We hear the age old adage “life is sweet” constantly. You got into your dream school…life is sweet. You ran a marathon…life is sweet. You bought your own house and are a real grown up now…life is sweet. You raised a perfect child…life is sweet. You lost 50 pounds. You got a promotion. You turned in research papers that were nothing but torture to complete. But… you did it.
All of these are scenarios of serious hard work paid off. That blissful moment of victory that comes after hours, days, weeks, years, decades of hustle that lets you know that all that sweat, drive, and determination you put into it was worth it. Personally, I love that hustle. I live for it. It’s what makes me feel alive. But no one tells you that underneath that success lies serious moments of doubt, tears, and frustration. Or…shall we say..the salty?
For me, what makes life sweet is its pairing with the salty. The salt really does bring out the sweetness in things. Just like another nugget of my life: my desire for sweet, intense desserts. When things are uber sweet, I add just a touch of salt to them.
This chocolate sour cream layer cake would not be the same without its addition of salted caramel. It breaks it up. It reminds you that the sweet is there too. The cake is moist, crumbly, soft, and delicate. You’re going to slather salted caramel, which by itself is heaven on a spoon/finger/spatula/knife/tongue/anything, between those layers. Then its topped with a whipped chocolate ganache frosting. It’s a labor of love. If you think it’s too time consuming as you make it, remember the sweet payoff.
Since this is a special occasion cake, I made it for my 26th birthday, which, I’ve learned, as you become older…birthdays become sweet and salty as well. The theme just carries on.
Chocolate Salted Caramel Cake
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking (time and time again, Renato and Matt prove themselves to be innovative masters of the baking world. get this book!)
For the Chocolate Sour Cream Cake
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup sour cream
2 2/3 cups cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
For the Salted Caramel (this is my go-to caramel sauce from now until the rest of my life. I married it)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/4 cup sour cream
For the Chocolate Caramel Ganache Frosting
1 pound dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, softened but still cool
Make the Cake
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line each pan with a parchment paper round, butter parchment paper and flour; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and sour cream; set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.
In another large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together until smooth and it appears to create strings inside the bowl, about 7 minutes. Add both sugars and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well incorporated. Add vanilla, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and mix again for 30 seconds. Add flour mixture alternating with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
Divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 18 to 24 minutes. Let cool completely. While it bakes:
Make the Salted Caramel
Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer (make sure you use a candy thermometer, as it burns very quickly), about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, mix together cream and salt. Bring cream to a boil and cook until salt has dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to cool for 1 minute. Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Whisk in sour cream. Cool, and store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.
Make the Frosting
Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
In another small saucepan add cream and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to rest for 1 minute. Add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Let cool 5 minutes. Place chocolate in the bowl of an electric mixer and pour caramel sauce over chocolate. Let sit 1 minute before stirring from the center until chocolate is melted.
Attach bowl to electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Add butter and increase speed to medium-high until mixture is well combined, thickened, and slightly whipped, about 2 minutes.
Assemble the Cake
Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate. Using about 1/4 cup of the caramel, spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing some of the caramel to soak into the cake. Follow the caramel layer with a layer of about 1 cup of the ganache icing. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another layer of caramel followed by a layer of ganache icing. Place the remaining layer on top of the second layer bottom side up. Spread entire cake with remaining ganache icing. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.