I don’t have the best track record making cakes, specifically this sweet and salty chocolate cake. For the most part I would say it has to do with my lack of patience. Plus when you don’t do something very often, you tend not to be all that great at it. I would say most people are not huge fans of things that they struggle with. Or at least I can say that for myself. When it comes to this sweet and salty cake, both of those principles apply.
However, it was my sister’s birthday yesterday so I had to pull out all of the stops. I really like the taste of this cake too, despite some of my disastrous attempts at putting it together. How can you go wrong with 3 layers of chocolate cake and salted caramel cream cheese frosting? More about the cake itself; I was introduced to it when I worked at the Brickhouse in Charlottetown. It was one of the most popular items on our dessert menu and for good reason. Who doesn’t like sweet and salty paired together?
Anyways, the first time I ever assembled one of them, it was laughable at best. The whole idea is to bake 1 cake and slice it into 3 layers. If you make the first one even the slightest bit too thick, it makes for an interesting top 2 layers to say the least. Sometimes it was more like 1 layer plus some random cake crumbles. Thankfully there is icing to patch everything back up right?
I am probably even more notorious for the egg shell incident. Frankly, I am not sure why I would share this with anyone as you will realize that I am an idiot, but for the sake of humour, what the heck. So I was making the batter for this sweet and salty chocolate cake one day at work, one of the many things on my to-do list for the day. I was in a rush so I cracked the eggs right into the mixing bowl, as the KitchenAid was whirling away full speed. Not surprisingly, half of a shell whipped out of my hands and was instantaneously shattered into millions of little pieces. Apparently I had zero judgment that day and decided that if I whipped the batter furiously for a bit, the egg shells would surely dissolve right into it. No fault in that logic at all. Instead of chucking the creamed butter, sugar and eggs (and egg shells) into the garbage, I kept on going as if nothing had ever happened. I thought I had gotten away with it too. When I pulled the cakes out of the oven they looked perfectly fine to me. I set them aside to cool and be iced another day.
A couple days later I came in for my shift and the sous chef told me that he had something to show me. I actually had no idea what it could be. Then he and the pastry chef pulled out the cake. They opened it up, revealing a plethora of little white speckles. It wasn’t something where I could be like, “oh I accidentally got a little piece of shell in there” when it was actually half an egg. So I told them what happened, apologized and from that day on was known as the girl who thought she could get away putting egg shells in a cake. When I moved back to Calgary they even sent me egg shells in the mail. Moral of the story, egg shells do not dissolve into cake and this is especially apparent when you make a dark, chocolate cake. Live and learn right? Thankfully this time my sweet and salty chocolate cake turned out about as perfect as I possibly could have hoped for. Good thing too because I don’t think I would have had it in me to make another one.
Sweet and Salty Chocolate Cake
Makes 1 8″ or 9″ round cake
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. hot water
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 medium eggs
1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups white sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp. fine salt
2 packages (16 ounces or 1 pound) light cream cheese, softened
1 to 1 1/2 cups prepared caramel sauce
To make the cake, heat your oven to 325F and line a springform pan with parchment paper. Mix together the cocoa, sour cream and hot water. Whisk until smooth and set aside to cool slightly. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in another bowl and set it aside as well. In a separate bowl, cream the butter, white sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy (use an electric or stand mixer to do this). Add the vanilla and then the eggs, beating until smooth. Then alternately add the cocoa/sour cream mixture and dry ingredients into the creamed butter and eggs. Basically you want to add a little bit of the wet and beat. Then you add a little bit of the dry and beat again until it is all incorporated. Do this in 2 or 3 additions, ending with the dry ingredients. Once the batter is made, pour it into your prepared springform pan. Drop it on the counter a couple of times to knock out any potential air bubbles. Bake at 325F for 30-35 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the centre comes out clean. The cake should also spring back when touched lightly. Using a cooling rack, bring the cake to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours before icing.
To make the caramel, combine the sugar with a splash of water in a large saucepan. Cook over high heat, swirling occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and eventually turns a rich, golden brown colour. Remove the pan from the heat and add in the cream and salt. Whisk until smooth, returning the caramel to medium heat to fully dissolve the sugar into the cream. Pour the caramel into a heat proof bowl and set it aside to cool slightly.
To make the icing, use a mixer to blend the cream cheese until smooth and lump free. Mix in about a cup of your prepared caramel sauce. It’s ok if it is a bit warm still but you don’t want it to be scalding hot. Taste the icing. If it is not sweet enough for your liking, add more caramel as needed, up to 1 1/2 cups of it total. Use immediately or refrigerate until needed.
To assemble the cake, use a serrated knife to cut it into layers. Depending on how confident you are in your ability to do this, you can go for either 3 layers or 2. Just keep in mind that it will be 3 relatively thin layers. If you don’t trust yourself at all, leave the cake as is and just ice the top and sides of it. Depending on which option you go for, the end goal is to ice each layer, as well as the entire exterior (top and sides). In terms of design, you can leave it rustic, make it completely smooth, or create lines, which is what I opted to do (simply by lightly running the tip of my spatula across the cake and up the sides). Refrigerate this sweet and salty chocolate cake for a couple of hours before slicing and serving for any special occasion!