Sweet and Salty Cake

Hellooo miz lady.

That is a line from Stepbrothers.  If I could, I would speak only in movie quotes.  Perhaps one day when I’m feeling extra bored, I’ll write an entire post in movie quotes.  Hmmmmm.  Challenge accepted.  (For a future date.)

There are more important things going on right now though.  The Weatherman is 25!  Twenty.  Five.  I keep telling him he is super old…but let’s face it: first, that’s not actually old, and second, I’ll be 23 and 1/2 in 46 days which is not really THAT much younger than 25.

This year for his birthday, he played fake golf at Augusta via Tiger Woods PGA and real golf at Weeks Park.  He got a little sunburned.  I celebrated by working all day.  Bringin’ home the bacon.  Yessir.  Then we went out to dinner and ate lots of Italian food.  Then we went to a bar with our friends and played shuffleboard and drank beer (some of us drank whiskey sodas instead, aka, me), because that’s what boys like to do on their birthdays.

I gave him two presents.  Noise-canceling headphones are something you should not get for your boyfriend.  They make it that much easier for him to “not hear” you.  Buuuut…he likes them and they make him happy and that’s what birthday gifts are about.

Birthday gifts are also about teaching your boyfriend something you want him to know, such as cooking.  This is why I also bought him Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.

Birthdays are 5% about doing things you enjoy.  They’re 9% about having yummy dinner.  They’re 8% about beer and presents.

They are 78% about cake.  I’m hoping those add up to 100%.

This is the Sweet and Salty Cake from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.  Apparently it’s the bakery’s most popular cake and most-requested recipe.

DUH.  We can see why now.  It’s three layers of perfectly moist chocolate cake, each of which is topped with salted caramel sauce and whipped caramel ganache frosting.

salted caramel.

That combination couldn’t taste bad if you tried.

Messing with perfection scares me, so the only change I made to the cake was to sprinkle pearl dragées on top instead of fleur de sel.  Even though the birthday boy has no idea was dragées are.  I was the boss of making this cake, so that’s not important.

I would make one tiny recommendation.  The recipe says the cake keeps well for 3 days, which it does…I would even recommend making and assembling the whole thing a day before you want to serve it.  This gives the caramel a chance to really soak into the cake layers, giving you an even more wonderful caramel flavor throughout.  Just let the cake sit at room temperature for about two hours before you serve it…unlike pizza, it tastes better not cold.

lighting candles. ignore my gumby-type super-long arms.

The recipe may seem long, but if you break it down into its components, it’s really no big deal.  You can make the salted caramel sauce ahead of time…I made it the day before I made the rest of the cake.  You can also make the frosting a day ahead of time…you just have to let it come back to room temperature before you frost the cake.

All in all, this is a perfect birthday cake for chocolate lovers.  And caramel lovers.  And life lovers.

Sweet and Salty Cake

Makes one 3-layer 8- or 9-inch cake

For the cake
3/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups hot water
2/3 cup sour cream (recommend regular, not light, for baking)
2 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup (= 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (not butter flavored)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed (I only had light on hand, but it worked fine)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 TBS vanilla extract

For salted caramel sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp fleur de sel
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2 TBS light corn syrup
1/4 cup sour cream

For whipped caramel ganache frosting
1 pound dark chocolate (I liked 60% cacao), roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2 TBS light corn syrup
2 cups (= 4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (no one ever said this was a light dish)

2 tsp fleur de sel

1. For cake – Preheat oven to 350ºF with racks in the upper-middle and lower-middle positions.  Butter three 8 or 9-inch round cake pans.  Trace cake pan bottoms on parchment paper and cut out three rounds.  Line bottoms of cake pans with parchment, then butter parchment.  Flour the pans and set aside.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl or a large glass measuring cup, stir together the cocoa, water, and sour cream with a fork until there aren’t any clumps of cocoa or sour cream.  Set aside to cool slightly.
4. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and shortening (paddle attachment) together on medium speed for 5 minutes.  The mixture should be light and extremely smooth.  Add both sugars and beat again on medium for 5 minutes (seriously, set a timer folks.)  Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. Add one third of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat on low until just incorporated.  Add half the sour cream mixture and mix again.  Continue adding dry ingredients and sour cream mixture, alternating, and ending with the flour.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure everything gets incorporated.
6. Divide the batter evenly among the three pans.  I used a 1/2-cup measuring cup to get it as even as possible…but it still wasn’t completed even.  Bake cakes for about 35-40 minutes, rotating pans from back to front and top to bottom halfway through.  Cakes should spring back in the center when touched when they’re done.  Cool cakes on wire rack in pans for 20 minutes.  Turn cakes out onto racks and peel off parchment.  Let cool completely before assembling.
7. For salted caramel sauce (can be made ahead) – In a glass measuring cup, heat cream in the microwave for 1 minute.  Add fleur de sel and stir until the salt is dissolved.
8. In a medium saucepan, stir together water, sugar, and corn syrup.  Heat over high heat without stirring (you can swirl the pan to evenly distribute heat) until the mixture is amber in color, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Check temperature with an instant read thermometer – caramel should be 350ºF when done.
9. Add the hot cream mixture to the caramel and whisk to combine.  Whisk in the sour cream until smooth.  If there are little lumps of undissolved caramel, heat the mixture gently over low heat until smooth.  Let caramel cool to room temp, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Can be made the day ahead.  Can also be eaten on ice cream.

10. For frosting (can be made ahead…let come to room temp before frosting cake) – Place the chopped chocolate in a large heatproof (not plastic) bowl.  Set aside.
11. Heat the heavy cream for 2 minutes in the microwave.  In a medium saucepan, stir together the water, sugar, and corn syrup.  Just like the caramel sauce, heat over high heat for about 5 to 7 minutes until amber and 350ºF.  Remove from heat and let cool for 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the hot cream, whisking gently to combine for 2 minutes until smooth.
12. Pour the hot caramel over the chopped chocolate and let sit for a minute or two to let everything start to melt.  Using a rubber spatula, slowly stir together the chocolate and caramel until completely smooth and melted.  Let the mixture cool completely…don’t refrigerate it though, because it might lose some of its smooth-ness.
13. When the mixture is cool, pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer, if using.  Beat on medium-low speed until the bowl feels cool, then beat at medium-high speed for 30 seconds.  Add the cool, soft butter a couple of pieces at a time beating between additions until incorporated.  Once all the butter is added, scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on high speed until lightened in color and fluffy.  This takes awhile.  At some point you’ll probs think you messed up and it will never be fluffy, but keep going.  You’ll get there!  If the frosting seems too runny to spread, chill for about 30 minutes before frosting.
14. Frost the cake – Place one cake layer on your cake platter.  Slide 4 wide strips of foil or wax paper under the cake on 4 sides to keep the platter clean.  Spread about 1/4 cup (a little more never hurt) of the caramel sauce over the cake, leaving about an inch border on all sides.  Let the caramel soak into the cake for about 5 minutes, then spread 3/4 cup of the frosting over the caramel, leaving an inch border.  Don’t worry if the sauce and frosting get mixed up while spreading.  Sprinkle 1 tsp of fleur de sel over frosting, and place another cake layer on top.  Repeat process with caramel, frosting, and fleur de sel, then place final cake layer on top.

Could probably just eat it like this.

15. Spread 1/4 cup caramel sauce on the top of the cake, then spread a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake, sides and all.  Refrigerate cake with this crumb layer for about 15 minutes.  This helps keep your outer layer of frosting neat and crumb-free.  Frost the sides and the top with the rest of the frosting.

If desired, sprinkle a little more fleur de sel over the top.  Or add sprinkles.  Or don’t add anything, it will be gorgeous as is!  Cake will keep in the fridge, well covered, for 3 days…and I recommend making it a day before serving to let the caramel soak in.  Let cake come to room temperature for about 2 hours before serving. 

Recipe adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

The guys at Baked are super nice, as a side note.  I imagine them to be superstars  – I mean, they are baking celebrities – but they actually responded (like, really responded…I don’t think a robot wrote the email for them) to an email question.  This makes me want to go to NYC bakery even MORE.  I would send them a piece of this cake to thank them for being so friendly…but…I mean, they invented this cake.  I would venture to say that theirs is better.

Thanks for reading, happy baking! (and grilling…happy Memorial Day!)



  1. OMG This cake looks amazing and not too difficult. I’ve made caramel this way before so I’m not intimidated.. the frosting looks WOW! I found you from a post on Cookie Madness, my go to recipe site!

    1. so glad you found me! this cake is definitely easy, it just looks like a lot of steps. the caramel would be the most intimidating part, so it sounds like you’re good to go! on my way to check out your site… 🙂

  2. Anything that comes from Baked is bound to be magical; you must get up to Brooklyn and visit the bakery, they are the nicest guys… like ever.

    Oh, and the brownies are pretty much heaven.

  3. This cake looks amazing! Unfortunately, I’m single and live alone. This means, I canNOT have a cake like this just sitting around (and there are no special occasions on the immediate horizon, bah!). So I’m wondering… do you think this cake could be transformed into a cupcake? I’m a little cupcake crazy right now, you know. Do you think the salted caramel sauce would work as a filling? If I made it into cupcakes, I could keep 2 or 3 (or 5 or 9) for myself and give the rest away to friends and such. Is that possible?

    1. hi jenn –
      yes! although i haven’t tried this cake recipe in cupcake form, i don’t see why it wouldn’t work…although it makes 3 pretty decent-sized layers, so it will probs give you lots of cupcakes. i think the salted caramel would be delicious as a filling, and/or spread in a thin layer on top before you pile on the frosting. so yes, i think it’s definitely possible…and i would keep at least 9 🙂 let me know how they work when you try them. thanks so much for reading!
      ~ hannah

      1. Hi! So quick question… when you say to beat the frosting for a “while” what kind of while are we talking here? Prob by the time I get the answer, the cake will be frosted, but I’m wondering about that.

        Also — OHMYGOSH. This cake is AMAZING. I can’t believe it took me so long to make it! My dad’s coming to town for a visit, so I opted to go simple on dinner and crazy on dessert. I don’t think I’ll be able to wait until tomorrow night to eat it!

  4. I’m so glad to see someone else making this cake. I’m actually making it tomorrow for a family dinner and I’m so excited. I got the Baked cookbook several months ago and bookmarked many things I want to make, but this is the first! Good job on the cake. Stopping by from Sweets For a Saturday–Michele


  5. Saw this on Sweets for a Saturday – coincidentally I just checked out this Baked book from my library and this recipe caught my eye. Sounds like a good cake!

  6. Hey, Hannah! So I made the cake, and I think it came out wrong. :\ Is the cake supposed to be so dense? I thought maybe it might be to hold the caramel layer, because I made cupcakes once and tried to inject them with caramel and it immediately soaked through and wet the wrappers. But maybe I did something terribly wrong. I have no idea.

    1. Hi Jenn –
      So sorry I didn’t get back to you about the frosting. I hope that part came out ok! The cake is by no means light, but it shouldn’t be so dense that you think something went wrong. I think the most important part of the recipe, as far as texture goes, is making sure to fully beat the ingredients for the times listed in the recipe, to make sure you’re incorporating enough air. It should come out with a pretty tight crumb, but still moist.

      I’m sorry about the cupcakes you made previously as well! Filling them with chilled caramel (so it’s thicker), or even just spreading it on top, should ensure that the caramel stays put. You’ll still get some drips down the sides, but those make it look all the more tasty!

      I hope that helps. If you think of anything that might have caused it, let me know and we can try to figure it out!
      ~ Hannah

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