Chocolate Caramel Valentine's Day Cake

Classic chocolate cake is with filled with luscious caramel pastry cream before being smothered in a salty caramel buttercream frosting.  Sweet, salty, and a bit sinful, this is the perfect little cake to share with a loved one!

Chocolate cake with caramel pastry cream and caramel buttercream for Valentine's Day.

Our first Valentine’s Day as new parents did not go exactly as planned - but I suppose that was what I should have actually expected.  Everett was nearly 4 weeks old, and I set out to make a fancy home-cooked dinner for two.  I love to cook just as much as I love to bake, and this was my first big meal back since the babe was born.  I hardly remember those early days, but I think there was risotto and some sort of savoury tart involved.  The dishes all finished at different times and we took turns eating and holding a restless newborn.  I think we even skipped dessert.  I know, right?!  Never again, lol. 

This year, the plan is keep things fairly low key and casual.  Cooking a multi-course meal with a 13-month old doesn’t seem particularly relaxing nor romantic - instead rather hectic with lots of dishes to tackle afterwards.  I’m not exactly sure what the rest of the day with entail, but one thing is for sure, there will be cake - this Chocolate Caramel Cake, to be exact.

Chocolate cake with caramel pastry cream and caramel buttercream for Valentine's Day.

I designed this cake with both my husband and myself in mind.  He loves everything salted caramel and I am particularly fond of anything custard-filled or containing pastry cream.  Most of the time this means that I gravitate towards pastries like eclairs or cream puffs, not necessarily my beloved cakes. 

Pastry cream is so rich and luscious, but it can be tricky to use as a filling between layers of cake.  The silky, creamy texture isn’t the most stable filling out there, but I’ve been determined to make it work.  How great would it be to put something so smooth and delicious in your favorite layer cake?  Think Boston cream pie - yum!

I used to think corn starch was only used to thicken stews and gravy, but there is definitely a place for it in the pastry kitchen as well.  Mixed with sugar and egg yolks, then heated with milk, corn starch helps stabilize pastry cream - turning it to a thick, luxurious pudding that can be used to fill anything from cake to fruit tarts. When I use Fleishmann’s corn starch to make pasty cream filling, I eliminate the fear of my layer cakes falling apart.  Instead, I know that each slice will come out perfect!  Plus, the starchy taste is always cooked out - leaving only the essence of creamy vanilla (or caramel, in this case) behind.

Chocolate cake with caramel pastry cream and caramel buttercream for Valentine's Day.
Chocolate cake with caramel pastry cream and caramel buttercream for Valentine's Day.

This cake has it all: decadent chocolate, luscious custard, and silky caramel.  If you ask me, these are all the makings for a fancy at-home dessert - the kind you prepare for special occasions and/or for the ones you love.  The homemade caramel is fairly easy to make and is used in both the pastry cream filling and buttercream frosting.  Seriously, you are all going to love this caramel pastry cream! All of the elements can be made a few days in advanced and then assembled the day of, so there is no need to stress or rush around too much (should you want to make this cake for you valentine too).

Happy Baking and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Chocolate cake with caramel pastry cream and caramel buttercream for Valentine's Day.

Chocolate Cake
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup hot coffee
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons Mazola vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour three 7-inch round cake pans.  Set aside.

2.     Stir together the cocoa powder and hot coffee together until the cocoa dissolves.  Set aside.

3.     In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

4.     In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, vanilla, and buttermilk.

5.     Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

6.     Using an electric mixer, beat the batter for about 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth.

7.     With the mixer running on low speed, stream in the cocoa mixture until combined.

8.     Evenly distribute the batter between the pans and bake for about 23 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.

9.     Let cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

Caramel Pastry Cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
3 egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Fleishmann’s cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup caramel sauce (recipe to follow)

1.     Place the butter in a heat-safe container and set aside.

2.     Gently heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until it comes to a slight simmer.

3.     Meanwhile, whisk the eggs yolks together in a separate mixing bowl.  Stir in the sugar and cornstarch.

4.     Once the milk is hot, remove from the heat.  Slowly pour in about half of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. 

5.     Add in the remaining milk and whisk until smooth.

6.     Pour the milk mixture back into the saucepan and place over medium heat.

7.     Whisking constantly, bring to a boil.

8.     Once the custard begins to “pop,” remove from heat and strain over the bowl containing the butter.  Scrape the contents on the back of the strainer into the bowl and discard any bits left behind.

9.     Add in the vanilla and stir the custard and butter together. 

10. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and chill in the refrigerator until cool and thick.

11.  Once chilled, mix in the caramel sauce.  Place back in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg whites
1 ½ cups unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup caramel sauce

1.     Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Gently whisk until combined.

2.     Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and place over medium heat.

3.     Place the mixing bowl on top of the saucepan to create a double boiler.

4.     Whisking occasionally, heat the egg mixture until it registers between 155 to 160 degrees on a candy thermometer.

5.     Once hot, carefully return the mixing bowl to the electric mixer.

6.     Using the whisk attachment, whip the egg mixture on high until stiff, glossy peaks and the outside of the mixing bowl returns to room temperature.

7.     Turn down the mixer to medium-low, and add in the butter, a few tablespoons at a time.

8.     Once the butter is incorporated, stop the mixer and swap the whisk for the paddle attachment.

9.     With the mixer on medium, add the caramel sauce and beat the frosting until silky smooth.

 

Assembly

1.     Once the cakes are completely cool, trim the tops so that they are nice and flat.

2.     Fill a piping bag fitted with a plain, round piping tip (about ½ to 3/4-inch in diameter) with some of the caramel buttercream and set aside.

3.     Stir the pastry cream to loosen, if necessary, and set aside.

4.     Starting with the bottom layer of cake, pipe a ring of buttercream around the top edge.  Fill the ring with half of the pastry cream and smooth out with a small off-set spatula or back of a large spoon.

5.     Top the pastry cream with the next layer of cake and repeat.

6.     Crumb coat the cake with the buttercream, then chill in the refrigerator for about 15 to 20 minutes to set (this is will make the pastry cream a bit less “wobbly” and the cake more stable and easier to frost).

7.     Frost the chilled cake with buttercream.  Use any remaining buttercream to pipe on decorative details, if desired.

8.     Chill the cake until the pastry cream sets before serving (about an hour).

 

NOTES
      Caramel sauce may be made up to one week in advanced (stored in the refrigerator).  Gently reheat so that it is fluid, but not hot, before use.
      Pastry cream may be made up to three days in advanced (stored in the refrigerator).

Disclaimer:  This post was sponsored by ACH Foods.  Thank you for supporting the brands that keep Style Sweet CA possible.