What a Difference Three Years Makes: the Sweet and Salty Cake

A little over three years ago, I made the Sweet and Salty Cake -- layers of chocolate cake covered with salted caramel, filled and frosted with a chocolate caramel ganache -- from Baked. It was only the fourth time I had ever tried a recipe from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. Since then, I have baked my way through more than 50 of their recipes from Baked and Baked Explorations (in large part because I joined the Baked Sunday Mornings group back in 2010; I am on schedule to have completed every recipe from Baked Explorations by June 2013). Given my experience with Baked recipes, including layer cakes in particular (e.g., Whiteout Cake, Lemon Drop Cake, Caramel Apple Cake, Grasshopper Cake, and Chocolate Coffee Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache), I am much more comfortable (and competent) making these recipes now.

I recently revisited the sweet and salty cake (this is only the second time I've made it), and it was an entirely different result from my inaugural experience. In particular, the chocolate cake component is now old hat to me, as it is the exact same cake recipe used in the Chocolate Coffee Cake and Grasshopper Cake. Last time I made the Sweet and Salty Cake, I baked only two 9-inch layers of chocolate cake; this time, I made three 8-inch layers, as the recipe directs. As a result, my final assembled cake was much taller. Also, I'm a little incredulous that last time I pronounced the chocolate cake as "quite unexceptional." This is now my favorite basic chocolate cake recipe -- it's so light and tender and chocolatey! At this point, I can also pretty much make the salted caramel component in my sleep; it's the same caramel used in the Sweet and Salty Brownie, which I make all the time.

Last time I made the cake, I had great difficulty with the ganache being too runny; the top half of the cake practically slid off the cake after I took it to a housewarming party. For my recent attempt, I had time on my side; I was making the cake a day in advance, so I didn't have to rush to assemble it and could afford to be a little more patient with the ganache. The ganache was definitely still difficult to work with -- when it's freshly made, it's quite soft. It does firm up after being chilled, but if you chill it, then it becomes difficult to spread to a smooth finish. So when I assembled the cake, I spread the salted caramel on a cake layer, spread on some ganache, and then refrigerated the frosted cake layer for a bit until the ganache was firmer; otherwise, the room temperature ganache was too soft to support the weight of a cake layer on top of it. However, while the cake layer was in the fridge, I kept the remaining ganache at room temperature so that it would remain easily spreadable and wouldn't become too stiff.

Going through this somewhat laborious process, I was able to create a beautifully filled and frosted cake. [Note to self: in the future, it would save time to take the two bottom cake layers, and concurrently spread caramel and ganache on both. Then the two layers could be refrigerated (unstacked) at the same time, and after the ganache was firm enough, it would be possible to stack all three cake layers at once.] I refrigerated the cake overnight, after which it held together with no problem, even though it spent several hours at room temperature the next day before serving.

So I wish I could give you a review of how this cake tasted. However, I dropped off this cake with our friends Jim and Colleen, and I didn't stay for the serving and eating -- so I can't give you a firsthand report. 

However, Jim gave me some general complimentary feedback on the cake. I know he's a huge fan of the Sweet and Salty Brownie, so I figured that this cake would be right up his alley (plus, I know that he loves chocolate cake generally). When I pressed him for details on a comparison to its brownie counterpart, Jim commented that this cake didn't seem as salty as the brownie. That seems to make sense, because despite the salted caramel on top of each cake layer and the garnish of fleur de sel on top of the cake, the ratio of salty stuff to sweet stuff is lower in this very tall cake than it is in the very dense brownie.

Still, I was assured that the cake was enjoyed by all. I am confident that it's going to be nowhere near three years before I make this cake again!

Recipe: "Sweet and Salty Cake," from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito; recipe available here on marthastewart.com.

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Anonymous said…
Beautiful cake!
It really looks like it was taken right out of the display case...
Well done!