Double Chocolate Cake with a Salted Cinnamon Caramel Buttercream

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I’m always nervous about giving away a chocolate sponge recipe, because everyone seems to have their own ‘no-fail’ version. However, undeterred I am offering to you this humble recipe in the hopes that its television debut (this last New Years Day) will work in its favour! (It did earn me the first Hollywood hug, so it must be alright)

Now, I will admit that the list of ingredients is rather long and seemingly unnecessary, however it hasn’t let me down in the years that I’ve been using it.

A very simple sponge that is delicate in flavour and texture, but holds its own against strong flavour pairings and has the durability to be cut and shaped for custom cakes.

A word about some of the flavours and methods;

Oil and butter! Originally I used just butter in this recipe and creamed it with the sugar as you would in a traditional cake mix. By removing some of the butter and replacing it with flavourless oil, the taste wasn’t compromised, and the cake was even more moist (for longer). Please feel free to revert to butter only with 150g of unsalted butter and no oil.

Flavourings. Coffee is a great friend of chocolate and vice versa. Whilst you can’t taste the coffee in the final product, you can leave this out completely without too much compromise. I will ask that you use decent instant coffee, or make it fresh with grounds using the boiling water in the recipe.

Vanilla. I (almost) insist on this flavour, purely for its familiar warm and creamy tones that complement most sweet treats. Extract (not essence) is perfect, however I have moved over to vanilla bean paste for an even more authentic flavour.

Hazelnut liqueur. This may seem odd, but the subtle nutty tones (once baked) work beautifully with this sponge but is certainly not necessary if you don’t like or want it. You could also use Amaretto if it takes your fancy.

Lastly the ganache. I’m not a huge fan of chocolate that’s so bitter that it could strip your mouth of its skin. Conversely, I don’t like sickly sweet chocolate reminiscent of my childhood! So, I compromise with half and half for the accompanying ganache (the second half of the double chocolate). Please try to use good quality chocolate for this, not only for its flavour, but it will melt and hold its structure much better than a cheaper counterpart.

Enjoy and comment below if you have any further questions.


INGREDIENTS

For the sponge:

265g self raising flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
300g caster sugar
150g light brown sugar
100g unsalted butter – room temperature
75g cocoa powder
125ml boiling water
100g full fat yogurt
100g sunflower oil
1 heaped tsp instant espresso powder
1 tsp vanilla extract or bean paste
2 tbsp hazelnut liqueur – optional
5 large eggs

For the buttercream:

125g granulated sugar
75g double cream

50g unsalted butter

½ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp table salt

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

200g unsalted butter – room temperature

250g icing sugar

For the ganache:

100g dark chocolate

100g milk chocolate

250g double cream


METHOD

For the sponges:

Grease and line the bottom and sides of 3 8” cake tins (you can use 2, but the cooking time will change). Preheat the oven the 180°c fan.

Start by adding the cocoa powder, coffee and vanilla extract together in a heat-proof bowl. Gently whisk in the boiling water and stir until completely combined. Add the oil, yogurt and hazelnut liqueur and mix well. Finally, add the eggs and whisk together, ensuring there are no lumps.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (if you have one), add the flour, baking powder, salt, sugars and butter. Mix this on a medium speed until the butter has been incorporated and the mix resembles wet sand.

On a slow speed, add the wet chocolate mix in 3 parts, ensuring everything is completely combined. Turn off the mixer and stir by hand, with a spatula to get the last of the lumps off of the bottom.

Split the mix equally between your tins and bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 mins for 3 tins, or 30-35 mins for 2 tins.

Cool the cakes in their tins for 5-10 mins before carefully turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely to room temperature.

For the buttercream:

In a medium heavy based saucepan, heat the granulated sugar over a medium heat until it has completely dissolved. Wash the sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush to remove any stray sugar crystals.

Heat the caramel to 160°c or when it takes on a dark amber colour. Remove the heat and add the cream (be careful) and stir in. Add the butter, vanilla, salt and cinnamon and stir over the heat until everything in smooth and silky – set aside to cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter and icing sugar (this can be done with a hand whisk). Cream these together until light and fluffy. Add the cooled caramel and whisk on a high speed until completely incorporated.

For the ganache:

Break the chocolate into small pieces and then use a large knife to cut it into very small pieces. Heat the cream in a medium saucepan until it reaches just below the simmering point, then remove from the heat. Tip the chocolate pieces into the hot cream and allow them to sit for 5 minutes before stirring everything together until silky and smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

When it comes to decoration, I like to use piping bags with all sorts of fancy nozzles to create different effects. You can just stack the cakes with the buttercream and ganache with no particular finesse – either way, the combination of sweet and bitter flavours will leave you wanting more!