Birthday Cake

In the September 2008 issue of Bon Appetit, I found the most delicious-sounding cake recipe! It's called Chocolate Cake with Fleur de Sel Caramel Filling, and...just wow. Now, my cake didn't turn out picture perfect--in fact, I'm afraid it'll break the camera if I try to get a photo!--but I tasted all of the ingredients separately and they were really darn good. Together, the combination of all three is heavenly! The caramel has a hint of salty-sweet tartness. The cake is moist and rich. The can you go wrong with chocolate and cream? I used Ghirardeli chocolate, so that might have helped.

Oh, and this cake has over 3 cups of heavy cream, so it's got to be good!

Caramel Filling
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter, diced
1/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Large pinch Fleur de Sel (a type of sea salt--I used Kosher)

Stir sugar, 1/4 cup water, and corn syrup in deep medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium; cover pan and cook 4 minutes. Uncover; increase heat to high. Boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber, occasionally brushing down pan sides with wet pastry brush, about 6 minutes. Add cream (mixture will bubble). Whisk in butter, then sour cream, lemon juice, and a pinch of fleur de sel. Cool Completely.

Can be made up to 3 days ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.

Ganache Filling and Frosting
1 1/2 lbs bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups heavy cream

Place chocolate in a large bowl. Bring cream to simmer in a medium saucepan. Pour cream over chocolate. Let soften 1 minute. Whisk until chocolate is smooth. Cool, then cover and chill overnight.

Ganache can be made up to 3 days ahead. Keep chilled. Bring to room temperature before using.

Brig's note: I never chilled my ganache, but I did let it cool to room temperature. Maybe that's why it decided to slide so much...

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup hot water
1 1/4 cup almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped

Position rack in the center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-inch diameter cake pans with 2-inch high sides. (I realized after I put the mix in my regular 9" pans that it would spectacularly overflow during cooking so I transferred the batter to 10" pans. I don't recommend that approach.) Line bottom of each with parchment paper; butter paper and dust pan with flour. (Also an important step!)
Sift sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Add milk, eggs, melted butter, and water. Using electric mixer, beat at low speed until blended. Increase speed and beat 2 minutes. Beat until blended (batter will be thin). Divide batter between pans (about 3 cups each).
Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 32 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks about 10 minutes. Cut around cakes; turn out onto racks. Peel off parchment and cool completely.
Using long serrated knife, cut each cake horizontally in half. Place 1 layer on platter; spread with 1/2 cup room-temperature ganache. Spoon 3/4 cup ganache into pastry bag fitted with 1/4-inch plain round tip. (I ended up using a dremel to cut off, then file down, one of my existing tips that I knew I wouldn't use much.) Pipe ring of ganache around the edge of layer. Spread 1/4 cup room-temperature caramel filling evenly inside ring. Sprinkle caramel with large pinch of fleur de sel, then 1 tablespoon almonds. Top with second cake layer, ganache, ganache ring, caramel filling, fleur de sel, and almonds. Repeat with third cake layer. Top with fourth cake layer, cut side down. Spread remaining ganache over top and sides of cake. Press remaining almonds onto sides.

Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome and chill. Let cake stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.


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