When I stumbled upon a recipe for Chocolate Cake with Fleur de Sel Caramel Filling from Bon Apétit, I knew that this was what I wanted to make for my boyfriend’s birthday. He’s not a huge sweets fan, but he does enjoy the combination of sweet and salty. The Bon Apétit recipe calls for almonds, but I found a variant recipe by Former Chef that uses salted praline instead which I thought he would enjoy more.
After reading all of the tips and reviews on both versions of this recipe, I decided to make this cake over a period of three days. The first day I made the ganache and caramel. The second day I baked the cakes. The third day I made the praline and assembled the cake. I have to say, I’m very glad I did it over several days. Otherwise, I probably would have needed at least 6 hours to do it all.
Chocolate Ganache: Ingredients
- 1 1/2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 3 cups heavy whipping cream
Place chocolate in large bowl. Bring cream to simmer in medium saucepan. Pour cream over chocolate; let soften 1 minute. Whisk until chocolate is smooth. Cool, then cover and chill overnight.
I was really nervous about making the ganache. I’ve never really had much success with melting chocolate. Even though I know that the way to fix chocolate that has seized is to add liquid, I was still worried. I didn’t need to be. This was probably the easiest step of the entire cake.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, diced
- 1/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- Large pinch of fine fleur de sel
Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in deep medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium; cover pan and cook 4 minutes. Uncover; increase heat to high. Boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber, occasionally brushing down pan sides with wet pastry brush, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cream (mixture will bubble). Whisk in butter, then crème fraîche, lemon juice, and pinch of fleur de sel. Cool completely.
Like Former Chef, I left out the corn syrup from the original recipe. I used light sour cream since that’s what I typically have in the house. Also, I should have been far more worried about the caramel than the ganache. I had to make this twice, since I burned the first batch. Since I have an electric stove, the sugar wasn’t heating uniformly. I thought I should wait until it all turned amber, but it was way past done at that point. Burnt caramel does not taste good at all! The second batch I waited until the darkest part turned amber (slightly darker than picture labeled “take two”) when I added the cream. This batch was way better.
Chocolate Cake: Ingredients
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter three 8-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of each with parchment paper; butter paper and dust pan with flour.
- Sift sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into large bowl. Add milk, eggs, and melted butter. Using electric mixer, beat at low speed until blended. Increase speed and beat 2 minutes. Stir 1 cup hot water, vanilla, and espresso powder in small bowl to dissolve. Add to batter; beat until blended (batter will be thin). Divide batter between pans (about 3 cups each).
- Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 32 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 10 minutes. Cut around cakes; turn out onto racks. Peel off parchment and cool completely.
Because of the suggestions by a lot of other people, I baked this is 3 8-inch pans instead of 2 9-inch pans. Also, when I say 3 8-inch pans, I mean the same 8-inch pan 3 times. Yes, I own just one 8-inch cake pan. I don’t do a whole lot of cake baking. And just because it seemed like a good idea, I added a teaspoon of vanilla to the original recipe. I also used kosher salt rather than fleur de sel, since it seemed like it wouldn’t make much of an impact with so much cake and so little salt.
After adding the first round of liquids to the dry ingredients, the cake batter will be very thick. It’s almost like soft serve ice cream in consistency. After the espresso step, the cake batter is very watery. I let it sit for a minute to see if it would thicken up, but it didn’t really. I was expecting it to be as thick as box cake mix. It was more like hot cocoa. The cakes turned out fine, so I guess it’s supposed to be that thin. The cake itself is not very sweet. If you’ve got a huge sweet tooth, you could probably add a little extra sugar to the cake batter.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1.5 teaspoons Fleur de Sel
- Measure out the salt in advance into a small bowl so you don’t have to do it in the moment. Time is of the essence.
- Put the sugar in the pot over medium heat and in a minute or two it will begin to melt.
- Watch it carefully, and stir with a spatula until all the sugar dissolves and starts to turn color. There will be some lumps of sugar, but they will dissolve if you keep stirring and breaking them up.
- Pretty quickly, the sugar will start to get darker in color and may begin to smoke. Turn off the heat, add in the 1.5 tsp of salt and immediately pour out the mixture onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper (or silpat if you own one).
- Use the spatula or tilt the pan to spread out the caramel and try to get it very thin. It will harden very quickly as it cools.
- Crack praline with a butter knife. Crush 1/3 of the praline in a baggie to make praline “crumbs.”
This also took me two batches. I burnt the first one. Looking back, I think I wasn’t supposed to stir the sugar until after it started melting. Also, I probably should have waited a little bit longer on my second batch since there were still a few lumps of sugar, but lumps are better than burnt.
Cake Assembly Instructions
Level each cake so it is flat on top. Place 1 cake on platter; spread with room-temperature ganache. Spoon ganache into pastry bag fitted with 1/4-inch plain round tip. Pipe ring of ganache around edge of layer. Spread room-temperature caramel filling evenly inside ring. Sprinkle caramel with large pinch of fleur de sel, then crushed praline. Top with second cake layer, ganache, ganache ring, caramel filling, fleur de sel, and praline. Top with third cake layer, cut side down. Spread remaining ganache over top and sides of cake. Decorate as you see fit.
I took the ganache and caramel out of the fridge the night before I assembled the cake so they had plenty of time to come to room temperature. The ganache was a little firm, so I ended up heating it up just a tad in the microwave. I don’t know if my caramel was too soft, the ganache was too soft, or I did not level the cakes well enough, but when I put the second layer on, everything started to explode. This is why the pictures suddenly go from caramel to done. I had caramel oozing everywhere. My ganache retaining wall was not helping! I worked as quickly as I could. Once everything was all frosted, I put a decorative edge on the bottom of the cake to hide my mess. I added some ganache, praline, and fleur de sel to the top of the cake for decoration and stuck it in the fridge for 3 hours in the hopes that the ganache would harden a bit and stop the caramel leak.
Later that evening, I picked up the bf from the airport. He knew I was making him a cake, but he didn’t know what kind. Despite being a bit structurally unsound, the cake was very delicious.