Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel and Fleur de Sel Praline

by formerchef on December 7, 2009

Chocolate Caramel Cake with Fleur de Sel Praline

Every Thanksgiving I make two desserts. One is always a pumpkin mousse pie and the other is usually something chocolate. This year I really wanted a show-stopper and decided I wanted a chocolate cake which had salted caramel in it in some way.  The original recipe came from Bon Appetit and can be found here, but I made some changes to the recipe (see notes at bottom) and added my own touch, the Fleur de Sel Praline for the garnish and inside the cake.

The cake has a lot of parts, but if you take it one step at a time and do some of it in advance, it’s not that difficult. I was very pleased with the way it turned out; the cake itself is rich with a bite of coffee flavor, the caramel has a nice tang to it from the addititon of the sour cream, and the praline adds a bit of crunchy texture and extra salt to contrast with the sweet ganache.  

Printable Recipe; Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel

Chocolate Cake

1 3/4 cups sugar 
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Askinosie cocoa, read about it on this post)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt (Fleur de Sel)
1 cup milk
2 large eggs 
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted
1.5 Tbsp instant espresso powder
1 cup hot water
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp butter (for buttering the pans)

Baking the Cake:

Papered cake pans

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides.

Note; the cake pan size is very important. I made a 1/2 batch to test the cake recipe and made the mistake of using an 8′ pan. The batter overflowed the pan and made a mess of my oven.

Line bottom of each pan with parchment paper. To see how to easily cut a circle the size of your pan see this post.
Butter paper and dust pan with flour.

Sift sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into large bowl.
Add milk, eggs, and melted butter.
Using electric mixer, beat at low speed until blended. Increase speed and beat 2 minutes. The batter will be very thick at this point.

Chocolate Cake batter

Stir 1 cup hot water and espresso powder in small bowl to dissolve.
Add the dissolved coffee and the vanilla to the batter and beat until blended. The batter will be much thinner now.

Divide batter between the two pans.
Note; If I’d had 3- 9″ pans I might have used them instead. The two cakes are to be cut into two layers each, and diving the batter between 3 pans would have made it an easier 3 layer cake (instead of 4 layers).

Chocolate Cake in Pans Chocolate Cake out of pans

Bake cakes  about 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans on racks for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan and then turn the cakes out onto racks. Remove the parchment paper and allow the cakes to cool completely.

Caramel Filling

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 stick (2 oz) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Large pinch of fine fleur de sel

Fleur de Sel Caramel

Stir sugar, 1/4 cup water,  in deep medium saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves.
Increase heat to medium; cover pan and cook 4 minutes. Uncover; increase heat to high. Boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber, occasionally brushing down pan sides with wet pastry brush, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat.
Add cream (mixture will bubble and may solidify, just keep stirring).
Whisk in butter, then the sour cream, lemon juice, and a pinch of fleur de sel.
Cool completely. Refrigerate if not using right away. Bring to room temperature before using.

Note; This recipe make about 1.5 cups of caramel. I didn’t think it was going to be enough to fill all the layers, but it was. I really liked the flavor too; the sour cream and the lemon juice added a nice tangy taste which helps cut the sweetness of the ganache.

Chocolate ganache for filling and frosting:

1 1/2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups heavy whipping cream

chocolate and cream for ganache

Place chocolate in large bowl. Bring cream to simmer in heavy bottomed pot.
Pour the cream over the chocolate and allow it to soften about 1 minute.
Whisk until the chocolate is smooth. Cool.
If doing in advance this can be covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before using it. It needs to be very soft, but not runny, to be able to frost the cake without tearing it.

Fleur de Sel Praline for garnish and filling:

Fleur de Sel Praline

Prepare one recipe of Fleur de Sel Praline
Break the praline into large pieces for the top of the cake (see photos).
Use about 1/3 of the pieces to crush into smaller pieces to be used in the filling. I did this in a mortar and pestle, but you can also put it in a plastic bag and hit it gently with a rolling pin or heavy spoon. You want to make sure the pieces don’t go flying (thus keeping them contained in a plastic bag to crush them).

To Assemble the Cake:

Using long serrated knife, cut each cake horizontally in half so that there are 4 layers. Cut the top off of the cake if it needs to be flattened.

I like to create a base for my cakes. Plates can be sloped and make it hard to frost the cake and keep it level.
Professional bakeries use cardboard cake rounds, but you can certainly make your own:
Take a piece of clean cardboard from a box and trace the outline of the cake pan on it. Cut out the circle and cover it with foil. I put the base on top of a baking rack and any excess ganache just falls off (instead of getting all over the plate). Later, you can slide the whole cake (leaving it on the base) onto a platter for serving.

Place 1 layer on the cake round or a flat plate. Use one of the bottom pieces of the cake as your base, bottom side down.
Spread this layer with 1/2 cup room-temperature ganache. It needs to be very soft, but not runny, to be able to frost the cake without tearing it.
Spoon 3/4 cup ganache into pastry bag fitted with 1/4-inch plain round tip. Pipe ring of ganache around edge of layer.
Tip: make sure your ganache is quite soft when you do this. I broke a pastry bag and a plastic bag trying to do this with ganache which was too too cold and firm.
Spread 1/3 of the caramel filling evenly inside the center of the layer and spread out toward the edges of the ring. Sprinkle the caramel with about 2 Tbsp. of the crushed Fleur de Sel Praline.

Chocolate Cake with Salted Butter Caramel Chocolate Cake layers

Top with second cake layer and repeat the ganache, caramel and praline step. Repeat with third cake layer. Top with fourth cake layer, cut side down. Spread remaining ganache over top and sides of cake. I use a Cake Icing Spatula to frost the cake. It’s perfectly flat and flexible and lets me get a smooth result on the sides and top of the cake.

Chocolate Cake, Frosted

Once the cake is frosted, if it will be served later or the next day, it can go into the refrigerator.
Add the pieces of praline garnish and the crushed praline on the top before serving. I did a type of star pattern of standing pieces in the center and then a row of crushed praline around the outside edge (see bottom photo).
Important; Once the praline is refrigerated it attracts moisture and becomes sticky and sometimes melts, so put it on after the cake comes out of the refrigerator before serving it.

Slice of Chocolate Caramel Cake

Changes to original recipe;
I left out the corn syrup in the caramel, reduced the amount of sugar in the cake,  added vanilla and more coffee powder. Instead of almonds for garnish, I made a Fleur de Sel Praline, the recipe for which is a few posts back. To read more about Fleur de Sel and what it is, please see the praline post.

This recipe can be done in steps and a few days in advance.
The caramel filling can be made 3 days in advance and should be kept in the refrigerator. Bring it out about an hour before using it.
The chocolate ganache can be made a few days in advance and refrigerated, but needs to come to room temperature. Take it out 3 hours before using it.
The cake can be baked 1 day in advance.
Once assembled, the cake should be refrigerated, but not with the praline garnish on top. The candy will get sticky and the smaller pieces may melt in the refrigerator’s humidity.
Take the cake out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour before serving it.

Printable Recipe; Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel


1 nina December 7, 2009 at 10:00 am

I have o doubt in my mind that this was indeed the show stopper you wanted it to be…. amazing.The salted caramel looks amazing!!!

2 Ash December 7, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Look at the oh so chocolatly goodness that is this cake!! -with the hit of salty caramel!! Even better!!

3 Baking is my Zen December 7, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Wonderful post. Photos are fab! Salty & Sweet…can’t go wrong with that!

4 Jennifer December 7, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Wow. Looks so good, I love the salty sweet combo.

5 Ciaochowlinda December 7, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Wow, what a showstopper of a dessert.

6 Angela@spinachtiger December 7, 2009 at 7:39 pm

This is a wow. My favorite combo is chocolate, caramel and salt.

7 Annick Vliegen December 8, 2009 at 6:39 am

Being married to a chef, I can say it is a lovely cake!! If you see the recipe one would like to get started an make one for one self. I think I will ask my husband to make it for xmas when the kids come home!!

8 Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen December 8, 2009 at 7:09 am

WOW!!! That looks AMAZING! The photos are gorgeous, too!!!

9 Tiffany December 18, 2009 at 5:15 pm

I want to roll around in that cake. No. Seriously. That is a cake that must be enjoyed both inside and out!
My husband and I have made a pact to eat healthier in the New Year. I have two weeks until the deadline, but no time to make this cake! NOOOO! When is the nearest birthday next year?!

10 Jennifer S December 18, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Gorgeous photos. And your patience to stop and get such good shots in the process… (I’m always forgetting to take process pix.)

I liked the praline before the cake. Now I’m really salivating.

11 danna January 12, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Thanks for posting your cake. I made it per the BA recipe, but used your garnish idea. I didn’t think the cake was special, but that filling was awesome.

You did a nice job photographing yours, I had a hard time getting the cake to show up as gorgeous as it really was in pics.

12 formerchef January 13, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Thank you. I agree about the cake itself, which is why I modified the recipe somewhat. The photography is the hardest part of cooking (for me), LOL. Sometimes I have to cook without the camera, just for the sheer pleasure of cooking and forget about the blog.
Feel free to post your photos on the Facebook Fan page!

13 Connie January 13, 2010 at 8:47 am

I baked this for Christmas, 2009, and it was a really special cake! My grandson flipped over it! Thanks so much for sharing!!

14 formerchef January 13, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Thanks! I’m so glad he liked it!

15 Vicky November 3, 2011 at 1:05 pm

This cake looks awesome! The praline pieces make it look gorgeous and I didn’t realize there were so few steps involved in making them! I’m going to give it a try on the weekend. One question – when I add the water and espresso mixture to the batter, should I wait for it to cool or is it okay to go in hot or warm?

Thanks 🙂

16 formerchef November 3, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Warm is ok. The water just needs to be warm enough to dissolve the espresso powder.

17 Vicky November 4, 2011 at 6:42 am

Thanks Chef! One more question is there a trick to getting the praline into nice triangles? I don’t want to get fingerprints all over trying to get triangle shaped pieces but I don’t want to smash aimlessly either LOL Your help is very much appreciated!! 🙂

18 formerchef November 4, 2011 at 6:45 am

Try putting the sheet of praline between two pieces of plastic wrap and then snapping them into pieces, or tapping it with a spoon to crack it.

19 mary July 16, 2013 at 10:29 am

Is expresso powder able to be substituted for instant dark coffee crystals?
Thank you,

20 formerchef July 16, 2013 at 10:45 am

Yes as long as it desolves completely.

21 Jo January 24, 2012 at 10:44 am

Made this for my daughter’s 17th birthday and it was indeed a hit. The blend of sweet, salt and caramel was amazing. Thank you!

22 jodie August 11, 2012 at 3:42 am

I don’t do cakes, but this is incredible. I can imagine the salty caramel and gooey chocolate. I am not much for deserts but can be tempted by certain things and this cake is doing my head in….GET IN MY BELLY!. Your pictures are to die for and the step by step instructions and tips are really thorough, so much so i might even bake my first ever cake. Thanks for this, i’m going to check out the rest of your site. 🙂

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