Thunder now. I’m loving the endless precipitation in this otherwise stifling furnace. When trivialities seem to take hold of life, there are always certain important people to bring me back down to Earth, and there’s, well, cake. Hey, childhood fancies, it’s been a while. I think it only de rigueur to celebrate a special occasion with something a little more elaborate. ‘F’ and ‘L’ are the initials of someone pretty damn special in my life, and special people deserve something a little more elaborate, more celebratory, more.. regal if a little rustic. Chocolate and salted caramel has been done before, tried and tested, stamped with approval, signed off in girlish curlicues. But I daresay this endeavour is a bit more wild, and not quite so predictable in taste and texture with the addition of crushed meringue and lavish drizzles of homemade salted caramel. The waterfall effect of the buttercream frosting does a bit of justice to the ‘naked’ cake; I here term it as such because the ridges and painfully thin outer layer of frosting allow the bottom halves of each chocolate cake layer to be seen, for a subtle gradient effect, the salted caramel running slowly between the ridges, cutting through the purposeful flaw. Mimicking the movement of pale frosting. Godspeed. If you are wondering why the two pictures above look a mess, I’d gladly point the finger at that solo stack of plates. An unfinished crumb coat was almost completely wrecked when the stack of three layers, frosting in tact between each, toppled over and collided into the side of the stack. But this cake held its own, unflinching. Sometimes, failures or mishaps really do prove someone, or something’s worth. Despite the delicate moisture of the cake, its sweet and slightly bouncy crumb, the collision underscored a hidden robustness, making me hold this cake in the highest regard. It deserved to be treated right, after not letting me down. This amalgamation of flavours imparts subtle, simple decadence. The chocolate cake of our childhoods is wrapped with the familiar indulgence of sweet and salty caramel, with a bit of zip thanks to a squeeze of lemon and fresh Maldon. The first time I tried the cake with all its components, I did think the salted caramel crème fraîche frosting lacked oopmph, my tongue betraying the anticipation of a more sophisticated flavour profile. Hence, I did a mini batch of frosting after this cake was made, altering the salt and creme fraiche content to taste. In all honesty, a slice of this stuff is good warm or cold, and can be stored for at least a week in a fridge, or a couple of days at room temperature. And finally, I really don’t know what could possibly beat fresh, homemade salted caramel…? Moist Chocolate Cake With A Salted Caramel Creme Fraiche Frosting (makes a three-layer, 8-inch wide cake) For the cake: (cake recipe adapted from here) 300g (3 cups) cake flour, or all-purpose flour if you don’t have cake flour on hand 300g (3 cups) white caster sugar 150g (1 1/4 cups) cocoa powder 3 tsp baking soda half tsp of fine salt 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 380ml (around 1 1/2 cups) buttermilk 180ml vegetable oil 3 eggs at room temperature 2 tbsp vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups (370ml) freshly brewed coffee For the salted caramel frosting: 340g salted butter 4 tbsp créme fraiche 980g powdered sugar 180ml (slightly less than 3/4 of a cup) of salted caramel (ingredients for this down below) For the salted caramel (recipe adapted from personal trials): 1 tbsp light corn syrup 5 tbsp (75ml) water 1 tsp vanilla 125ml (around half a cup) of heavy cream 110g (1/2 cup) white sugar juice of half a lemon (approximately a teaspoon) 1 tsp fine sea salt Preheat the oven to 177C (350F) and line three 8-inch circular cake pans with parchment paper (trace around each pan with pencil on the parchment paper and then cut out neatly). Spray the bottoms of the pan before laying on each piece of parchment, and then spray lightly again. Set these pans aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, sift in the dry ingredients– cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir on low speed until combined. The same can be done with just a large bowl and a whisk if you don’t have an electric mixer. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, vanilla and eggs. Stir in the fresh coffee. With the mixer on low speed (or without a mixer), add the wet mixture into the dry. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of your bowl and make sure everything is well combined. The batter should be sticky, dark, glossy and liquidy. In fact, the wetter, the better. If your bowl of batter looks too dry, or drops off the back of your spoon or paddle too slowly (it shouldn’t really ‘drop’ at all, really), add at least 2 tablespoons of milk. Drop each pan on your counter to knock out excess air bubbles. Use a weighing scale to ensure there’s an equal amount of batter in each pan. For this recipe, there was around 750g of lush chocolate batter in each pan, and each layer is rather thick. Place the pans in the oven (you can place 2 in first if your oven can’t fit three, which is usually the case, and then pop the last one in afterwards). Bake for 35-40 minutes, before removing from the oven and let cool on wire racks. Mine took 36 minutes, and a wooden skewer inserted into the centre of the pan should come out dry, with a few moist crumbs clinging to the very tip. While the cakes bake, make the salted caramel. Put the corn syrup, water and sugar in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir together with a wooden spoon and let the mixture come to boil. In a separate medium bowl, mix together the lemon juice (add less if you like your salted caramel less ‘lemony’), vanilla and cream. Once the mixture in the pan comes to a boil, stop stirring (to prevent crystallisation) and let boil for a while. This will take at least 5 minutes or so. If it looks like one part of the pan is turning darker faster than the other parts, then gently swirl the pan to distribute the heat and quicken the chemical reaction. Slowly, the sugars will all caramelise and the whole mixture will suddenly turn a dark amber. At this point, turn off the heat and add the cream mixture. Stir in the salt to taste. The mixture will bubble almost immediately, before lightening and turning a lighter caramel shade. If the mixture seizes, don’t fret!! Simply put the pan back on a low heat and stir until everything amalgamates nicely again, which will take 2-3 minutes. All is good, all is good. Make the buttercream. In an electrical or handheld mixer, beat the salted butter, which should be slightly cold but not too frigid, and the créme fraiche, until pale, creamy and fluffy. Sift in the icing sugar in thirds, and beat well to combine. Add half a cup of salted caramel (125ml, or slightly more, all to taste) and beat briefly to distribute the caramel’s colour and flavour. The buttercream should be smooth and not too runny, so I suggest adding the salted caramel bit by bit to get the right consistency. Once the cakes are cool, assemble. Remove the circular pieces of parchment from the bottoms of the cooled cakes, and place one in the middle of a cake stand. Using a third-cup measurement, measure out a third of a cup of buttercream and spread onto the first layer. Place a little more on top if the layer of frosting doesn’t look thick enough. Place the second layer on the first, and do the same. Repeat with the third layer, but this time, spread more buttercream down along the breadth of the cake, creating a thin crumb coat to catch any excess crumbs. Let the whole cake set in the fridge with the crumb coat for at least a couple of hours, or overnight. After this period, use more buttercream to cover up any obvious bits of brown on the outside. Use the blunt edge of a butter knife to create the ridged, naked, waterfall effect, going from the bottom up. It’s much easier than how it might read here, I promise! In any case, the decoration is entirely up to you. Once you have run the butter knife up along the sides for the entire circumference of the cake, do the same for the top, but direct the butter knife movement towards the centre, so you get the ‘wheel’ effect, as can be seen in the third last photo above. Drizzle the top with leftover salted caramel and, if you wish, crumbled biscuits of meringue.