sweet and salty cake

sweet and salty cake

Sometimes a cake is just a cake. You bake it, frost it and then serve it forth to your friends. Everyone loves the cake, of course, and within half an hour you have an empty serving platter with a few loose crumbs; everyone content and grateful for your homemade creation. Sometimes however, a cake turns into a test of your will and persistence and creativity and sheer reluctance to quit. This is such a cake. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In this particular case, I had promised to bake a cake for a friend. But I also promised to wow and impress. I’ve long been waxing poetic about salted caramel and so I knew exactly the cake I wanted to make. To me, salted caramel is one of the most seductive foods. I am certain I can be wooed with very modest offerings of salted caramel, herring and cilantro – some things just make a girl weak in the knees. I’m convinced there’s not a soul out there who doesn’t love salted caramel. And if loving salted caramel is wrong, I don’t ever wanna be right.

sweet and salty cake

As some of you know, I’m fairly new to this cake-making business. My first foray was earlier this year with the peanut butter chocolate cake, soon after followed by the chocolate dulce de leche cake. And both were fairly straightforward and simple. I had few issues and little to complain about and the end product, in both cases, was a stunner. So I had few concerns going into this recipe. Hoo boy! Was I in for an experience. My quiet humming (something I often do when I am cooking) was soon switched out for the kind of language that typically graces Tarantino films. Let’s just say I’m pleased no children were present in the vicinity to hear my unladylike language.

sweet and salty cake

And as irony would have it, for someone who was asked in her chemistry class to skip lab in order to pass (let’s just say I was a bit of a hazard with beakers and Bunsen burners), I marvel at my fascination with baking and being exacting and thorough. Sometimes it’s a breeze and everything comes together beautifully. And sometimes, when you think you’ve done everything right, something doesn’t quite work and you try to figure out what specifically went wrong (this is the part I’m particularly bad at). This cake was a kind of experience when many a thing didn’t quite go according to plan, but I am better and wiser now for it, but there was a moment when I was tempted to dump the whole thing in the trash can and call up my friend and say, “Screw cake. I’m bringing pizza”

sweet and salty cake

I am tempted to rename this cake as “I’m Going to Tear Hair Out of My Head and Curse Like a Sailor Cake”, but I think that would be too long a title. I’ll keep the original and instead include a few notes that might help you have a less stressful experience than the one I had. Isn’t that nice now, you get a recipe AND some pointers in how to avoid the insanity? I will add my notes to the recipe in italics – so when you see that you will know this is my commentary.

To say this cake was delicious, would be inaccurate. It was quite possibly the most heart-stoppingly amazing cake I’ve had in awhile. And if your heart doesn’t skip a beat because the cake is decadent and rich, it might do so simply because the chocolate caramel whipped ganache contains four (4!) sticks of butter. I cannot tell you enough how fussy and time-consuming this was and how much, in the middle of this project I didn’t regret it. But looking back if I was asked to make this cake all over again, I absolutely would, hopefully this time with less anxiety and curveballs if only because I’m going to use a few of my own learned pointers, which I hope will help you as well, in case you are feeling particularly self-punishing and want to recreate the magic in your own kitchens.

sweet and salty cake

Serve this cake in the tiniest of slivers as it is quite intense and filling. A glass of milk will not only enhance the cake, but for a moment, make you forget about all the pain and suffering you’ve endured at the hands of this towering confection – which will be exactly what you need to enjoy the rest of your night.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that something was decidedly in the air when I was making this cake. The only pictures I had on my photo card were the ones of the already-made cake – the others have mysteriously vanished. Gone. As if they never existed in the first place. So all I have for you are these mediocre finished product shots. You get none of the in-process pictures, which were not half bad. And because I quickly sensed this cake was tricky, I took very detailed step-by-step photographs to walk you though this recipe carefully. But somehow the gods of cake-making must have decided against to play a practical joke on me because I should be really presenting you with “I made this cake, but all I have to show you are these pictures.” T-shirt. Yes, I know, I’d feel cheated too. I owe you one.

Sweet and Salty Cake – adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

Cake Ingredients:

3/4 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup sour cream
2 2/3 cups cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs (at room temperature)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla

1/2 cup Salted Caramel

Whipped Caramel Ganache Icing
Fleur de sel, for garnish

Cake Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line each pan with a parchment paper round, butter parchment paper and flour; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and sour cream; set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.

3. In another large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together until smooth and it appears to create strings inside the bowl, about 7 minutes. Add both sugars and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well incorporated. Add vanilla, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and mix again for 30 seconds. Add flour mixture alternating with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

5. Divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely. I would actually chill the cakes, before frosting, in the freezer for about an hour – so that your frosting job/assembly job is easier. Believe me, the crumb layer is less fussy that way. In fact, you may not need to do a crumb layer and just assemble/frost the cake in one step.

6. Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate. Using about 1/4 cup of the caramel, spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing some of the caramel to soak into the cake. (This will happen ONLY if you trim the tops of cakes, otherwise, nothing will soak into your cake.) Follow the caramel layer with a layer of about 1 cup of the ganache icing. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another layer of caramel followed by a layer of ganache icing (which you should chill before spreading on the cake, it’s too goupy at room temperature). Place the remaining layer on top of the second layer bottom side up. Spread entire cake with remaining ganache icing. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

Salted Caramel
Makes enough for two to three 8-inch 3-layer cake

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/4 cup sour cream

Salted Caramel Directions:

1. Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, mix together cream and salt. Bring cream to a boil and cook until salt has dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to cool for 1 minute. Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Whisk in sour cream. Cool, and store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

Whipped Chocolate Caramel Ganache
Makes enough for one 8-inch 3-layer cake

1 pound dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, softened but still cool

Ganache Directions:

1. Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.

2. In another small saucepan add cream and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to rest for 1 minute. Add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Let cool 5 minutes. Place chocolate in the bowl of an electric mixer and pour caramel sauce over chocolate. Let sit 1 minute before stirring from the center until chocolate is melted.

4. Attach bowl to electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Add butter and increase speed to medium-high until mixture is well combined, thickened, and slightly whipped, about 2 minutes.

5. Cool the ganache for 20 minutes or so before frosting the cake for easier frosting.


  • Amanda

    This cake deserves a big pat on the back! If I lived near you, I’d buy you a beer. Of course, the cakes that take the most effort are the ones that bring you to the brink of tears. I’m tempted to make this cake, just because it has garnered quite a reputation But first I will have to take some serious anti-anxiety medication!

  • robin

    Radish, you are amazing. And I kind of hate you, because you made the cake sound so delicious that I just may make it. I’m already bracing myself for the agony and looking forward to the ecstasy. :D

  • Shannalee

    Your pictures are just lovely. And, can I just say – as someone who (a) just tried a salted caramel frosting and (b) just made a (different) cake last weekend, the topic is very close to my heart. I am on a mission to find the best cake, a standby for birthdays, etc. Thanks for sharing!

  • the purcells

    this is on my list of dishes to make this week/weekend for our blog too – have been DYING to make it since i got the book and it looks absolutely delicious!

  • radish

    Amanda, thank you for the beer offering – I would gladly take it and we would drink to baking insanity!
    Robin – that is too funny. Honestly feel free to email me if you run into any issues with the cake.
    Shannalee – this one’s a winner, but beware of its dangers :)
    Kristin – I think we’re all gluttons for punishment and we like sharing the misery – it does love company afterall. Honestly though, the cake is so good that it’s kinda worth it.
    Pete – the book is fantastic. I made brownies from it (have yet to blog) and they were just sublime.

  • Sara

    This cake sounds great and I so want to make it despite all the warnings and my inability to frost cakes and cupcakes…

  • DeelishDish

    Now you’ve got ‘if loving you is wrong, then i don’t wanna be right’ stuck in my head. I feel that way about most foods and I would totally have done a head-first into that cake– looks scrumptious! I have no memory of tasting salted caramel but it sounds sexy.

  • Laura [What I Like]

    This looks like an utter and absolutely pain…but I am completely obsessed with salted caramels so I will gird myself for the worst, in hopes of having as transcendent an experience as you did!

  • EB

    It makes me feel so much better to know that you have the same baking issues/salty sailor mouth I do. Kudos for not giving in to the pizza!

  • Kasey

    I just made some oatmeal cardamom cookies from the Baked cookbook and I am pretty much convinced anything from the book must be amazing.

  • Kate

    Hi – my Mom recently turned me on to your site, and the recipes all sound divine! I have a question about the salted caramel recipe – once the mixture boils, do you stir it until it reaches temp? Caramel recipes are so different in the stirring instructions. Thanks!

  • radish

    Hi Kate, thank you for the compliments!! Once the mixture boils (and you should have a thermometer in it reading the temperature) – you should gently swirl the caramel from side to side. I’ve always had those instructions and it worked out rather well! :)

  • Emily

    this is a serious question – how much would you charge to send one of these cakes to nyc? i would actually love to figure out a way to make these into cupcakes, but i don’t know if i’ll ever actually make it. the idea of making caramel sounds a bit too dangerous for me! and i would need to invest in a candy thermometer, which would be an excuse to make more candy… yeah that’s a dangerous snowball!

  • radish

    Hi Emily… I live in NYC :) SO, I’m not sure I understand your question – do you want me to make this cake for an event? Candy thermometers are actually pretty cheap, I think I paid like $5 for mine. An excuse to make more candy — that’s the best kind of excuse!

  • Dana

    I have eyed that cake so many times in my copy of the book, but have been so disappointed with the quality of their recipes that I haven’t attempted it. Now with your help, I may venture forth. Thanks for working out the kinks for the rest of us!

  • radish

    Dana – really? This is the 3rd recipe I am trying from Baked and I think they’re all terrific.. What did you try and didn’t like?

  • Jen Jafarzadeh

    What a coincidence — I has this exact cake on Saturday night!! My friend baked it for her husband’s birthday — and she graduated from pastry school at ICE (and she found it complicated!). It is as extraordinary as you describe in taste. I was totally terrified of the recipe when I flipped through her book — I’m a total novice at baking. And I had never heard of wet and dry caramel before. Congrats on pulling through and making the cake!

  • heidileon

    hey there,
    I love your blog, recipes and pictures are amazing, keep doing what you’re doing!.
    ps. I also love salted caramel. I think this cake is a go. thanks :-)

  • Elaine

    I DID IT!
    I am so proud of this cake that instead of hoarding it all I am making everyone I encounter eat it.
    OH. My story: I only have one round cake pan, so I left the first two layers – tops off – on an out-of-the-way counter, and then, while I am taking the third layer out of the oven and testing it, my dad cuts himself a HUGE slice and eats it. Thus my cake lost a layer.
    Everything went in the freezer at some point and I think that helped with the pain of icing. I forgot the bowl of icing in there, though, so it was the consistency of barely softened butter when I put it on. It made for a thin (and really neat and smooth) layer of icing, though and so even though I only made two thirds of a batch, I have WAY to much left.
    All in all, I would recommend making the carmel and icing the day before the cake. I had planned to do this but then I went on a rampage and was determined to finish last night. That’s what happens when you make me *obsessed* with a cake. It’s sad.
    QUESTIONS: Does anyone know what “strings inside the bowl” actually looks like? I never got to it. Also, does the fleur de sel add hugely to the cake?

  • radish

    Congratulations on the cake – it is so much work, but i think the end result is well worth the effort. I would have had a heart attack if anyone helped themselves to it mid-creation.

  • Julie

    Wow..it looks amazing, and I like the new name you gave it. I’ve never had salted caramel, apparently I’m missing something.

  • Kelly

    I just finished making this cake for my friend’s birthday and I can’t wait to serve it. After tasting each part along the way I can tell it is going to be amazing. I do have a question. After looking at the recipe from the Baked cookbook I saw that you decreased the cook time for the cakes from 35-40 minutes to 18-24 minutes and I am wondering why? Also, just an fyi for those new to making caramel as I was, if you don’t have a candy thermometer you can just watch the sugar mixture boil and as soon as it starts to turn golden remove it from the heat and let it sit. It will continue to darken up a bit. If you let it get too dark on the stove it will taste burnt. This method worked well for me after the first burnt batch:) Thanks for sharing this amazing recipe!

  • radish

    Kelly – great question – let me dig in my notes – I’ll look into it. Very good question!

  • radish

    Ok, Kelly – thank you SO much for the correction. Changing now. No clue WHY I did that… so sorry to all whom I confused.

  • LoveFeast Table

    Ok, I’m scared to make this cake now. I have recipe skimming issues and I am certain that this cake would throw me fits!! However, I do have the Baked cookbook and everything made in it so far is amazing! -Chris Ann

  • radish

    I won’t lie to you – this cake is tough and fussy. Is it worth it? Everyone who ate it at the party would argue yes. I would make it again in fact, but I’d first get some valium (just kidding)… I hope that my notes help in steering you from making the mistakes I made. :)

  • Margot

    I’m in the middle of making this cake right now and I decided to look it up and see if others had problems with it. I think your new name for it is quite appropriate. I’m sure the cake will be good, but right now I’m too annoyed with it.

  • Christina

    I really do not like to use shortening. Do you think the cake would be compromised much if I substitute it w/butter instead?

  • radish

    Christina, good question and I don’t know. I used Whole Foods shortening – which is trans-fat free and is way better than Crisco. If you try it and get great results, do let me know. I am not a fan of shortening overall, but once in a while and spread over 3 cake layers, I figure it’s not THAT much :)

  • Suzanne

    WOW…this sounds fabulous. I may not [don’t] have the patience to make it…but I have a REALLY,REALLY good friend who lives on chocolate, so i’m sending the recipe to her and hoping she makes it AND has me over to try it…..GOD SPEED…

  • Lauren

    Well, I’ve been pondering this cake for like two weeks now. I’m on the verge of attempting it for my boyfriend’s birthday this weekend. The issue I’m having is trying to surprise him, a difficult feat since we live together. I’m thinking about making the components each separately and then assembling on Sunday – his bday. I see the caramel can sit three days, but what about the ganache -do you think it will get too hard? And really, what about the cakes – do you think they’ll will still taste amazing if I make them on saturday and use them on Sunday?

  • Lauren

    Well, I’ve been pondering this cake for like two weeks now. I’m on the verge of attempting it for my boyfriend’s birthday this weekend. The issue I’m having is trying to surprise him, a difficult feat since we live together. I’m thinking about making the components each separately and then assembling on Sunday – his bday. I see the caramel can sit three days, but what about the ganache -do you think it will get too hard? And really, what about the cakes – do you think they’ll will still taste amazing if I make them on saturday and use them on Sunday?

  • Julia

    Thanks for your amusing and helpful post about this cake, I can absolutely relate! I made this cake a couple of months ago and decided I must have done something wrong when my towering cake took to leaning waaaay over. That’s why I’m web surfing about it now. My experience: the caramel hadn’t soaked in (I will trim the cake from now on) and the frosting was room temperature and falling off the cake (I will now refrigerate it first). We had extra frosting too. The only thing that held the cake upright was a bamboo skewer I stuck in while I sang “Slip Sliding Away.” I called it Disaster Cake, laughed with my family about it and thoroughly enjoyed eating it up. Good thing, it’s not a cheap cake in time, energy or money!

    I like the “Baked” brownie recipe and the maple-walnut scones were tasty too.

  • Heather

    I actually made this cake a couple of weeks ago, and it was hands down the best cake I have ever made (and I have made a lot of them over the years). My husband was trying to think what it reminded him of, and my only answer was “heaven.” I had about a cup of frosting leftover, and put it in a little container to dip my finger in whenever I was feeling like I needed a reminder of what heaven was like for the next few days. Everyone of course asked for the recipe, and I gave it with the dire warning to approach with great caution… this is one of those cakes that could send you over the edge if the cake gods are not with you; or, if you are forced to give it away.

  • Brittany

    My god. I just made this cake yesterday and feel the need to share the agony of what I went through with someone who shares my pain. It was my first time working with caramel ( I even went out and bought a candy thermometer specifically for this feat) so when the directions in my copy of the book said to let it boil until it reached 350 degreed I listened. Boy was that a mistake. I realize now that I shouldn’t have been so hard on myself considering it was my first attempt at caramel but I couldn’t help it. There’s just something about the lingering smell of burnt caramel that doesn’t leave your kitchen (and that’s only half way through the process!) and casually reminds you of your failure.

    All of the incredibly hard work aside. This was one of the most delicious cakes I have ever made in my life. I had guests in from France and even they said the caramel could rival Normandy’s’. I think the quality of the fleur de sel that you use is critical. Especially for the garnish.

    PS I’ve made a few things out of the Baked cookbook and found their cookies to be a disappointment but I took their brownie recipe and put some of the salted caramel in the middle before baking. To. Die. For.

  • Radish

    Brittany – haha, thank you for sharing – i am SOOOO sympathetic to your pain. This cake is as PAINFUL as can be, but I felt like that taste sort of made me even want to do it again. Now, have I done it in over a year? No. But one of these days… Oh! I will get to it. And since even your French guests gave it a thumbs-up, I say your efforts were well spent!

  • Patricia Scarpin

    I intend to make this cake for my 17 year old sister next weekend and decided to google it up just in case (I own the book, have made a couple of recipes from it with great results). I’m so glad I did – not only your tips for making the cake are quite precious – I’ll keep them in mind! – but also I could discover your blog! I’ll become a regular, you bet!

    Tks for sharing such great info! Your cake looks stunning.

  • Radish

    Patricia – thanks so much! And I hope the tips come in handy when you embark on the project. The cake is a stunner and is definitely worth the effort! :) Glad to have another reader in you!!

  • Joy

    So I have a question or two.. What in the heck is fleur de sel and is there something I could substitute for it?
    Also, I am trying to cut down some of the fat in this recipe so I don’t have a heart attach after the first slice (b/c I plan on having more than that:)… Do you think the frosting would miss much if I didn’t add all 4 sticks? Or do you have any other good tips for reducing the fat? Thanks!

  • Joy

    Now I feel stupid.. Fleur de sel = sea salt. But still would like to know about trimming the fat from the recipe!

  • Radish

    Joy – fleur de sel isn’t just sea salt. It literally means flower of salt. Maldon sells a great product – these are salt flakes, not granules, and texturally, make a lot of difference. As far as fat goes, this is a large cake to frost, and so I would recommend making the suggested amount and trying to frost sparingly. The worst thing that could happen is that you wind up with a partially frosted cake, which doesn’t look pretty. I find that when I serve myself a slice, I just scrape off whatever frosting I don’t want (I’m a cake person anyway), and push it to the side of the plate. Hope this helps!

  • Joy

    Thanks for the help! I went to the store today and couldn’t find that salt. Is it in the regular seasoning aisle? Sorry so many questions!

  • Radish

    Joy – I guess it depends on where you live? Is there a Whole Foods near you? You can also email me questions.

  • Joy

    I couldn’t find where to email you.. Sorry about the long line of posts. The fleur de sel problem has been solved as I just borrowed some from a friend who works at William Sonoma :) I actually made the caramel tonight (I am going to do the cake and frosting tomorrow).. It turned out somewhat well.. It didn’t burn and I didn’t have to redo it; so that is good. I did lose a little bit of caramel because some of it got super hard.. It was kind of strange. I kept the hard caramel and put it between some wax paper and tried to think that I hadn’t messed up the caramel recipe, I had just made homemade caramels. Thanks for the help! We will see how the rest of it goes.

  • Christal

    I made this cake. I feel like I should get a t-shirt saying “I Survived”. Let’s just say I now have a pot for caramel… that’s what happens when caramel burns… and I had a candy thermometer in it…. I had mixed reviews on the cake, some people really liked it, some people hated it. I am glad I attempted it though!!

    P.S. Love this blog!!!

  • Radish

    Cristal – I am a huge fan of the cake, but it’s a PAIN to make!! Congrats on giving it a go. You totally should get a tshirt. Also, thank you for your compliments!

  • Betty Weiss

    I made the cake last weekend and it was delicious. I found the recipe in a book called “Best of the Best” which collects 2 or 3 recipes each from newly released cookbooks. My first batch of caramel burned (even though I took it off the heat early at 340˚ instead of 350˚), but the next time, I made both batches of caramel in the same pot which made it easier not to overcook it. I took it off at 320˚ and it was fine. I only made two layers of cake for this first attempt, so I had a lot of frosting and some caramel left over. I’m going to decorate around it with white chocolate molded seashells and turn it in as my final project for the chocolate culinary class I’m in.

  • Annaliese

    This was the first cake I have ever baked. Don’t be scared away by the lengthy directions and fancy tools! I used a 70’s sunbeam handmixer for most of this stuff and it turned out great. Best chocolate cake I have ever had. I took other’s suggestions and stopped the caramel at 330 degrees (be careful not to eat it all before putting it on the cake!). I kept the caramel in the fridge, made the icing the next day and put that in the fridge as well, and baked the cake on the third day. Definitely put the cake in the freezer for an hour after cooling. This helps SO MUCH with icing. Also, I found that the ganache had to be at room temperature for it to spread well. This takes a long time to warm up even after being in the refrigerator so give yourself at least a half day to leave it on the counter before icing the cake. I’m a busy college student so making this cake in steps helped made this much easier. I didn’t want to go out searching for fleur de sel so I used plain sea salt and I still thought it was delicious. Next time I make this I may double the salted caramel and drizzle some on top of the finished cake. I had a lot of icing left over so it would be nice to use up the rest and some salted caramel to put on a small batch of chocolate cupcakes…. mmm.

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