August 1, 2015

Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake

Pardon my absence from the blog but I was away in Europe for the last two months, working and spending time with my friends.  To say that my time there was great would be an injustice - it was f'ing amazing!  But if I missed anything about home, other than proper Asian and Mexican food, it was my kitchen.  Baking, as many of you know, is my jam and as soon I landed in SF I was anxious to get back to my happy place.

I was absolutely delighted to see this recipe for Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake in the Sep/Oct 2015 issue of my favorite cooking magazine, Cook's Illustrated.   There are a few steps but they couldn't be more straightforward and this is a recipe that doesn't require a stand mixer.  

The chocolate cake and frosting couldn't be simpler to make but I'm always a bit apprehensive when it comes to homemade caramel.  The key to success is using a really good instant read thermometer.   [I have  this one from Thermapen and it's also recommended by the Test Kitchen.]  After frosting the cake, all that was left was a nice sprinkling of Maldon sea salt that I brought back from London.  

It's great to be home!

Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake

Serves 12

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Caramel Filling
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt 

16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (3 ounces) confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch salt
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

1/4—1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt (optional) 

FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, grease parchment, and flour pans. Sift flour and cocoa into large bowl. Whisk in sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk buttermilk, water, oil, eggs, and vanilla together in second bowl. Whisk buttermilk mixture into flour mixture until smooth batter forms. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and smooth tops with rubber spatula.

Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 22 to 28 minutes, switching and rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool in pans on wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove cakes from pans, discarding parchment, and let cool completely on rack, at least 2 hours.

FOR THE CARAMEL FILLING: Lightly grease 8-inch square baking pan. Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until mixture is amber colored, 8 to 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, swirling saucepan occasionally, until dark amber, 2 to 5 minutes longer. (Caramel will register between 375 and 380 degrees.)

Off heat, carefully stir in cream, butter, vanilla, and salt (mixture will bubble and steam). Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until smooth and caramel reaches 240 to 245 degrees, 3 to 5 minutes. Carefully transfer caramel to prepared pan and let cool until just warm to touch (100 to 105 degrees), 20 to 30 minutes.

FOR THE FROSTING: Process butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add corn syrup and vanilla and process until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl, then add chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds. (Frosting can be made 3 hours in advance. For longer storage, cover and refrigerate frosting. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before using.)

Using long serrated knife, score 1 horizontal line around sides of each cake layer; then, following scored lines, cut each layer into 2 even layers. 7. Using rubber spatula or large spoon, transfer 1/3 of caramel to center of 1 cake layer and use small offset spatula to spread over surface, leaving 1/2-inch border around edge. Repeat with remaining caramel and 2 of remaining cake layers. (Three of your cake layers should be topped with caramel.)

Line edges of cake platter with 4 strips of parchment to keep platter clean. Place 1 caramel-covered cake layer on platter. Top with second caramel-covered layer. Repeat with third caramel-covered layer and top with final layer. Spread frosting evenly over sides and top of cake. Carefully remove parchment strips. Let cake stand for at least 1 hour. (Cake can be made 2 days in advance and refrigerated. Let stand at room temperature for at least 5 hours before serving.) Sprinkle with coarse sea salt, if using. Cut and serve. 


  1. Hi, I saw this cake being made last night on ATK and thought it would be fantastic as a birthday cake for my two little guy's. Thank you for posting it. Looks beautiful! I'll use Lyle's golden syrup in place of the corn syrup. =)

  2. So disappointed in Cooks! I have never burned caramel but trying to get it to the high temp they suggest is sort of ridiculous and of course ruined the caramel and totally burned it. I don't see if anyone else has had this. Used my regular caramel pan too with a heavy bottom. I make caramel all the time! Bummer

  3. So I never made caramel before. I had the same problem getting the second temp of 240 degrees. Once it cooled it seemed real greasy and hard on top soft underneath. I haven't tried this yet as I am on a low carb diet but thought I'd make this for my wife. What ruins caramel? What I described above?
    Thanks for any input!

  4. So I never made caramel before. I had the same problem getting the second temp of 240 degrees. Once it cooled it seemed real greasy and hard on top soft underneath. I haven't tried this yet as I am on a low carb diet but thought I'd make this for my wife. What ruins caramel? What I described above?
    Thanks for any input!

  5. So...the caramel. I will admit that I burned the first batch. For the second batch, I concentrated on getting the caramel back to a temp of 235 after adding the cream and butter. Medium heat isn't enough, so I cranked up the heat and stirred almost constantly. It came to a boil and that allowed the temp to go up to 235 pretty quickly and I took it off the heat. After a minute, it was at 239 and I poured it in the pan to cool. I also used a naturally nonstick dish for that step and only applied one quick spray of cooking spray, then spread it around with a paper towel. Once it cools, the top will be a little firm, but mixing it with the soft caramel (which is still warm) underneath will eliminate that crust. I think the initial problem was that it has to cook quickly and medium heat on my stove top wasn't enough.

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  7. Idk why people are having problems with the caramel. I've made this several times now, no caramel issues. One thing I did notice is on the Americas Test Kitchen video, they say to use 3/4 cup sugar, in the printed recipe it's 1 1/4 cups. The latter is correct. 375 for the first cook is right, 240 for the second. I used an electronic cooking thermometer like you would use to probe meat. This time I used light brown sugar and imo it tastes even better. A really super cake. Hardest part for me is to cut it into 4 even pieces.

    1. Hahahahaha... that made me laugh!