sweet and salty cake
I want to keep this blog current, writing about recipes shortly after they’ve been made and enjoyed. I think writing is more authentic that way. But, you see, this particular cake was so indulgently far from the quotidian dessert that it is most definitely first post worthy, even if it was made in February when I apparently didn’t know how to use a camera.
Sometimes, food can inspire journeys. I fit squarely among the “live to eat-ers,” planning vacations around food destinations since I was twelve. I’d much rather stand in line for two hours to get into a diner in San Francisco than take the ferry to Alcatraz. When I want French toast, informational tours can wait. If any food item can inspire a journey, it’s this cake. This outrageously decadent, time-consuming, sophisticated but playful cake.
For me, this cake inspired a mere 1-hour journey, but it was one that certainly didn’t come without a few bumps in the road. One Thursday afternoon in February, I hopped into my dad’s car parked outside my place in Boston. I was a girl on a mission. You see, I naïvely thought it might be nice to go home (Central MA) for the weekend and surprise my mom for her birthday; usually they would come my way for occasions. My dad, who normally drives like an eighty-year-old woman in a station wagon, zipped down the Mass Turnpike, artfully weaving through disgruntled nine-to-fivers. Intent on pulling out all the stops, I emptied my already barren wallet on a pound of Valrhona chocolate and cocoa powder. I had to stop at three supermarkets just to gather some pantry basics off their strangely bare shelves.
I should have realized the universe was against me, but I had a cake calling and a birthday surprise to attend to, so I purposefully pushed on. We reached the top of my street, and I slid onto the car floor (I don’t recommend trying this), crouching in the fetal position until my dad had entered the house and shut the door behind him.
Sacha opens door into living room.
Sacha shouts: “I’m hoooome!”
Mom, with look of horror, pops her head out in all directions like a chick just busting out of its shell for the first time.
Mom follows by shouting: “I thought you were my mother!*”
*um, what? Weird.
Mom exits the frame yelling: “What are you doing here?!” “What are you going to eat?! We have no food,”
Sacha answers: “Mom, it’s a surprise.”
Mom: “No child* of mine is going to come home to eat a salad!”
My mother lives to please.
I know my mom. I’m not sure why I ever thought this would go over well.
Well, the cake I whipped up (six hours counts as “whipping up”, right?) while she was at work the next day made the whole fiasco worth it. It topped off a meal that was purposely light, for this was no dainty dessert. Normally, I stray away from desserts that scream CHOCOLATE OVERLOAD (in what I imagine as a voice that mixes the Cookie Monster with a WE wrestling commercial), but my mother and I had been eyeing this cake for some time. Sadly, though, we’re the only ones in the family who actually enjoy chocolate cake, and I never had the opportunity to delve into this project. And some may find it to be a real project: there’s cake to bake, salted caramel filling to cook, chocolate to melt, more (but different) caramel to cook to combine with aforementioned chocolate, butter to whip into the chocolate until shiny ganache frosting is made, layers to douse in caramel, filling to be filled, a monstrosity to be frosted, and of course, salt to be sprinkled…generously. Whew!
I presented my mother with a cake that was not sickeningly sweet or ooey gooey fudgy and flavorless. Nope, this was rich, full of depth and heightened by the fleur de sel, oozing (neatly, though) with salted caramel. The ganache had an amazing mouthfeel and a beautiful light milk chocolate color. Make sure to take your caramel sauces as far as possible before burning. It will give the cake the most sophisticated caramel flavor. Caramel permeates this cake — it makes itself a part of it, not just an embellishment. In short, this is a chocolate cake for grownups, and it spared me from all future motherly disapproval I could incur (well, for at least a week or two).
I do want to note that I used my go-to Chocolate Fudge Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, which packs a major chocolate punch while being miraculously moist yet soft in texture at the same time. Also, unlike the Baked boys, I only made two layers. There were only three of us, and we still ate it for four days in small slivers. Oh, and on the last day when it was starting to dry out, we popped big pieces in the oven and dolloped the melty results with fresh whipped cream. It’s not classy, but I fully endorse it. Below, I have included the recipe for the filling and frosting, since that is what I used. You can find the full recipe for the Sweet and Salty Cake in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.
Reprinted with permission of the authors Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito:
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 Whipped 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 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.