I think there is something distinctly special about a layer cake. Layer cakes can’t be whipped together in an hour, or mixed in one bowl, or toted easily to the park for an impromptu picnic. They take time and a little planning, and they are usually made for a special event- weddings, birthdays, anniversaries. Layer cakes are not cut into pieces and laid on a plate. They arrive, with precarious height, do-not-touch peaks of icing, and in this case, rivulets of salted caramel.
Two layers of moist chocolate cake made with coffee and buttermilk are encased in a salted caramel frosting and filled with chopped toasted pecans and caramel. And of course, drizzled with more caramel and decorated with toasted pecan halves. I have to give due credit to my coworker and friend Beatrice for inspiring this one: she suggested I make a turtle cake. It’s got the slight crunch and caramel-y decadence of the candy with the lavish proportions of a cake meant for celebration.
(courtesy of Ina Garten)
- 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter (or use cooking spray) to grease two 8-inch round pans*. Line with parchment paper (to do this, fold sheet of parchment in half, and then in half again. Using the bottom of the pan as a guide, trace and cut the square into a quarter-circle- when you unfold, you should have a circle the size of the pan). Grease the parchment and sides of pan again.
- Beat together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt with an electric mixer at low speed. Whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Slowly beat the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just incorporated, and then slowly beat in the hot coffee until fully incorporated.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 30 minutes, and then- very carefully- invert the cakes onto a rack to cool and peel off the parchment (if you want to be extra careful, run a knife around the edge of the pans before inverting). Keep oven on if you plan on toasting the pecans.
- 2 sticks room temperature butter
- 1 brick (8 oz) room temperature cream cheese
- 1/2 cup salted caramel + 3 tablespoons (I bought a jar at Trader Joe’s- you could also make your own)
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1/2 cup pecan halves
- Turn oven down to 250 degrees. Spread pecans evenly over a baking sheet lined with foil. When oven is heated, toast pecans for 5-8 minutes, turning once or twice during baking. Be careful- these will burn easily. When pecans are finished, remove from the oven, allow to cool, and set aside 8 pecan halves. Chop the remainder into fine pieces.
- In the meanwhile, cream together butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer.
- Pour in the salted caramel and beat until combined.
- Gradually add the powdered sugar. Add milk as needed, as I found the frosting to be very stiff. Beat for a few minutes- the more air, the better!
- Set aside one cake layer to freeze or use later (or alternatively you could use both cake layers to make an extra tall cake- I prefer mine on the more petite side- in any case, you will have enough frosting for both layers).
- Place the other layer on a cake round or plate, so that the flat bottom of the cake is facing up. Using a serrated knife, slice the layer in half (insert the knife in about 1 inch; using your hand to turn the cake, saw around the edge of the cake several times, inserting knife in further an inch at a time). Remove the top layer carefully and set aside.
- Using a small offset spatula, or small rubber spatula, dollop a generous amount of frosting on the top and spread the frosting outward in small circular motions. Continue adding more frosting until layer is covered. Using a spoon, drizzle 2 tablespoons of salted caramel (or more if you wish!) evenly over the frosting. Sprinkle chopped pecans evenly over the top. Place second layer over the top.
- Now for the “crumb coating”. Use a small spatula to spread frosting in a very thin layer over entire cake. This layer should catch any crumbs that would mar the final coating of frosting. Wait 20 minutes to 1 hour before spreading on the remainder of the frosting over the sides and top of the cake (if you only used 1 layer like I did, you should have plenty of leftover frosting. Sandwich cookies anyone?)
- Place 8 toasted pecans halves evenly around the perimeter of the cake. Using a fork and a little bit of caramel at a time, very carefully and slowly drizzle caramel across the top of the cake.