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 addition of the sour cream, and the praline adds a bit of crunchy texture and extra salt to contrast with the sweet ganache.
3/4cupunsweetened cocoa powderI used Askinosie cocoa, read about it on this post
1 1/2tspbaking powder
1 1/2tspbaking soda
1tspsaltFleur de Sel
1stick4 oz unsalted butter, melted
1.5Tbspinstant espresso powder
1Tbspbutterfor buttering the pans
1/2cupheavy whipping cream
1/2stick2 oz unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2teaspoonfresh lemon juice
Large pinch of fine fleur de sel
Chocolate ganache for filling and frosting:
1 1/2poundsbittersweet chocolatechopped
3cupsheavy whipping cream
To Bake the Cake
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.
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).
Bake cakes for 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.
To Make the Caramel
Stir sugar, 1/4 cup water, in a 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.
To Make the Ganache
Place chocolate in large bowl. Bring cream to simmer in a 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:
Prepare one recipe of Fleur de Sel Praline (See below for link)
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 a 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 the 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 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.
Top with the second cake layer and repeat the ganache, caramel, and praline step. Repeat with the 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.
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.
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.
To see how to easily cut a circle the size of your pan see this post.