Did I make my own birthday cake?
Yes. I am from the Midwest, and darn proud of it! I am darn proud of this Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake with caramel filling. In the past, I have not had a keen like of chocolate cake because they can taste chalky or dry, however, this cake that I baked from the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook was legit moist (no I do not dislike that word, do you?) and so flavorful without being dry. Also, this cake was a huge hit and did remind our family of watching the movie Matilda recently where the Principle, Miss Trunchbull had a special chocolate cake.
Published February 18, 2022
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Ope, you betcha I did, ya.
As I write this post, it is my 35th birthday. Happy birthday to me! I am a stay-at-home mom, and my husband Tyler works for a local construction company. Because of being a SAHM, I have the ease of making a cake at home. Additionally, I physically should not buy a cake made from a grocery store.
What I mean is, I am allergic to almond and cannot, in good conscience, buy baked goods thinking they will not make me use my EpiPen or have to be rushed to the ER. However, I do wish for the ease of going into a store and buying a premade and already adorably decorated birthday cake.
Why can I not just buy a Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake?
Why can I not just go out and buy any type of cake? The number one reason I cannot buy cakes, is I have an almond allergy and need to avoid almonds and any nutrition labels that list “tree nuts”. No biggie, right? Reading a food nutrition label alone causes me to not purchase any premade baked goods. Additionally, can I trust them? Or should I just give it a go? Personally, I am not willing to risk that chance.
Being that we have four kids and do not want to spend my birthday in the hospital after anaphylaxis, this momma has to make a cake. Three years ago, I did spend my birthday in the cardiac ICU with a 6-day old baby Elliana, and let me tell you, it was not as fun as you’d think. Let’s not repeat that experience, m’kay?
And for certain, I am not going to ask my hard-working husband to bake me a cake, or the kids to bake me a cake. Above all, I just wanted something delicious and edible.
Sticking to a budget
Each week, Tyler and I set a food budget. Buying a birthday cake does not entirely fit into that monthly plan because they can actually cost a lot more than homemade. Making a cake is actually really inexpensive and can help to save you quite a bit of money. I’d like to share tips with you on how our family sticks to a weekly budget.
Firstly, create a shopping list and stick to it. Secondly, plan your meals on a weekly basis. This also helps to create your grocery list! As you plan your weekly meals, make lists of the materials you need for each meal.
Finally, check your fridge, freezer and pantry to see if you already have any of the items. Buying extra items, that you already have on-hand, does contribute to extra spending. If you already have it, don’t buy it again!
As I already had ingredients from the week before to make a dessert for Elliana’s birthday, I did not have to buy ingredients to make this Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake.
Why to use heavy cream
Elliana and I both have birthdays in February. As we were having family and friends over to celebrate our daughters third birthday, cake ingredients need to be in the pantry or on the shopping list. Because I did make cupcakes for her birthday, we already had mostly everything needed to make a Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake. As I was going grocery shopping anyway, there were a few pantry staples that I did need to buy.
This day was fraught with issues, as it was a Monday. If you can picture a freezing cold day, with flurries and a daughter who hates coats. Additionally, picture a mom trying to grocery shop with a crabby child. She likes to help open the fridge and freezer doors at our local ALDI, and I was just not paying close attention to what I was grabbing. Heavy Cream did NOT make it into the cart.
Later, as I was making the caramel filling for this cake and opened the fridge looking for that said heavy cream, grabbing the container and placing it on the counter, and JUST realizing it was Half & Half and NOT heavy cream. You’d be amazed at the self-restraint I had with my language. Fiddlesticks was said. Fiddlesticks is not what was thought.
Mistakes were made
Some of you may know that heavy cream, and NOT Half & Half is required to make caramel. I knew this vital information. And yet, neglected to buy the right thing. And as I said earlier, it was indeed a Monday.
This is just the reason that I budget, meal plan, grocery plan and make lists all day every day for everything. If it isn’t written down, if I don’t make the list, if the list is not there, mistakes will be made. However, mistakes were made. Does it alter the final result of the caramel you may be asking? Stay tuned to the end to find out!
Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake Recipe
Ingredients for Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup water
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
8 Tbsp butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp salt
16 Tbsp butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 tsp vanilla
6 ounces chocolate, melted and cooled
1/4-1/2 tsp coarse sea salt, optional
Directions for the Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake
1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees and prep your springform pans by spraying each with a non-stick spray. Then, sprinkle each with flower and coat the spray then set aside. Line the bottoms with parchment paper.
*Pro tip* Trace your baking pan with a pencil on parchment paper. Then, cut out the circles and crumple them in your hand. Uncrumple each circle and lay them in the sprayed baking pan. Doing this helps the parchment more easily removed from the baked cake later.
2. In a large bowl, sift together flour and cocoa which helps the cocoa spread more evenly through the mixture.
3. To the flour mixture, whisk in sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
4. Combine the water, oil, vanilla and eggs in the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer. After that mix them slowly with the paddle attachment.
*Pro Tip* For example, to avoid getting eggshells in your batter, crack your eggs into a separate bowl before adding to your wet ingredients.
5. Add the buttermilk to the wet ingredients, then, turn on the mixer and combine.
If you do not have buttermilk, as I do not regularly purchase it, you can warm 1 Tbsp butter and add to 1 cup of milk, whisking to combine.
*Pro Tip* Additionally, let your milk rest to room temperature helps the melted butter blend better and not just clump up in cold milk.
6. Slowly add the flour mixture into buttermilk mixture, using the paddle attachment, until a smooth batter forms. This can be done in two-to-three parts by adding a third of the flour mixture to the wet, turning on the KitchenAid mixer, and then combining.
7. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, smooth the tops with an offset spatula, and then tap on the countertop three times. By tapping the pans, it helps to make sure you have no air bubbles in your cakes.
8. Bake the cakes with the rack in the middle of the oven for 22-28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Make sure to rotate and switch the pans in the oven halfway through baking.
9. Remove cake pans from the oven and let them rest to cool on a rack for 15 minutes on a cooling rack.
10. After the cakes rested, remove the cakes from the pans and carefully peel off the parchment from the bottom of each cake, discarding the pieces. Finally, let the cakes cool completely, around 2 hours.
Directions for the Caramel filling
1. Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking pan and then set aside.
2. To make the caramel, first combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium saucepan. Then, bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook without stirring for 8-10 minutes. Matthew wanted to help make caramel with me this morning. He even let me take his picture!
3. Reduce the heat and continue to cook, swirling saucepan occasionally, until it turns a dark amber color, 2-5 minutes. The temperature should reach 375-380 degrees. Additionally, I recommend using a candy thermometer to make sure your temperatures are accurate.
4. Take the saucepan off heat and then add heavy cream, butter, vanilla, and salt. As a result, this mixture will bubble and steam.
As you can see in the second image below, this mixture did not bubble or steam. Consequently, Half & Half was not a good replacement for Heavy Cream for this recipe resulting in the caramel not being fluffy.
5. To finish the caramel, return the saucepan to medium heat. Stir the sauce frequently until the caramel becomes smooth while using a candy thermometer to watch until the mixture reaches a temperature of 240-245 degrees. This can take 3-5 minutes.
Oh well. Half & Half is NOT ok to make caramel. As a result, this caramel was more of a creamy caramel and not a fluffy caramel like the recipe recommends.
6. Finally, transfer caramel to the prepared pan and set aside to cool, 20-30 minutes. Just try not to grab as many spoons as you can to taste test it.
As it was an afternoon when our kids were all home from school, spoons were brought out and caramel was tasted. Samuel rolled his eyes in delight. Matthew asked for another taste. Levi said, “wow mom it’s amazing”. Elliana was just happy to have her own spoon to lick.
Directions for the Chocolate Frosting
1. To begin the frosting for this Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake, process butter, sugar, cocoa and salt with the blade attachment, for 30 seconds until smooth in the bowl of a Cuisinart Food Processor.
2. After that, add the corn syrup and vanilla and process an additional 5-10 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
3. Add the 6-ounces of melted chocolate to the bowl, then process the frosting for 10-15 seconds.
Recently, there has been a lack of chocolate at the store, resulting in ways to be resourceful. For a replacement to the melted chocolate, we used Nutella. Folks, let me tell you, this was a WIN! As I am not allergic to hazelnuts, and the ingredients do not list almond, I am able to eat Nutella without a visit to the ER.
As a result, this frosting had a fluffy and fudgy taste that was creamy and so delicious. Even our son Samuel, who historically detests Nutella, LOVED this Chocolate frosting.
Finishing the Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake
1. Firstly, using a long and serrated knife, score the outside of each cake in a horizontal line around the entire thing. Secondly, cut both cakes in half cutting horizontally along the score lines. These amazing pieces are now at your tasting disposal. I tell the kids that these are for “quality control and if I die, don’t eat the cake”.
2. Before you begin to decorate and frost your cake, line the edges of a cake platter with 3-4 pieces of parchment paper or wax paper. Doing so will help to keep your cake platter or stand clean of frosting.
3. Place one cake layer on top of the pieces of wax paper or parchment paper on the cake stand.
4. Using a rubber spatula or large spoon, scoop 1/3 of the caramel onto the tops of three Chocolate Cake layers by using an offset spatula to spread the Caramel over the tops.
5. Top with the second and third pieces of Caramel covered Chocolate Cake layers.
6. Finish layering the cake with the final slice of cake. In addition, this piece should not be covered in caramel.
7. Firstly, begin to frost the Chocolate Cake by using a spatula to place large dollops of frosting onto the top of the cake.
8. Then use an offset spatula to spread the frosting evenly on the top and edges of the cake, being careful to not get any crumb in the frosting.
That is to say, use an offset spatula or a large spatula to spread the frosting from the large dollops around the cake, making sure to not allow the frosting that you are transferring to pick up any of the cake; thus, resulting in the “crumb” making its way into the frosting. In doing so, your frosting can look chunky and not smooth.
9. Carefully remove pieces of parchment or wax paper from under the cake.
10. Finally, sprinkle coarse sea salt over the top if using, and enjoy! I know our family will love taste testing this delicious Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake!
Did we like this Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake?
Indeed, we did.
This Chocolate-Caramel Layer cake was by far the most delicious cake I have ever eaten or baked. I was shocked at the easiness of baking this cake. All in all, this cake did take a few hours from start to finish. Moreso, waiting until the next day to cut into it was agony. Looking at the countertop for an entire day while this cake rested in its chocolate glory was pure torture. When we finally got to cut into this masterpiece of a cake, it was still so moist because the caramel had soaked into the cakes. Additionally, the cakes were not dry, and the frosting was neither too sweet nor overly chocolatey.
Less than a week later and there are no traces of this Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake left in our home, except the delicious memories of its creation. Tyler has dubbed this cake, not only far above his favorite dessert of cheesecake, but his absolute favorite cake. This is a complete shock to me, as he is more of a “steak and potatoes” kind of guy and would rather skip dessert all together.
Will I make this cake again? Indeed, yes. Maybe as soon as this afternoon. Yes, it is that good. I do have to say this recipe was initially NOT my creation but published in the America’s Text Kitchen Cookbook. So, I have to say a huge “Thank You” to America’s Test Kitchen for helping to make my birthday a chocolatey win.
If you want to know more about America’s Test Kitchen, check out their website! They have more cookbooks available, recipes and more! Additionally, we love to watch episodes on our local PBS station. Likewise, I have gotten a lot of cooking and baking inspiration from watching their cooking show.
*America’s Test Kitchen is not a sponsor for this post*
Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake Recipe
Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake
Chocolate Cake Ingredients
- 1 1/2 cups Flour
- 3/4 cups Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
- 1 1/2 cups Sugar
- 1 1/4 tsp Baking Soda
- 3/4 tsp Baking Powder
- 3/4 tsp Salt
- 1/2 cup Water
- 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
- 2 Eggs
- 3/4 cup Buttermilk
- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Caramel Filling Ingredients
- 1 1/4 cups Sugar
- 1/4 cup Light Corn Syrup
- 1/4 cup Water
- 1 cup Heavy Cream
- 8 Tbsp Butter cut into 8 pieces
- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 3/4 tsp Salt
Chocolate-Caramel Frosting Ingredients
- 16 Tbsp Butter softened
- 3/4 cup Confectioners' Sugar
- 1/2 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
- Pinch Salt
- 1/2 cup Light Corn Syrup
- 3/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 6 oz Chocolate melted, cooled
- 1/4-1/2 tsp Sea Salt optional
Directions for the Chocolate Cake
- Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and then preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Spray two 9-inch round cake pans, flour pans, then place parchment paper in the bottom.
- To get the perfect parchment paper size, lay your baking pan on a piece of parchment and draw around the base with a pencil.
- Cut the circle out, crumble it up, then uncrumple it and lay it in the base of the pan.
- Crumbling the piece of parchment helps to hold it in place and not roll up on you.
- Do this for both pans and set aside when done.
- In a large bowl, sift together 1 1/2 cups flour and 3/4 cup cocoa together.
- To the flour mixture, whisk in 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/4 tsp baking soda, 3/4 tsp baking powder, and 3/4 tsp salt and then set aside.
- In the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer, whisk 3/4 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup oil, 2 eggs, and 1 tsp vanilla until combined.
- Whisk flour mixture into buttermilk mixture until a smooth batter forms.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, smooth the tops with a spatula, and then tap the pans on the countertop three times to loosen any air bubbles.
- Bake for 22-28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
- Rotate and switch the pans in the oven halfway through baking.
- Then remove cake pans from the oven and let them rest to cool, in their pans, on a rack for 15 minutes.
- Remove cakes from the pans and then carefully peel off the parchment from the bottom of each cake, discarding the pieces.
- Let the cakes cool completely, around 2 hours.
Directions for the Caramel Filling
- To begin, lightly grease an 8-inch square baking pan and then set aside.
- Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium saucepan, then bring the ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat and cook without stirring for 8-10 minutes.
- Reduce heat and continue to cook, swirling saucepan occasionally, until it turns a dark amber color, 2-5 minutes. The temperature should reach 375-380 degrees.
- Then, take the saucepan off heat and add heavy cream, butter, vanilla, and salt. Additionally, this mixture will bubble and steam.
- Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the caramel becomes smooth and reaches a temperature of 240-245 degrees; this can take 3-5 minutes.
- Carefully transfer caramel to the prepared pan and then set aside to cool, 20-30 minutes.
Directions for the Chocolate Frosting
- First, in the bowl of a Cuisinart Food Processor, process the 16 Tbsp butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa and a pinch of salt with the blade attachment, for 30 seconds until smooth.
- Secondly, add 1/2 cup corn syrup and 3/4 tsp vanilla, processing an additional 5-10 seconds.
- Additionally, remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
- Add the chocolate and process until creamy, around 10-15 seconds.
Finishing the Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake
- Use a long and serrated knife, score the outside of each cake in a horizontal line around the entire Chocolate Cake, then cut each cake into two pieces.
- Using a rubber spatula or large spoon, scoop 1/3 of the caramel onto the tops of three cake layers, then use an offset spatula to spread the mixture over the surfaces leaving a 1/2-inch boarder around each edge.
- Line the edges of a cake platter with 3-4 pieces of parchment paper or wax paper to help keep your platter clean of frosting while you decorate. These will be removed later.
- Begin to assemble the Chocolate Cake by placing 1 piece of caramel covered cake layers on the cake platter.
- Then, top the first layer with the second and third pieces of caramel covered cake layers.
- Lastly, top the cake with the final cake layer that has no caramel.
- Use a spatula to place dollops of frosting onto the top of the cake.
- Finally, use an offset spatula to spread the frosting evenly on the top and edges of the cake, making sure to carefully keep the crumb of the cakes intact.
- Carefully remove pieces of parchment or wax paper, discarding them when done.
- Let the cake rest for 1 hour before cutting.
- Finally, sprinkle with coarse sea salt if using and enjoy!
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