Martha Stewart Living (November 2011)
Back in October, when we first started planning our Fakesgiving/Thanksgiving menu, we each individually pored through all the food magazines, flagging different recipes on our own before comparing notes. Then we sat down and went through our lists.
Here's a verbatim account of how that conversation began:
Clay: "So. What are we thinking?"
Zach: "Well, clearly, Martha's Salted Cara--"
Clay: "I mean, obviously."
Seriously, though. Come on.
This cake is ridiculous. It's insane. Honestly, it's not even fair to all those other Thanksgiving desserts out there. If you're not already drooling over this cake, there's something seriously wrong with you. "Salted Caramel Six-Layer Chocolate Cake?" There are at least four words in the name alone that are drool-worthy. Put them all together in one sky-high Thanksgiving dessert, and you will be powerless to resist.
This cake is also a lot of work, because there are many steps to the preparation. On their own, they're not difficult. Combined, they're nearly a three-and-a-half-hour affair. The chocolate cake layers are straightforward, classic and delicious. The frosting is excellent.
But really, it's all about the caramel. (Don't ignore the recipe note about the candy thermometer. You really need it for this recipe. You can pick one up for less than ten bucks.) The caramel is creamy, buttery, rich toasted goodness. Resist the urge to eat all of it with a spoon straight from the bowl.
We baked the cake layers three days ahead of time and assembled the cake the next day. That meant it sat, completed, for two whole days before we ate it. That was good, in the sense that the flavors were blended and the cake was incredibly moist. It was also a great make-ahead time-saver. The only bad thing about that was that our cake-and-caramel layers blended together so much that they were no longer distinct. They tasted incredible, but if you want visually distinct layers of cake and caramel (like in Martha Stewart's photo below), you might want to assemble the cake closer to when you plan to serve it.
If we had one quibble with this cake, it would be only that it's not the most traditional Thanksgiving dessert. If you're used to, you know, pumpkin pies and pecan tarts and apple dumplings or whatever, you might think this chocolate cake is more appropriate for, say, a birthday cake than a Thanksgiving dessert.
We say forget about all that. The flavors of this dessert are fantastic. The salted caramel cream, the deep chocolate cake, the decadent chocolate frosting? The whole thing is, like, obnoxiously good. You and your dinner guests will be climbing over each other, clambering across the top of the table, to get a second piece. One of our guests -- and we're not exaggerating here -- almost started weeping as he was telling us this was the best cake he had ever eaten.
We think you'll feel the same way.
If you don't own a candy thermometer, this cake offers a good excuse to buy one. It sounds a little nitpicky, but the caramel should reach exactly 238 degrees. (Any less and the cake layers won't hold together properly; any more and the caramel will turn hard.) Precision will also pay off with the chocolate frosting: It achieves the ideal spreading texture after standing for 30 minutes.
Notes from Zach and Clay of TheBittenWord.com:
- The cake recipe calls for "unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder," while the frosting calls for "Dutch-process cocoa powder." We used unsweetened for both and loved how our cake turned out.
- Some readers have noted having problems at the caramel stage, finding that 14 minutes is too long and that their caramel burned. As early as 10 minutes into the process, if the caramel is starting to look dark amber, pull it off and proceed with the next step.
- We recommend using a large pot for the caramel, as it may foam up.
- You may have some extra caramel leftover, as well. You can place this in a jar for another purpose and store it in the refrigerator.
- A few readers have noted that their cakes turned out lopsided. This is likely because not enough cake has been trimmed off at the point that the recipe says to "Trim tops of cakes using a serrated knife to create a level surface." You want to trim the cakes so that they are uniformly flat on the top. (Dip those cake pieces in that extra caramel!)
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes
Yield: Makes one 9-inch cake
- For The Cake
- Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pans
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1 tablepoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- Coarse salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons safflower oil
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- For The Caramel
- 4 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Coarse salt
- 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
- For The Frosting
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
- Coarse salt
- 1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped, melted, and cooled
- Garnish: flaked sea salt, such as Maldon
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cake: Butter three 9-inch round cake pans, and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Sift flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons course salt into the bowl of a mixer. Beat on low speed until just combined. Raise speed to medium, and add eggs, buttermilk, 1 1/2 cups warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.
- Divide batter among pans. Bake until cakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool in pans set on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks, and let cool completely.
- Make the caramel: Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cook, without stirring, until mixture is dark amber, about 14 minutes. Remove from heat, and carefully pour in cream (mixture will spatter); stir until smooth. Return to heat, and cook until a candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees, about 2 minutes. Pour caramel into a medium bowl, stir in 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and let cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Let cool completely.
- Meanwhile, make the frosting: Whisk together cocoa and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water in a bowl until cocoa dissolves. Beat butter, confectioners' sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt in a clean bowl with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in melted chocolate and then cocoa mixture until combined. Let stand for 30 minutes before using.
- Trim tops of cakes using a serrated knife to create a level surface. Cut each in half horizontally to form 2 layers. Transfer 1 layer to a serving platter, and spread 3/4 cup caramel over top. Top with another cake layer, and repeat with remaining caramel and cake layers, leaving top uncovered. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.
- Frost top and sides of cake in a swirling motion. Sprinkle with sea salt.
To make this cake ahead of time: The caramel can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before using. Cake layers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days (they actually taste better when refrigerated and have a better texture for stacking). When finished, the frosted cake can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.