“Do you ever make a normal sized cake?” my sister once asked me, staring in horror as I staggered to the table under the weight of a cake that could’ve fed 50 with ease. I’m starting to think that she had a point. I do, sometimes, maybe, tend to go overboard. Case in point.
Six tiers of fudgy, finely-crumbed chocolate cake, layered with a creamy, almost savoury peanut butter mousse, smooth salted caramel and tangy raspberry curd, slathered in salted caramel Swiss meringue buttercream and drizzled with dark chocolate ganache.
Yep, a lot has been going on in my kitchen the last few days. I made this monster for a friend’s 21st birthday and thought I’d share it with you before I go lie down for a week to recover. What a way to kick off the blog!
Honestly, I could gush about this baby all day. Every element is a winner individually, and together? A dream. The chocolate cake manages to be light textured but densely chocolatey at the same time and the mousse is rich and sweet and salty, all those good things. Both the salted caramel and raspberry curd are sharp enough to cut through the sweetness, giving the cake a really nice balance of flavours.
But the frosting. Oh, the frosting. I’ll admit, meringue buttercream terrified me for a long time (why would you destroy a gorgeous fluffy meringue by throwing in a whole load of butter? It makes no conceivable sense!), and my first few attempts ended in disaster and shouting, but holy hell did my perseverance pay off. This shit is the bomb. Velvety and light without being too sweet, it’s like eating some kind of delicious cloud. But enough about that. If you haven’t attempted it before, I highly recommend you read Sweetapolita’s post on the subject, she spells out each step really clearly. Hell, while you’re at it, drool over the rest of her blog too. I couldn’t be more of a fan of this lady if I tried.
There are quite a few parts to this cake, but it’s totally manageable, especially if you do as I did and space it out over a few days. The fillings keep easily in the fridge and the cakes can be frozen, doubly wrapped in cling film, until you’re ready to assemble the beast. Off we go!
Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Raspberry and Salted Caramel Birthday Layer Cake
Chocolate Cake (adapted from Decorated: Sublimely Crafted Cakes for Every Occasion by April Carter)
115g cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tbsp. instant coffee
260g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g caster (superfine) sugar
225g dark brown sugar *
6 medium eggs, lightly beaten
415g plain (all-purpose) flour
3 3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
270 ml milk *
Preheat your oven to 170°C (335°F). Grease and line 3 20cm (8″) cake tins.
Place the cocoa, coffee, vanilla and 180ml boiling water in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside to cool.
Using a stand mixer, beat together the sugars and butter until creamy and pale, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition*. Beat in the cooled cocoa mixture.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Add one third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat, followed by half of the milk, then repeat. Add the remaining third of the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Be careful not to overwork the mixture, as that can lead to a tough cake.
Divide the mixture between the prepared tins and bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into each cake comes out clean. Cool cakes in their tins for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
If you’d like a smaller cake, bake in 3 15cm (6″) tins, but remember to adjust cooking time.
* If you can’t find dark brown sugar, regular brown sugar will work fine. You will however be missing a bit of the caramel-like depth of flavour.
* Don’t even think about using skim milk. I will know.
* If you find your cake mixes tend to curdle when you add eggs, try adding a tablespoon of flour (from your measured amount) with each addition.
Peanut Butter Mousse (adapted from Whisk Kid)
230g cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter, room temperature
125g icing (confectioners) sugar, sifted
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. thickened (heavy) cream
3/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Using a stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, peanut butter and 2 tbsp. cream until combined and smooth. Add the icing sugar and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
In a separate bowl, beat the remaining cream to stiff peaks. Fold one third into the peanut butter mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining two thirds.
Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Raspberry Curd* (adapted from What She’s Having)
4 cups raspberries*
140g white (granulated) sugar
80ml lemon juice
3 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
50g unsalted butter, room temperature
Puree raspberries in processer. Place in a medium saucepan and add sugar and lemon juice. Stir over low-medium heat for a few minutes. Remove from heat and strain to remove seeds. Return to rinsed out saucepan and place back on heat.
Whisk together the eggs and yolks. Temper them by adding about a quarter cup of the heated raspberry mixture, then add the whole lot to saucepan.
Heat, whisking constantly, until curd reaches 80°C (170°F), or is smooth, thick and glossy.
Let it cool to room temperature, then whisk in butter.
Cover and refrigerate until needed.
* This recipe makes about 2 cups of curd, more than you will need for the cake. It will keep in sealed jars for up to a month.
* Fresh or frozen raspberries may be used. If using frozen, make sure they are fully defrosted.
Salted Caramel (adapted from Wicked Good Kitchen)
400g white (granulated) sugar
250ml thickened (heavy) cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
5 tsp flaky sea salt*
Heat the sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking as it begins to melt and clump together. Once all the sugar has melted, stop whisking and continue to cook until the caramel reaches a dark amber colour or reaches 175°C (350°F). Make sure you’re paying attention as it only takes seconds for a beautifully amber caramel to become burnt and acrid.
Remove from heat and whisk in the butter, followed by the cream. This will bubble up! Whisk until the mixture is smooth and fully incorporated. Add the vanilla and salt.
Leave caramel to cool and thicken. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
* I like a sharp, highly salted caramel. If you like it less so, use less salt.
Salted Caramel Meringue Buttercream (adapted from Sweetapolita)
300g egg whites (about 10 large eggs)
500g white (granulated) sugar
680g unsalted butter, in chunks, cool but not cold
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
180ml salted caramel
Heat egg whites and sugar over a double boiler, whisking gently but consistently, until temperature reaches 70°C (160°F). The sugar should have completely dissolved.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat on medium-high speed until you have a thick and glossy meringue and the bowl is cool to the touch.
Switch to a paddle attachment and beat in butter, one cube at a time, on low speed, until all the butter is incorporated. Don’t stress if the mixture goes soupy or curdled. Keep beating and it will come together. If it becomes just too runny, place in refrigerator for 15 minutes. By now the meringue buttercream should be silky and smooth.
Beat in the vanilla and salted caramel until combined.
200g dark chocolate, finely chopped
180ml thickened (heavy) cream
Place chocolate in bowl. Heat cream in saucepan to just before boiling point. Pour over chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth and shiny.
Level the cakes by cutting off their domed tops and split each cake in half so that you have 6 layers in total.
Fix the first layer to a cake board, plate or cake stand with a dab of buttercream.
Fill a piping bag with some of the buttercream and pipe a line around the edge of the cake layer. This ensures the filling doesn’t seep and will make frosting the cake much easier. Fill another piping bag with peanut butter mousse and pipe an even, generous layer onto the cake layer.
Gently press the second cake layer on top of the first and pipe another edging of buttercream. Spoon or pour in the salted caramel.
Repeat cake layer and buttercream edging. Spoon or pour in the raspberry curd.
Repeat cake layer, buttercream edging and salted caramel.
Repeat cake layer, buttercream edging and peanut butter mousse.
Gently press the final cake layer, cut side down, on top.
To reiterate, the layers are as follows: cake, peanut butter mousse, cake, salted caramel, cake, raspberry curd, cake, salted caramel, cake, peanut butter mousse, cake.
Give the cake a crumb coat of the meringue buttercream and refrigerate until firm.
Finally, cover the cake in a thicker layer of buttercream and smooth to finish. Pour over the chocolate ganache, pushing it towards the edge to create the dripping effect.
I decorated my cake with crushed meringue, crushed pistachios, meringue kisses and chocolate bark. Let your imagination run wild!