We hosted a dinner party on Saturday night. We kept it simple with two types of chili: one with meat and one with black beans and sweet potatoes. Both with lots of grated Monterrey Jack cheese, cilantro, green onions, and sour cream.
Nick baked his sourdough bread — a recipe which he has totally mastered. And I flexed my baking muscles, too, with a decadent cake from my Baked cookbook.
This recipe has been bookmarked since Christmas. It is the bakery’s most requested recipe, after all. It’s sweet and salty, rich and moist, indulgent and sophisticated. And it gave me an excuse to make caramel. Three times.
But let’s start with the cake, shall we?
Add sour cream to dark unsweetened cocoa powder and hot water.
In another bowl, sift and combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Then beat together the butter and shortening until ribbonlike, about 5 minutes. Add granulated sugar and dark brown sugar, and beat until light and fluffy, another 5 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla, followed by the flour mixture and the cocoa mixture.
Divide the batter among greased and floured cake pans. (The instructions call for three layers, but I only have two pans. No worries.)
Put the cake in a 325°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, then get ready to make some caramel!
I got to break in another kitchen accessory with this recipe: my candy thermometer. And, yes, I literally did break it in.
Caramel is easier to make than I thought. It’s just water, sugar, and light corn syrup. Stir together in a medium saucepan over high heat until it reaches 350°F. This version also calls for fleur de sel (fine sea salt) and heavy cream, which is heated in a separate small saucepan, and sour cream, which is whisked in at the end.
And. Oh. My. Gosh. This stuff is dangerous. I could eat it by the spoonful — actually, I did eat it by the spoonful. After I made a second batch because I broke the candy thermometer in the first batch. (That’s not supposed to happen. I think it was inadvertently resting on the bottom of the pan.) And then I made a third batch (I am now a master caramel maker) and added it to heavy cream and dark chocolate to form the ganache. (Note: The salted caramel would also be delicious drizzled over chocolate ice cream. Just sayin’.)
After the cakes and caramels cool, start layering. Place one cake on a serving platter (covered with strips of parchment paper to keep things neat and tidy), add 1/4 cup salted caramel, then spread 3/4 cup ganache on top. Repeat as necessary.
Place the cake in the refrigerator (or a cold garage) to firm up before you frost the sides and top. Garnish with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.
Everyone agreed that this cake is a hit. It’s just what we needed after our Dance Central Dance Battle.
Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but this is a dessert that you and your sweetheart can enjoy all year. I promise. It’s worth the effort. Just be careful with that candy thermometer.
What sweet treats did you bake this weekend?
Sweet and Salty Cake
For the Dark Chocolate 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 (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 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 sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup sour cream
For the Chocolate-Caramel Ganache Frosting
- 1 pound dark chocolate (60 to 70% cacao), chopped
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 teaspoons fleur de sel, plus more for garnish
Make the Dark Chocolate Cake
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter three (or two) 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.
In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder, hot water, and sour cream and set aside to cool.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until ribbonlike, about 5 minutes. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. 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 30 seconds.
Add the flour mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
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. Remove the parchment.
Make 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.
Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the cream mixture so it doesn’t burn, 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., 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.
Make the Chocolate-Caramel Ganache Frosting
Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.
In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over very low heat. Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the cream so it doesn’t burn, 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., 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. 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.
Assemble the Cake
Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Spread 1/4 cup of the caramel over the top. Let the caramel soak into the cake, then spread 3/4 cup of the ganache frosting over the caramel. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the fleur de sel over the frosting, then top with the second cake layer. Spread with caramel frosting and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the fleur de sel. Then top with the third layer. Spread with caramel. Crumb coat the cake (see page 22) and put the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up the frosting. Frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. Garnish with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.
This cake will keep beautifully 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.