You may recall that we had an early birthday celebration on Sunday for my youngest daughter, Mabelle. Since she has a river of chocolate running through her veins, I knew a good chocolate cake was to be on the menu. However, at the time, I didn't know how good☺. And now... good doesn't even begin to describe this cake.
The cake looks like a giant Ding Dong (hence the name)-- the beloved Hostess snack cake for any die hard Little Debbie fans out there. The recipe is long and looks daunting, but it's really no more difficult than other frosted layer cakes. It can be made a few days in advance (bonus for entertaining) and in my opinion, it improves with age. The ganache seals the cake, keeping it moist and flavorful. If you like chocolate, caramel and cream, you will fall in love with this cake as your fork brings each heavenly layer to your increasingly appreciative taste buds.
Salted Caramel "Ding Dong" Cake
For the Cake
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 rounded Tablespoon espresso powder
1 cup hot water
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup (8-ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 extra large eggs, at room temperature
For the Caramel Ganache
9 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the Filling and Assembly
2 Tablespoons cold water
1 package of unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
For the Cake
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly spray two 9-inch round cake pans with non-stick baking spray. Line the bottom of the pans with a round of parchment paper. In a medium bowl combine chocolate, cocoa powder, and espresso powder. Pour hot water over and let stand for 1 minute. Whisk until smooth. Stir in buttermilk and vanilla; set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and scraping down the sides and the bottom of the bowl. Beat until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the chocolate mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Divide the batter evenly between the pans and smooth the tops.
Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cool in the pan for 10 minutes (cake dome will deflate slightly for an even top). Run a knife around the pans to loosen cakes; remove cakes and parchment paper. Transfer cakes to wire racks to cool completely.
For the Ganache
In a medium bowl, combine the chocolate and salt. Stir the sugar and water in a medium deep saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and cook without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until sugar is deep amber, about 9 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over medium heat until hard caramel bits dissolve. Pour over chocolate in bowl. Add vanilla and stir until mixture is completely smooth. Let cool slightly.
Place one cake layer in a 9-inch springform pan. Pour 1 cup ganache over. Chill until set, at least 30-45 minutes. Cover remaining ganache with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature.
For the Filling and Assembly
Place the water in a small heatproof glass bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over; let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes. Heat the mixture in the microwave until gelatin dissolves (just a few seconds); set aside
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream, confectioners' sugar, and seeds from vanilla bean until soft peaks form. Add the gelatin and beat until stiff peaks form.
Spoon the filling over the chilled ganache on cake layer in pan; smooth the top. Gently place second cake layer on top of cream (cake will rise above the edge of the pan). Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill until cream layer is set, at least 6 hours or overnight.
Remove sides from the pan. Using a knife or spatula remove any filling that may have leaked out to form smooth sides. Transfer cake to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet.
Rewarm remaining ganache until just pourable (barely warm, not hot). Pour ganache over cake and allow ganache to drizzle down the sides of the cake, using an off-set spatula to help spread. Chill until ganache is set, at least 1 hour. (Cake can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with a cake dome and chill. Let stand at room temperature before serving. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the sea salt. Enjoy!
Source: Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2012