ve had more to do with the fact that we’ve still refused to turn our heat on than with anything else.

*You know what makes it a lot less tricky? Here’s a tip: if you’re looking at the spoon you stirred the caramel with, thinking that the caramel hardening on it must be cool enough by now to try, do not succumb and stick your finger in that little pool of melted sugar. It will still be hot. And it will sear to your finger like a tiny booger of lava. Resist!

Note 1: I think I cooked the caramel a little bit longer than I was supposed to, because when I tried to mix it into the buttercream, that glob of caramel was not in any sense going to homogenize into the frosting. I ended up with little bits of salted caramel dispersed throughout the frosting, which was actually okay, I think. So don’t worry about whether you’ve cooked the caramel for exactly the right amount of time–unless it’s still sugar-water and/or completely burned, you should be fine.

Note 2: I cut the buttercream recipe in half because Chris and I aren’t actually all that crazy for swiss meringue. (What can I say, we like more sugar, less butter.) If you, on the other hand, are dying for some of that melty, buttery goodness, you should probably double the quantities below for the filling.

Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Layer Cake
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons brewed coffee [Fun fact: this is almost exactly the amount in a small cup sold at Dunkin’ Donuts. I know, because I had to walk to buy some since we don’t keep any coffee in our apartment. No, we don’t drink coffee. Yes, we are fails of twenty-somethings.]
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar, divided
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons heavy cream
generous pinch of sea salt, such as fleur de sel
2 large egg whites
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 oz. good quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup very hot water
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
pinch of salt

1. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour the edges of three 8-inch [or 9-inch] baking pans, shaking out the excess. Line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low speed to blend. Add the vegetable oil, buttermilk, coffee, eggs, and vanilla to the bowl and mix on low speed until well-blended and completely incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans about 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Remove the parchment paper.
2.  To make the caramel buttercream filling, place 5 tablespoons of sugar in a medium saucepan. Mix in the water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stop stirring and let the caramel cook, gently swirling from time to time, until it’s a deep amber color (test a drop on a white plate or bowl if necessary), watching it carefully to avoid burning. Remove the mixture from the heat and slowly whisk in the cream and salt. Set aside and let cool.
3. Combine the egg whites and the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar  in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees and the sugar has dissolved. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. (The bowl should be cool to the touch.)
4. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more. Blend in the cooled caramel until smooth and completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
5. 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. [The microwave is my friend here, and should be yours, too.] 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, confectioners’ 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.
6. 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 half of the caramel buttercream and smooth in a thick [or not-so-thick], even layer. Place a second cake layer on top and smooth the remaining caramel buttercream over that. 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 frosting to pipe decorative accents on the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Before serving, sprinkle with fleur de sel.

Source: Annie’s Eats 

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