When it comes to eating healthy, I’m not always known for my self-discipline. Sure, I had a month this summer where I stayed away from all carbs, breads, and otherwise joy-inducing foods, but generally, I’m in a constant state of declaring healthy intentions while simultaneously shoving Kit-Kats into my face. This past week was no exception. Things started off in a dark (read: wonderful place) when a visit to the Orange County Fair resulted in sublime consumption of funnel cake, chocolate dipped ice cream cones, and various other diet-adverse items. I swore I would do better for myself, but of course, things rapidly spiraled out of control.
You see, the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated appeared in my mailbox, and in its monochromatic pages was a recipe for Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake. Suddenly, hearts appeared in my eyes and Tchaikovsky’s love theme from Romeo & Juliet blared all around me. I had to make this. I had to! But I couldn’t, especially not during this week of county fair gut reparations. Besides, why would I just make a CAKE for no reason?
And then fate came calling. Turns out I had plans to attend a game night at the end of the week, and as luck would have it, that game night was now being upgraded to a birthday celebration for my friend Lodric. I was told I was on cake duty, and far be it for me to deny that responsibility. The planets had aligned: I had the perfect excuse to make the chocolate-caramel layer cake.
It was on.
But was it worth it? Keep reading to find out…
Like most cakes, we begin with some parchment paper arts and crafts.
Circles are in the pans and greased. Flour to come. Also, be sure to observe my little footies (the floors were just Swiffer Wet-Jetted).
The messy business of sifting flour and cocoa. I swear I can’t do this without getting brown powder everywhere.
Alas, the anthill collapses easily under the weight of further dry ingredients: sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt.
The wet stuff: buttermilk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, water. I also have two eggs which I’ve cracked into a separate bowl because as a wise woman once said, YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU’LL GET A BAD EGG.
Everything’s going in a very lovely direction.
The batter is divided between the two pans and shoved into my accommodating 325 degree oven for about 27 minutes.
Let’s have a ROUND of applause, please.
After having cooled in the pans for 15 minutes, the round are summarily ejected from their metal homes and set on the racks to cool for at least two hours.
Cool for the summer.
At this point, I literally went off and swam 50 laps in a pool. When I returned, I prepped for some hot caramel action, starting with a stick of butter and a greased pan.
The candy thermometer is out. Things are getting serious.
Over a medium flame, I melt sugar, water, and corn syrup (yes, corn syrup). There may have been another ingredient, but I don’t remember it.
Off to the side, I have heavy cream, vanilla extract, salt, and that butter waiting at the ready.
The first bubbles…
Boiling now. Once it turns amber, I’m supposed to drop the temperature and push the caramel to a dark amber. It’s kind of scary. I don’t want to burn it.
Amber alert! I’m seeing shades of amber, and the temperature is approximately where it should be (my stupid thermometer is hard to read). Time to drop the heat to low and double down on this situation.
We are now in some seriously amber territory. The recipe says the caramel should be at around 375-380 degrees, but the more I tilt the pan to get a good reading, the more I cool off the whole thing (because I’m removing it from the flame). I realize that I’ll just have to do my least favorite thing: EYEBALL IT.
The caramel is so amber now that I could practically put a prehistoric mosquito in it and send it to Jurassic Park. In other words, I think it’s ready.
Phase two of caramel construction begins: I add all the butter and milk and salt and vanilla to the saucepan. Bubbling ensues (although, things are rather placid in this photo).
Heading in the right direction…
Frothy and bubbly and so hot it would turn your skin into Freddy Krueger scars.
Once the mixture reaches 240 degrees, I pour it into the greased tin where it will now cool down for half an hour. Time to make the frosting…
But first, a view from inside the pan. Gaaaah.
Don’t mind me, throwing TWO MORE STICKS of butter into the food processor.
I’ve also melted some chocolate in the microwave, should anyone care.
I could just stare at this for days.
Anyhoo, the chocolate buttercream frosting starts as a confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, butter, and, of course, more corn syrup.
A few pulses, and here we are.
It would be a crime to neglect the melted chocolate though.
At this point, all I have left to do is construct this monster. It’s a layer cake; so I have to carefully slice each cake round in half, which is terrifying. The subsequent layers are so thing, I’m convinced one will split in half due to my rough handling. Nevertheless, the first one gets topped with caramel.
One by one, I stack the layers up until it all looks like a strange pile of burgers.
And then I frosted the whole thing in my trademark “uneven” style.
It’s sunset now. Time for game night.
My excitement for the cake takes the form of maniacal ice bashing with a rolling pin.
Juno the cat is in attendance.
Time for the presentation of the cake to the birthday boy.
This is basically just a picture where the cake looks nicely shaped (truthfully, it was very lopsided).
Slices have been served. Check out that caramel oozing out. Sinful.
My humble slice.
This was an insane cake. It was totally delicious, with all three components working perfectly together. Big hit. BIG.
But here’s the catch:
This cake is so rich that it nearly killed the whole party. After one slice, we were all sent plummeting into a massive food coma. It was shocking that we could even get through one game afterwards.
As impressive and flavorful and decadent as this cake is, I’m not sure I would ever make it again. Not only did it take several hours to assemble (nothing was very hard, just time-consuming), but it was just too damn rich. Like Schindler’s List, it was amazing, and I never want to see it again.