Not only do the Pie and il Principe share a birthday, but I’ll have you know that Cait’s birthday is only four days later. And then Jiss’ birthday is only a scant five days after that. Because we were heading back to Ottawa for a visit at the beginning of the month, we decided to postpone our birthday celebrations until we got there so that Cait and Jiss could share in the fun.
So, for my husband on his birthday and my best friend on her birthday, and my husband’s friend’s spouse on HER birthday, I made them this fantastic confection, which comes out of our favourite cookbook of all time, Baked.
You can read the recipe online here, here, or here. But you should really buy the book. The pictures are glorious and the authors explain everything so well.
This recipe involves caramel, chocolate, and salt. Yes, SALT. I rarely use salt in baking but this one made it all worth it. If you can get your hands on fleur de sel, all the better, but you can use sea salt as a substitute if necessary. It’s also worth noting that this cake takes many steps, and you can save time by making things like the caramel the day before and putting it in the fridge.
For the Caramel:
Pour 1/4 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup into a medium saucepan and stir it around.
Plop a candy thermometer in the pot (making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom) and bring the mixture to a boil, cooking until the temperature reaches 350°F, which will take about 10 minutes.
Keep a close eye on it. If you cook it any higher than the specified temperature it can burn super quickly.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup whipping cream and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel. Bring that to a boil as well and cook until the salt is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove that from the heat and set aside.
When the sugar has reached 350°F, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for one minute. See how it’s browned a little bit? That’s the caramelization of the sugar, but you don’t want it to get too dark.
Carefully (very carefully) add the hot cream to the sugar mixture. It foams and fizzes quite a bit, so you don’t want that in your face. Whisk that all up until it’s smooth.
Whisk in 1/4 cup sour cream and let the caramel cool.
For the Cake:
Preheat your oven to 325°F and butter three 8″ round cake pans. Cut a circle out of parchment paper for the bottom of each one, butter it as well, and dust them all with flour.
You need two decent-sized bowls and the bowl of a mixer for this next part. In one bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and 2/3 cup sour cream. Set that aside and let it cool while you do the other things.
In the other non-mixer bowl, sift together 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and set that aside.
Now, in the mixer bowl, beat together 3/4 cup softened butter and 1/2 cup vegetable shortening. Beat them until they are smooth and kind of stringy when the paddle is spinning around, about 7 minutes.
Beat in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1 cup dark brown sugar until light and fluffy.
Add in 3 eggs, one at a time.
Add in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and beat for a further 30 seconds or so.
Carefully add in a third of the flour mixture, then half your chocolate mixture, then a third of the flour, the rest of the chocolate, and the rest of the flour.
Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans and bake for 18-24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before removing from the pans and peeling off the parchment paper.
For the Caramel Ganache:
First, finely chop 1lb dark chocolate.
Also, cut up 1lb butter into tablespoon-sized pieces. Make sure they’re soft but still cool.
Now we’re going to make some more caramel, but this time without the salt or the sour cream.
So, in one pot, combine 1/4 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup and stir it around. Bring it to a boil over high heat until a candy thermometer reads 350°F, which will take about ten minutes. Remember to watch closely.
In the other pot bring 1 1/2 cups heavy cream to a boil, then remove from heat and set aside.
When the caramel has reached 350°F, remove it from the heat and allow it to rest for a minute.
Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel and stir to combine, then let it cool for 5 minutes.
Plop your chopped chocolate in the bowl of a mixer and pour the caramel over the chocolate. Let that sit for a minute, then stir the chocolate to dissolve it.
Shove your bowl into your mixer with a paddle attachment and mix the chocolate goo on low until the outside of the bowl feels cool to the touch.
Dump in your cut-up butter bits and mix on medium-high until it’s all well-combined and smooth and a little bit whipped, another 2 minutes or so.
To Put It All Together:
Now I followed the instructions up to this point to the letter, and ended up with a slippy-slide-y cake that ended up looking a bit like a giant pile of poop. When I put my cake layers together, they kept sliding off on the caramel and the weight of the cake pushed all the lovely caramel goo out of its insides and it was altogether rather a disaster. So I recommend cooling your ganache and your caramel slightly before you do this, just so they’re slightly colder than room temperature and a little easier to handle.
Slice the tops off your cakes to make them level and place one on your cake plate.
If you are concerned about making a mess with your icing (though considering how goopy mine was it didn’t matter anyway) you can place four strips of parchment paper on your cake plate under the cake to catch the excess, and then pull them away later, leaving a nice clean plate.
Take about 1/4 cup of the caramel and spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing it to soak into the cake a bit (which will only happen if your cake or your caramel is warm, and will just make everything quite slippery).
Layer on top of that about 1 cup of the caramel ganache (also, at room temperature, incredibly slippery).
Add another layer of cake. See what I mean about gravity really being annoying here?
Repeat your caramel and ganache steps and top with your final cake layer. This is where I tried to remove some of the excess and failed.
Use the remaining ganache (easy to do if it’s cold, if it’s room temperature you’ll use wayyy less) to cover the surface of the cake. At this point the whole thing started to slide slowly and rather unnervingly to one side. It was like watching a mudslide in slow motion. There was much yelling.
Sprinkle the top with fleur de sel and chill for an hour or so before serving, to set the ganache.
At least it tasted good.