Salted Caramel Layer Cake

I know it’s still technically summer, but I had to throw another seasonal recipe out there. Caramel is a sticky autumn classic, usually in the form of a hard or chewy individually wrapped candy. But I have good news: caramel is just as good–if not better–merged with cake. Plus, it doesn’t get stuck in your teeth.

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I started out with three layers’ worth of vanilla cake batter, then folded in around 10 ounces of dulce de leche, which is basically a cooked sweetened condensed milk. It’s sweet and thick and delicious, and perfect folded into this vanilla cake. Something to remember, though, is that caramel makes things sticky, so you’ll want to line your baking pans with parchment paper.

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The next component is the caramel buttercream, which is just my classic American buttercream recipe plus some more dulce de leche whipped in. Something I learned while making this cake is that you really can’t have too much caramel, because it’s pretty much the best in the world.

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And lastly, my favorite part: the salted caramel sauce. I’d never made a caramel sauce before making this cake, and I was terrified I would somehow mess up. But even though there was lots of bubbling, it turned out perfectly. They say you’re not supposed to let a sugar syrup alone, so I stared intently at it for around 10 minutes. Safe to say that I have the image of bubbling sugar imprinted on the inside of my eyelids now. Seriously though, take the time to blink, at least for the first few minutes.

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At the last moment, I sprinkled some extra sea salt on the edges along with the caramel sauce, because I felt like there wasn’t enough salt to balance out the caramel. The intersection of sweet and saltiness is just perfect.

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This cake was a huge project for me. I planned it out about a month ago, and it took me two days to complete: one night I baked the cake layers and the next I frosted and decorated. I wouldn’t have made it during the week, but the occasion was my mother’s birthday, and that fell in the middle of the week.

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She loved the cake, but really, who couldn’t? Caramel ftw.

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Ingredients

for the cake

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 7 ounces (½ can) dulce de leche

for the caramel buttercream

  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 5-6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 7 ounces (½ can) dulce de leche

for the salted caramel sauce

  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 teaspoons sea salt

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

Cream the butter, shortening and sugar together until they’re light and fluffy. Then, beat in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In yet another bowl, whisk together the milk, buttermilk and vanilla extract.

Alternate mixing the milk mixture and the flour mixture into the first bowl, in three or four installments, being sure not to overmix the batter. Then gently fold in the dulce de leche.

Divide the batter into three 8 or 9 inch pans lined with parchment paper and bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter for about 5 minutes until it’s light and fluffy. Then, add the powdered sugar in, ½ cup at a time, until it’s all incorporated. Add the salt and vanilla and beat until it’s grown in size and is your desired consistency.

In a small saucepan, add the water and the sugar and set on low heat. Let it simmer for around 10 minutes, or until you start to see an amber color.

Heat your cream for around 30 seconds in the microwave, and when the sugar mixture goes solidly amber, take it off heat and pour in the cream.

Stir the mixture for a few seconds before adding in the butter and sea salt, then stir until the butter is melted.

Pour the mixture into a glass or ceramic container. It can be stored up to a week at room temperature, which is great because you only need about ⅓ of it.

When your cakes are completely cool, start to assemble.

I made the cakes in 9 inch pans, so they weren’t tall enough to level. To fix that, I just stacked them strategically.

Flip one layer top down on a cake stand and spread a layer of buttercream on top. Repeat the process until all three layers are stacked, then apply the crumb coat, which is just a thin layer of buttercream used to lock in any crumbs. I like to think of it as a “scraping” of frosting.

Chill the cake in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before applying the rest of the buttercream.

Then, drizzle the caramel sauce around the edge of the cake–I also sprinkled some extra sea salt on top–and serve.

 

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