sweet and salty cake


This is how you end the year with a bang.

With your favorite people by your side. Sequined shorts. Deviled eggs. An obscene amount of Thai food. A lemon cream tart. Bourbon cocktails. Bottles poppin. Sparklers. Fireworks. And an impromptu living room dance party in the wee hours of the new year (New Order! Robyn! T.A. and Ryan!!!). It was perfect. I’m kind of in love with 2013.


This cake actually happened two days before the new year. We started celebrating early because all of the boys were in town from the East Coast and because a certain someone turned thirty-one. And since someone loves caramel, and because I have a thing for making tall layer cakes, a chocolate cake with salted caramel and chocolate-caramel frosting was just the thing.


This cake got around. It went from the East Bay to Pacific Heights, from Pacific Heights down to a restaurant in the Mission, from the Mission to the Castro, where the guys at our favorite late night pizza joint very graciously babysat our take-out boxes of leftover cake while we danced at the bars up the street. It got on two buses and went home with us at the end of the night. And then made it back to Pacific Heights the following morning, where we all ate it with our breakfast, and more later that afternoon when we woke from our naps.

I really appreciate that this is a cake with two personalities. Straight from the refrigerator, the chocolate-caramel frosting is dense and fudge-like. At room temp, it’s more like a chocolate mousse cake. It’s pretty fab either way. I can almost guarantee that you’ll get a few oohs and ahhhs upon unveiling. She’s a showstopper.

Here’s to a fabulous 2013!


sweet and salty cake 

from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

makes one 8-inch cake

for the chocolate cake layers: 

3/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder 

1-1/4 cups hot water 

2/3 cup sour cream 

2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour 

2 teaspoons baking powder 

1 teaspoon baking soda 

1/2 teaspoon salt 

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 

1/2 cup vegetable shortening 

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar 

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar 

3 large eggs, at room temperature 

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract 

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.

In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa powder, hot water, and sour cream and set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until ribbonlike, about 5 minutes. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and mix again for 30 seconds.

Add the flour mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

for the salted caramel: 

1/2 cup heavy cream 

1 teaspoon fleur de sel 

1 cup sugar 

2 tablespoons light corn syrup 

1/4 cup sour cream 

In a small saucepan, combine the cream and fleur de sel. Bring to a simmer over very low heat until the salt is dissolved.

Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the cream mixture so it doesn’t burn, in a medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup water, the sugar, and corn syrup, stirring them together carefully so you don’t splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350°F, or until the mixture is dark amber in color, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 1 minute.

Add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Whisk in the sour cream. Let the caramel cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the cake.

for the whipped caramel ganache frosting: 

1 pound dark chocolate (60 to 70%cacao), chopped

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over very low heat.

Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on the cream so it doesn’t burn, in a medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup water, the sugar, and corn syrup, stirring them together carefully so you don’t splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant read thermometer read 350°F, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and let the caramel cool for 1 minute.

Add the cream to the caramel and stir to combine. Stir slowly for 2 minutes, then pour the caramel over the chocolate. Let the caramel and chocolate sit for 1 minute, then, starting at the center of the bowl, and working your way out to the edges, slowly stir the chocolate and caramel mixture in a circle until the chocolate is completely melted. Let the mixture cool, then transfer it to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Mix on low speed until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Increase the speed to medium-high and gradually add the butter, beating until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and beat until the mixture is fluffy.

to assemble the cake:

2 teaspoons of fleur de sel, plus more for sprinkling  

Place one cake layer on a serving platter or cake board. Spread 1/4 cup of the caramel over the top. Let the caramel soak into the cake, then spread 3/4 cup of the ganache frosting over the caramel. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the fleur de sel over the frosting, then top with the second cake layer. Spread with 1/4 cup caramel, then spread 3/4 cup of the frosting and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel. Top with the third cake layer. Spread with caramel. Crumb coat the cake and put the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up the frosting. Frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. Garnish with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.

The cake will keep beautifully in a cake server at cool room temperature for up to 3 days. If your room is not cool, place in the refrigerator. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving (or not).


miette’s tomboy cake

Hi. I’ve missed you. It’s been a while since I last checked in, which makes me feel a little nutty. I’m telling you, there’s just something about September. I’ve been very bad.

Since I was here last, I’ve had a birthday and a few revelations. Turning thirty-one was a breeze; there were no meltdowns, no disasters. Unlike some of the birthdays of years past, this one was very mellow, and exactly what I wanted – a good dinner, a few strong cocktails, and my nearest and dearests. It was a perfect birthday from start to finish. I have the greatest people in my life and I feel extremely lucky.

Because September is my favorite and it’s birthday month, we’re having cake. All day, every day. Or something like that. Haaaaay!

This is Miette’s signature cake, the Tomboy. It can be filed under favorite chocolate cakes, prettiest layer cakes, and even famous San Francisco cakes. Miette has the cutest bake shops in the Bay Area. Sweet and picture perfect, that’s Miette in a nutshell. Their Hayes Valley shop is like a candy-coated dream, like the prettier, girlier, modern version of the candy shop in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. If you have an appreciation for beautiful, sweet things, such as macarons, cupcakes, and imported candies, you must pay them a visit.

I actually made a few variations of this chocolate cake over the summer (there were quite a few birthdays in July and August). The double chocolate cake is the base for three cakes in the Miette cookbook, and I gave each of them a spin. I’ll probably share the others with you at some point, but I had to start with the Tomboy. It’s hard to say no to silky Italian buttercream and rich layers of moist, chocolatey cake. Plus, I think it’s such an understated beauty. I love those exposed layers of ruffled buttercream. It’s a cake worthy of any celebration.

miette’s tomboy cake

from Miette: Recipes from San Francisco’s Most Charming Pastry Shop by Meg Ray

makes 1 6-inch layer cake

*Rose Levy Beranbaum included a recipe for Miette’s Tomboy in Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. I tried the recipe from both books and ultimately preferred Rose’s technique, which was a bit less labor intensive a still produced a dense, moist cake. The buttercream and assembly technique are from Miette.

double chocolate cake

from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum

1/2 cup boiling water

1 ounce dark chocolate, 70% cacao, chopped 

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup plus 1-1/2 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder 

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large egg, at room temperature

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 icing rose (optional), available here

Twenty minutes before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

Thoroughly butter one 6 by 3-inch round cake pan. Place a parchment round in the bottom of the buttered pan, then butter the parchment. Dust with cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, pour the boiling water over the chocolate. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent evaporation and cool until it is no longer warm to the touch but is still fluid. Stir in the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with the whisk attachment, beat the egg on high speed until thickened and light in color, about 3 minutes. Lower the speed to medium and slowly add the oil to emulsify the egg. Beat in the buttermilk and melted chocolate mixture until well combined.

Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed for a few seconds until the dry ingredients are moistened. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Raise the speed to medium-high and beat for 2 minutes. The batter will be thick and shiny. Using a silicone spatula, Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surfaces with a small offset spatula.

Bake the cake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the cake and the pan, and invert the cake onto a wire rack. Remove the parchment and immediately reinvert the cake so that the top side is up. Cover the top with a piece of plastic wrap to keep the upper crust soft. Cool completely.

vanilla buttercream

from Miette: Recipes from San Francisco’s Most Charming Pastry Shop by Meg Ray

makes about 6 cups, enough to frost two 6-inch cakes

2 cups sugar

1/3 cup water

5 large egg whites

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

3 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Cook the mixture until it reaches 248°F, 5 to 10 minutes, keeping a constant eye on it.

Meanwhile, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When the sugar syrup reaches 240°F, turn the mixer on and whisk the egg whites on medium-low speed until soft peaks form.

When the sugar syrup reaches 248°F, reduce the mixer speed to low and very carefully drizzle the hot syrup into the mixer bowl, away from the whisk so that it doesn’t spatter. Be very careful when working with the hot syrup. When you have added all of the syrup, raise the speed to high and beat until the mixture is cool to the touch, 5-10 minutes.

When the meringue is cool, reduce the speed to medium. With the mixer running, drop in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting until each piece is incorporated before adding another. The mixture may deflate and look curdled. Raise the speed to high and continue to add tablespoon-size pieces of butter. When all of the butter has been added, the frosting should be smooth and thick. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.

to assemble:

Using a serrated knife, cut the cake into three equal layers. Using your hands, tap off and brush away excess crumbs. Place the bottom layer of cake in the center of a cake board.

Fit a pastry bag with a medium (1/2 or 5/8-inch) star tip and fill about halfway with buttercream. Holding the bag at a 90-degree angle, pipe a ring of frosting around the outer edge of the cake, keeping a 1/8-inch border at the very edge. Starting at the inner edge of the border, spiral inward filling in the center of the ring to make an even layer of buttercream. Using an offset spatula, smooth the inside of the ring, leaving the piped edges untouched.

Place the second cake layer on top of the buttercream layer. Using your fingertips, gently center the cake on top. Repeat with another layer of buttercream just like you did on the first layer.

Place the third cake layer on top of the buttercream. Using your fingertips, gently press down in the center of the cake. Pipe a ring of buttercream around the edge, leaving a 1/8-inch margin. Fill in the center with slightly more frosting than the inner layers. Using a small offset spatula, smooth the center, pushing the frosting out very slightly.

If desired, scoop out a little hole in the frosting in the center of the cake to make  a setting for the rose. Nestle the rose in the hole and arrange the leaf next to it at a 45-degree angle.

Serve the cake at room temperature. Serve at once or hold at room temp for up to 4 hours. The cake will keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.

blum’s coffee crunch cake

Like most people who love to cook, I have an ongoing list of dishes I’d like to make one day. My list consists of various items found in magazines and cookbooks, classics that I have yet to tackle (like osso bucco and fresh pasta), things that I’ve eaten in restaurants that I want to recreate at home, and old family favorites. Now that I’m an adult I realize how fortunate I am to come from a family that loves food. My paternal grandparents were wonderful cooks. Because of them and their love for preparing delicious meals for their family, I really do appreciate a good home-cooked meal and homemade desserts.

My grandma’s coffee crunch cake is one of those family favorites that I’ve wanted to make for quite some time now. I think it might have been one of the best things I ate as a child. Who wouldn’t like a three layer cake covered in whipped cream and toffee? I know I’ve mentioned my grandma and her amazing baking before, but I just cannot say it enough – she was everyone’s favorite baker in her day. And now that she’s well into her 80’s, she’s become my favorite taster. If she says likes something that I’ve made, I know in my heart I’ve got a winner on my hands because she is not the kind of woman who just throws around compliments, especially when it comes to food.

A few weeks ago, while having dinner with Grandma, I mentioned that I wanted to make her coffee crunch cake and asked if she still had the recipe.  To my surprise she said she did (my mom always talks about the way Grandma could bake without even measuring ingredients so I fear that some recipes will be lost forever). And then she mentioned Blum’s. I didn’t realize what she was saying at first but then it became clear to me; the coffee crunch cake that I grew up with was actually an adaptation of Blum’s famous coffee crunch cake. Blum’s was a bakery in the heart of San Francisco’s Union Square (there were other Blum’s shops around San Francisco and also in Berkeley and Palo Alto). It was the kind of place where people would go after a long day of shopping at Macy’s or I. Magnin (the ladies who lunch set of those days likely frequented Blum’s). My grandma was born and raised in San Francisco and I can imagine her and my Great-Auntie Teiko going to Blum’s and eating coffee crunch cake. Unfortunately, Blum’s closed in the 70’s but their famous cake lives on in a few bakeries in San Francisco, including Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop in Japantown.

A few days after our dinner, I had a photocopied newspaper clipping with Blum’s recipe in my possession. After reviewing the recipe I realized that the individual elements of the cake are quite simple – sponge cake, whipped cream and a toffee like topping. Together, however, they create the most magnificent confection. It is the perfect combination of light, airy, creamy, crunchy and sticky with just the faintest lemony vanilla flavor. This cake is what the sweetest of dreams are made of. It’s the kind of cake that would’ve inspired a Wayne Thiebaud painting, full of old world charm and elegance. When I brought the cake to our last family dinner, I can’t describe to you how pleased my grandma was – she said she couldn’t believe I made it. I could see the pride on her face when everyone ooh’d and ahhh’d as it was being served. It was a delightful experience, for myself and for all of the other coffee crunch cake fans. As Grandma says, it was just delicious.

blum’s coffee crunch cake

from Flo Braker

serves 10-12


1 -1/4 cups cake flour, sifted

1-1/2 cups sugar, divided

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 egg yolks

1/4 cup water

1 cup egg whites (6-8 large eggs)

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

coffee crunch topping:

unflavored vegetable oil

1 tablespoon baking soda, sifted

1/4 cup strong brewed coffee

1-1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup


2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

for the cake:

Adjust rack in the lower third of oven;  preheat to 350°F. Sift flour, 3/4 cup sugar, and salt onto a sheet of wax paper; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add water and beat until thickened, about 4 minutes.

Whisk egg whites in bowl of a heavy-duty mixer just until frothy. Add cream of tartar; whisk until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a steady  stream, whisking until thicker, stiffer, glossy peaks form – about 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Pour yolk mixture over whites. Fold together with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle a third of the flour mixture over the egg mixture; fold to combine. Repeat two more times just until ingredients are incorporated. Gently pour batter into an ungreased 10-inch round tube pan with a removable bottom (such as an angel food pan). Level top with a spatula.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until top springs back slightly when lightly touched. Invert pan over a long-necked bottle to cool for about 45 minutes.

To  remove cake from pan, slip a flexible metal spatula down one side of pan; slowly trace perimeter to release the cake. When sides are free, push up on bottom to release cake. Tilt cake with removable bottom still attached, and gently tap bottom against counter to loosen cake. Rotate cake, tapping a few more times, until it appears free. Cover cake with a rack and invert; remove bottom of pan.

for the coffee crunch topping:

Generously oil a large baking sheet or line with a silicon mat or parchment paper; sift baking soda onto a sheet of wax paper; set nearby.

Combine coffee, sugar and corn syrup in a heavy, 4-quart saucepan. Place over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. When mixture is clear and begins to boil, increase heat to medium-high; cook until mixture reaches 290°F on a candy thermometer. Toward end of cooking (around 270°-280°), stir occasionally to prevent mixture from scorching and becoming too foamy. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (mixture will foam up fiercely). While still foaming, pour out onto prepared baking sheet. Do not spread; let cool undisturbed for at least 1 hour.

Crush into very small pieces. (Place between two sheets of wax paper or inside a freezer size ziplock bag and tap with a rolling pin). Store in an airtight container.

for the frosting:

Combine cream, sugar and vanilla. Whisk until cream holds soft peaks.

to assemble:

Slice cooled cake into 3 equal layers using a serrated knife. Spread whipped cream between each layer, carefully stacking layers. Spread remaining whipped cream over the top and sides of cake. Refrigerate.

Just before serving, generously sprinkle top and sides with the coffee crunch.

***Update 6/10/2012: I hadn’t revisited this post in over two years and just realized that there was a discrepancy in the instructions involving the amounts of sugar being added to the cake batter. It has been corrected. Huge apology to anyone that experienced issues with this.