Musical pairing – Human by Jon McLaughlin
When I asked The Professor for his advice on which angle to write this post . . . his reply was, ‘What about how much of a struggle the recipe was?’ To which I said, ‘Oh, you mean from the point of my failures?’ He then said, ‘I don’t like using the word ‘failure’ . . . I prefer the word . . . ‘challenging” . . . well alrighty then . . . let’s just say that the recipe was ‘challenging’ and at the end of it all, I had one ‘failure’ . . . of epic proportions . . .
I’m somewhat of a oxymoron in that there are times when faced with something new and uncharted I say to myself, ‘I can do that, let’s go for it!’ And then there are times when I clearly understand the confines of my limitations and concede that I should run in the other direction . . . say for instance, sky-diving. There is not one ounce of me that will ever say, ‘I can do that, let’s go for it!’ Nope. These feet are firmly, and I do mean quite firmly, planted on the ground. If God had wanted me to fly, I’d have arrived on this earth with feathers and a pair of wings, of that I am certain. Cliff-jumping is another one . . . again, feet planted firmly on the ground, thank-you-very-much. And while belly-dancing may be fabulous exercise, the mental picture alone causes me to chortle and laugh hysterically. But when I saw a photograph of a 6-layer, Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake? It was love-at-first-sight, pedal-to-the-medal, heck-yeah-I’m-all-in, let’s go for it!!!
I mean really, you bake a chocolate cake, slice the layers in half, schmear said layers and salted caramel, stack said layers and frost those six layers with a chocolate frosting . . . not necessarily beyond the realm of my capabilities . . . right? Like totally capable, right?
I read the directions thoroughly several times, understood that I would be making this gem in stages, i.e., cake, caramel, frosting and allowing each to ‘rest’ a bit before moving on to the next step. I consulted one of my talented baking gurus, reviewing instructions, asking about pan-types, purchasing new pans based on those recommendations, purchasing a high quality cocoa powder and chocolate, assembled all ingredients and re-read the directions. All good so far, yes indeedy, I was ready.
Cakes baked, cooled, wrapped and stored for a day; salted caramel made reaching the temperature listed in the instructions paying special attention to that fact, because said instructions listed an exact temperature was a must to ensure success. Frosting was made and allowed to cool as per the instructions as well. So far, so good, yes?
I was golden. Cakes sliced up beautifully and the salted caramel was some of the best I’d ever made. I measured the amount listed to spread on each layer and was meticulous . . . measure, spread caramel, top with another layer of cake, repeat . . . it was stunning!! And I was so blasted thrilled with myself that I was shaking . . . as in, ‘YES!! I DID IT!!! I CAN BE A BAKER!!’ All I needed to do now was place the cake in the refrigerator and let it set up for an hour, remove and frost . . . except that when I opened the fridge an hour later . . . yep . . . the entire cake had slid . . . no, actually slid is not the appropriate word here . . . slid, as in ‘completely-slid-off-each-layer-down-into-the-shelving-grates-and-broken-off-into-chunks‘, kinda slid . . .
Well crap (only that was not the word that so eloquently spewed from my mouth), what now? What in the HAY’ell was I going to do now???
What any respectable food-blogger, wannabe baker who needs to get a post done would do if found in the same situation . . . I removed the cake in as many whole pieces as possible and put it back together using frosting, then quickly, ‘slam-the-door-shut-when-you-see-a-mouse’ quickly, frosted the whole damn thing and took a picture . . .
You know what? It was the best-tasting cake I have ever, ever ever eaten or made . . . oh. my. gawd. was it good . . .
But now you know why there is only one photo of a slice of cake . . .
SMITH BITES NOTE: Because the assembly of this cake was an EPIC failure for me, I am listing this recipe exactly as written in Martha Stewart. If anyone has any clues as to why it didn’t work or can offer other suggestions for success, please let me know – the cake is spectacular and I’d really like to attempt it again – I will prevail!!
SALTED-CARAMEL SIX-LAYER CHOCOLATE CAKE
FOR THE CAKE
- Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pans
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 1-1/2 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1 tablepoon baking soda
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- Coarse salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1-1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons safflower oil
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
FOR THE CARAMEL
- 4 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Coarse salt
- 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
FOR THE FROSTING
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
- Coarse salt
- 1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped, melted, and cooled
- Garnish: flaked sea salt, such as Maldon
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cake: Butter three 9-inch round cake pans, and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Sift flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and 1-1/2 teaspoons course salt into the bowl of a mixer. Beat on low speed until just combined. Raise speed to medium, and add eggs, buttermilk, 1-1/2 cups warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.
- Divide batter among pans. Bake until cakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool in pans set on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks, and let cool completely.
- Make the caramel: Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cook, without stirring, until mixture is dark amber, about 14 minutes. Remove from heat, and carefully pour in cream (mixture will spatter); stir until smooth. Return to heat, and cook until a candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees, about 2 minutes. Pour caramel into a medium bowl, stir in 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and let cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Let cool completely.
- Meanwhile, make the frosting: Whisk together cocoa and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water in a bowl until cocoa dissolves. Beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt in a clean bowl with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in melted chocolate and then cocoa mixture until combined. Let stand for 30 minutes before using.
- Trim tops of cakes using a serrated knife to create a level surface. Cut each in half horizontally to form 2 layers. Transfer 1 layer to a serving platter, and spread 3/4 cup caramel over top. Top with another cake layer, and repeat with remaining caramel and cake layers, leaving top uncovered. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.
- Frost top and sides of cake in a swirling motion. Sprinkle with sea salt.