My Favorite Cake

December 7, 2009


If you know me, either in person or via this blog, you probably know that I am not given to hyperbole.  That is, I don’t toot my own horn very often.  I will tell you when a recipe is one of my favorites or if something I made turned out well, but I don’t just sit here and tell you how great my food is.  Once in a while, I do brag, as in the case of that flatbread, but since friends and family still talk about that delicious thing, I think the bragging is warranted.

I’m sorry friends but it’s time to let the horn tooting begin.  I made this cake last weekend for my friend Lauren’s 40th birthday.  As it was all coming together, I sensed that a masterpiece was in the works.  Each piece of the proverbial pie was delicious in it’s own right so I could only imagine what the finished product would be.  Most people at the party raved about this cake but I don’t even care if they were just being nice.  I think it was one the best cakes I have ever eaten, let alone made.  And I didn’t hate making it which is saying something given my tricky relationship with layer cakes.  (Some of you may remember that I made another salted caramel chocolate cake for another friend Lauren’s 40th birthday.  This one is better.  And yes, that turning 40 thing is catching.  T-minus 7.5 months.)


I had the very best intentions of taking photos of the birthday girl’s cake on the day that I made it, but that day was the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  We had just spent the morning with 17 children to celebrate Graham’s birthday.  While I was swimming in salted caramel chocolate frosting, I was simultaneously making a Grand Marnier cake also for Lauren’s birthday.  Pulling out my camera in the fading November light was just not in the cards.

But since this cake is so good, I have been looking for an opportunity for a repeat.  We went to a holiday party for Randy’s work the other night.  Our friends Jos and Jenn were there – fellow food lovers and actually former clients of mine.  They have been wanting to have us over for dinner for some time now and we our schedules have just not matched up.  We were finally able to agree on this past Sunday and I told them about this cake.  When Jos said her favorite flavor in the world was salted caramel, it seemed like a no-brainer.


So yes, I brought an 8-inch triple layer cake over for a cozy dinner of four.  Ridiculous?  Probably.  But as I said I was itching to make it again so I could share it with you.  The recipe, that is.  I wish I could have shared the cake.  Actually, since I like you all so much, I wish I could have shared the meal.  Cucumber salad with pomegranates, mint, and feta cheese, spicy butternut squash soup, and tomato/onion tart with Gruyère cheese.  An amazing meal and I sat on my butt for the whole thing.  Awesome.

This go around was a little more crooked than the last but all in all, I am very pleased with this recipe.  The cakes themselves bake up nice and tall and even.  And those cakes are delicious all on their own – moist with terrific chocolate flavor.  It is always a challenge for me to decide which way to stack the cakes.  Last time I just stacked them one of top of the other and trimmed the tops every so slightly and that worked really well.  This time I turned the middle one upside down and didn’t trim and those decisions were both mistakes.  But fortunately, a lot of frosting can cover up most blemishes and this frosting is so good, you will want to slather it on generously anyway.  Even if you mistake-free layer cake master.

Now that I have made this cake twice, I have a few pointers.  The cakes themselves can be made up to a week in advance, wrapped well in plastic and then foil, and frozen.  Let them thaw overnight at room temperature.  The caramel sauce can be made a few days in advance, bring it to room temperature before using, otherwise it will be too hard to spread.  When making the caramel, be sure to use a medium size saucepan for the water and sugar mixture.  You may be tempted to use something small because the volume isn’t that large initially.  Once you add the cream, it will bubble vigorously and you need the extra space.  On that same note, be very careful when you add the cream – the steam is a big burn hazard.  Lastly, the caramel goes from just perfect to burned in about one second, so take it off the heat just before you think it is ready.  The residual heat will continue to cook it.


One Year Ago:  Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and Middle Eastern Lentil Rice Rolls with Lemon Tahini Sauce

Sweet and Salty Cake
Baked, New Frontiers in Baking
Yield:  1 (8-inch cake)

For the Classic Chocolate Layers
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups hot water
2/3 cup sour cream
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

For the Salted Caramel
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. fleur de sel
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp. 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 tbsp. light corn syrup
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

To Assemble the Cake
2 tsp. fleur de sel, plus more for garnish

Make the Classic Chocolate Cake Layers
Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment.  Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.

In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder, hot water, and sour cream and set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until ribbonlike, about 5 minutes.  Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla and beat until incorporated.  Scrape down the bowl and mix again for 30 seconds.

Add the flour mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean.  Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes.  Invert the cakes on the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely.

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 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 and instant-read thermometer read 350°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 Whipped 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 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 and instant-read thermometer read 350°F, 6 to 8 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let 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 minutes, 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, then the 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 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.

The cake will keep 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.


  1. Are you kidding? I love when bloggers toot! It’s the only way I have lately to keep up with all the great things happening to people whether with work, life or baking!! I am really glad you decided to remake it and post as it sounds absolutely delicious!

    Comment by Helen — December 7, 2009 @ 11:01 pm

  2. Dana this looks INCREDIBLE. I wish I could have been a guest at that dinner, sounds perfect. Now I just need to have a dinner party so I have an excuse to make this!

    Comment by Sara — December 7, 2009 @ 11:16 pm

  3. Any leftovers?? So glad you got a picture!!!! How did the transport go this time? It looks perfect!

    Comment by Deb — December 7, 2009 @ 11:39 pm

  4. This looks very dangerous. The texture of the cake looks perfect, and I know I’d love the frosting. I think this is worth making many, many times in a row!

    Comment by lisaiscooking — December 7, 2009 @ 11:40 pm

  5. My birthday is December 23.

    Comment by Stacey Snacks — December 8, 2009 @ 1:55 am

  6. I think it’s ok to toot your own horn every once in a while, especially when it’s about a cake as beautiful as that. Great work!

    Comment by MollyCookie — December 8, 2009 @ 5:01 am

  7. Oh my goodness! Better than the last salted chocolate and caramel cake?? That one was so good so I can’t wait to make this one!!!

    Comment by Michael-Ann — December 8, 2009 @ 5:27 am

  8. Oh man, this looks amazing! Chocolate and caramel and salt- oh my. I wish I had some event coming up, so I could make this. Until I do, I’ll store it away in my mental “to make” file :0

    Comment by Ele — December 8, 2009 @ 9:40 am

  9. Holy heck. Edward has been bugging me for the past couple of weeks to make him a chocolate cake. I think I am going to make this as a big surprise for him. I will win Girlfriend of the Year Award at the same time.

    Comment by Hilary — December 8, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

  10. Holy heck! As soon as I saw that sprinkling of salt on top, I knew I was in love with this cake!

    Comment by Michelle — December 8, 2009 @ 2:19 pm

  11. This is my ideal cake. Anything with salt is a-okay with me.

    Comment by kickpleat — December 8, 2009 @ 9:43 pm

  12. O M G. Thanks for sharing this. I can’t wait to make it!!!!

    Comment by Kelly — December 8, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

  13. Wow, that is the King of cakes. It just looks incredible. In fact ia going to have to scroll back up so I can drool over it again :)

    Comment by Jacqueline — December 9, 2009 @ 12:19 am

  14. This looks exactly like a cake I would love for someone to make for my birthday! Salted Caramel- is there anything better?

    Comment by fresh365 — December 9, 2009 @ 1:54 pm

  15. So cool that you made this from the Baked cookbook! I LOVE that place. Alejandro and I had their cupcakes at our wedding instead of a wedding cake. Going to Baked for breakfast is definitely one aspect of Brooklyn I still miss. I really need to try this recipe, looks amazing.

    Comment by Allison Arevalo — December 14, 2009 @ 6:27 am

  16. After baking up all my Christmas cookies, I’ve gotten really sick of baking. And have been thinking I just want to take a break from it in general. But this cake has completely reeled me back in!! I want to make this for a potluck I’ll be going to in a few days.

    Comment by Ashley — December 24, 2009 @ 4:58 pm

  17. I made this cake yesterday for my husband’s birthday, and I’m glad I did. It was a wonderful special occasion cake!

    I am disappointed with how much leftover frosting I have (which I applied liberally). I used 1 lb of E. Guittard – and I think I could have saved some for another recipe if I had modified the measurements.

    What a fun cake, though – I love the recipes you highlight on this blog!

    Comment by Jennifer — February 11, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

  18. […] of my list so far is this Sweet & Salty cake from the Baked Cookbook. Dana Treat has made it six times already and if that’s not an endorsement for happy birthday cake times […]

    Pingback by Happy Birthday to Me « Feast: Food + Entertaining — May 6, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

  19. Dana- just made this cake and wow, yum!!! Although tell me you have an army of helpful family members who watch your children while you make desserts like these. If not, please share your parenting while cooking secrets. I made this cake while trying to watch my three small boys at the same time. To put it kindly, it was comical.

    Comment by whitney — July 12, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

  20. Hi! I’ve linked your post to my Sweet and Salty Cake post. You’re welcome to join my cookbook giveaway.

    Baking is my Zen will be having a
    from August 8 through August 14, 2010.

    The giveaway will be the ‘not yet released’ cookbook,
    Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented
    By Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

    Carmen of Baking is my Zen

    Comment by Baking is my Zen — August 13, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

  21. Toot Toot! This looks gorgeous and amazing and wonderful. I am totally loving this. Looks like something i can eat all by myself. YummY!

    Comment by joudie's Mood Food — September 14, 2010 @ 7:04 am

  22. O~M~Goodness Dana!
    This cake looks AMAZING!
    I’ve been studying this post!
    I do wonder…could I EVER create a BEAUTY like this!?
    We shall see!
    Love your blog!

    Comment by teresa — November 14, 2010 @ 2:59 am

  23. Hello Dana! Just wanted to let you know that I made this wonderful cake earlier this year, and finally posted an image to Flickr of it:

    Comment by Danielle — November 24, 2010 @ 11:25 pm

  24. Hi Dana! I am a big fan of your blog. A suggestion – you should totally make a ‘favorites’ tag or recipe category for things like this cake and your flatbread! That would be so sweet. (and salty)


    Comment by Bethany — December 10, 2010 @ 3:35 pm

  25. This cake is amazing. However – I’m confused about the frosting. It’s clearly a drippy chocolate gnash recipe, i don’t understand where the “gnash FROSTING” part comes in… and the picture shows a cake with frosting that looks almost like a buttercream.

    an other user – danielle, post 23 – attached a photograph of her cake with a similar looking butter cream frosting.

    how did you do it!? does the butter and the chocolate/caramel mixture both have to be really cold before they get whipped together? i’m mystified.

    i love this cake, plz give suggestions on how to perfect THIS frosting. in the meantime, i’m frosting mine with a buttercream and using the gnash as a drip.


    Comment by basha — January 3, 2011 @ 6:08 am

  26. I’m so glad you tooted this cake! It was a big hit for the girlfriend’s 25th bday. So moist and flavorful.

    But wow, does this cake take a long time to prepare. It took me about 5 hours to put it all together! I suppose patience is a virtue, both in life, and in cake making.

    Comment by Scott — January 25, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

  27. I REALLY want a salted caramel chocolate cake for my birthday tomorrow and I wasn’t content with the first few recipes I’ve explored. I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog during my search. This looks like just the cake to ease me into my new year. Yummy!

    Comment by Gina — May 27, 2011 @ 4:40 am

  28. Thanks for posting this amazing recipe! I brought it to a party tonight and it was a huge hit.

    I would add some advice to people making it. First, I burned two batches of caramel because even though I’m a fairly veteran caramel-maker, I was trying to follow the instructions to the letter. I found that if you wait until the thermometer says 350 to turn the heat off and then let it sit to “cool” for a minute, the temp continues to rise and you wind up with black burnt caramel at 380 degrees within a very few seconds. So I ended up taking it off the heat at 330 or so, then adding the cream right away (carefully — it bubbles up) to bring the temperature down and stop the cooking. It worked beautifully each time.

    Second, do make sure the ganache is completely cool before whipping it into frosting, and if it’s not getting fluffy after the butter is incorporated, it helps to cool it down a bit in the fridge to firm up the butter — that makes the frosting hold with a little more structure.

    Third, I definitely recommend freezing the cake layers overnight before assembly. It made the (rather fragile) cakes easy to handle, and also helped keep the caramel and ganache under control during frosting and stacking.

    Gorgeous recipe, and definitely worth the work! Thanks for posting!

    Comment by Julie — June 20, 2012 @ 4:19 am

  29. I don’t know why I haven’t commented before – I made this cake for the first time about 3 years ago, and it was the greatest achievement of my life. Honestly. I tried many different recipes and techniques for it since then and I was horrified when I couldn’t find this recipe again, because it beats all of them hands down. It is the recipe I use when I want to impress someone or when someone I really love has a birthday. And don’t get me wrong, I get into all kinds of cake making, and I’ve even competed in my country’s MasterChef (tooting my own horn now too).
    But I love this cake and this recipe and you for posting it. you are the unsung hero of my kitchen and every time something goes wrong with a recipe I can say: maybe this didn’t work out, but I know how to make a cake that will make anyone want to marry me. And yes, the sour cream salted caramel merits all the crazy stuff I wrote here. It is that awesome. And I hope being loved by a crazy ass person you’ve never met will keep you warm inside on bad days. (and safe, i live on a different continent:)

    Comment by Maja — May 14, 2015 @ 8:08 pm

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