A few weeks ago I posted several recipes that included salted caramel as a key ingredient. I'd been eyeing the layer cake from Annie's Eats for awhile and I finally decided to devote an entire Saturday morning to making it.
Yep, you read that right. An entire Saturday morning. This sucker took me five hours to make, though to be perfectly fair there were many interruptions from the children. Still, there are three separate recipes required to concoct this one cake, which is a far cry from my usual cake-making method (open box, stir, bake).
Here's my cake. It looks good, right? IT WAS AMAZING.
The cake itself was very simple to make. I stuck the ingredients in my mixer, blended it up and baked. I only had two round pans so I had to bake in shifts to get three layers. I thought this was going to be a bigger deal than it actually was. The comments on the original recipe say that the batter makes about 6 cups, so I just measured two cups of batter into each pan to make sure my layers were the same size. It seems to have worked.
The Swiss Meringue Buttercream filling, on the other hand, was a GIGANTIC PAIN IN THE ASS to make. Delicious beyond description, but a giant pain. This makes it very unfortunate that the salted caramel buttercream filling is what MAKES the cake and it would not be anything close to the same without. Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a pain to make in that you have to put egg whites in a double boiler and get them to 160-degrees to kill all the salmonella. I am not sure what my deal is, but this took me about an hour. An hour! I think I did it wrong.
I was verrrrrry careful to heat them up slowly because I didn't want to actually COOK the eggs and end up with an omelette. Since this took me an hour I think I cooked them too slowly. In any case, once you get them to temperature you just beat the crap out of them in the mixer for awhile, add some butter and then add the salted caramel. A lot of people seem to have trouble with the part where you add the butter, but that bit was simple (they say the frosting gets soupy, but you just keep beating it and it comes together).
The caramel was where I ran into trouble.
The recipe says to "blend in the cooled caramel until smooth and completely incorporated." I let my caramel "cool completely" but then I had a problem because it had solidified at room temperature. (As caramel does.) You need to make sure the caramel is still kind of liquid-y so that it will incorporate into the buttercream. I heated mine back up a bit. I added it in a ribbon with the mixer running, as I poured it from the pan, and caramel ended up all over the place. It spun up the wire whisk and got all over the mixer and then some thin bits kind of floated all over the countertop. I don't recommend what I did. Next time I'll add it in while the mixer is off, in small increments. I'm not sure if that's the right thing to do, but I'll try it.
See all that caramel at the top? It got worse.
After incorporating the caramel I stuck the whole bowl of buttercream in the fridge to firm up. It was still kind of mushy and I doubted its ability to hold up three layers without smooshing out. This was a good call. After 30 minutes in the fridge it was perfect.
The chocolate frosting was a cinch to make, which is good as I'd been baking for about four hours at this point and I strongly considered just skipping this part as the unfrosted cake looked pretty damn good to me. I didn't used particularly expensive chocolate: Ghirardelli Bittersweet and Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa Powder gave me a very rich, intense chocolate flavor. The cake has 1 cup of coffee in it, which I was mighty skeptical about but it makes it SO SO GOOD. Do not skip the coffee. (It was Dunkin' Donuts coffee, if you must know.)
I ended up inviting a few friends over that evening for a slice and we had a lovely time. We ate the cake for several days and really, at the end of the cake I had trained myself to expect a nice slice of chocolate cake after dinner. It was very sad when the cake was gone.
Initially I thought I wouldn't make this again (FIVE HOURS) but I think next time I could tackle it much faster. I might make and freeze the rounds and do the buttercream and frosting the day of, to cut back on time and dishes. Gold star on this one, friends. It was a big, big winner and totally worth the effort.