Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel

Classic chocolate cake layers with caramel buttercream and coconut caramel drizzle.  It's like liquid gold!!

Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel

I have a lot of mixed feelings heading into this post.  Mostly feelings of content, but there's a not so happy reason why I am sharing this particular cake on this particular day.  Don't get me wrong, this might be one of the best tasting cakes I've had in a long time (and I eat A LOT of cake).  You might even say it's life-chaging!  But it's not the only thing changing my life right now... 

Chocolate Cake with Caramel Buttercream - Tessa Huff
Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel
Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel

Today is a great day, so let's start with the good news: THIS CAKE!!!!  I make so much cake that I tire of it rather quickly.  I test recipes weekly and always have cake in the house, in some form or another.  It takes a really outstanding recipe like this that brings me back for slice after slice instead of just forcing the leftovers on my neighbors or shoving it in the freezer.

This might be one of the tastiest chocolate cakes ever.  It is moist without feeling oily or heavy and full of chocolate flavor.  Thanks to a healthy dose of buttermilk and yogurt keeping it nice and tender, each bite pretty much melts in your mouth.  The one thing that makes this chocolate cake even better?  CARAMEL!!  

Chocolate Cake with Caramel Buttercream

Two things intriguided me about this caramel sauce.  1) there is an option to use coconut milk instead of cream and 2) it is made using a dry method (which I'd never done before).  I thought it might be like any other salted caramel sauce that I've made, but I was pleasantly surprised!  Terrified yes, but happy with the results.

In my go-to caramel sauce, I use a wet method.  I start by bringing sugar, water, and a little squirt of corn syrup to a boil before adding in butter and cream to make the caramel saucey.  The corn syrup keeps the sugar from crystallizing and you don't even have to stir or use a thermometer.  Just watch as it turns from cloudy to boiling to golden!

With a dry caramel method, you melt white sugar in a dry skillet.  Won't it burn?  Won't it turn into a horrific mess?  I held my breath the entire time, but it worked!  The sugar melts on its on rather than burns.  It turns the same deep amber color as the wet method, before stirring in butter and cream (coconut cream, in this case) and then bringing it back to a boil until thick and glossy and delicious.  I love the addition of the subtle coconut flavor, but you could use heavy cream.  The coconut isn't overbearing, but pairs beautifully with the chocolate layers and just elevates the entire cake.

ChocolateCaramelCake_02.jpg
Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel
Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel
Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel

This Chocolate Caramel Cake is from Tieghan Gerard's new cookbook, Half Baked Harvest.  Named after her hugely popular blog, this highly anticipated book has it all!!  From spectacular snack boards and over-the-top desserts to easy weeknight dinners and pics of her family goats, this gorgeous book is packed full of recipes and Tieghan's signature food styling and photography.  I've been following Tieghan's work for years - watching her grow into an Internet super-star with an extensive catalog of delicious, creative recipes to back her up.  She started cooking as a teen for her family of 7(!!!) and blossomed not only into one of the most recognizable young food bloggers but also a charming, mature, and dedicated young woman.  Congrats, girl!  You totally deserve every ounce of success and recognition!

Chocolate Cake with Caramel Buttercream

I chose today to share this cake because I was supposed to be on a flight to Denver this afternoon.  I was invited by Tieghan and her team to join a small group of food bloggers for a culinary retreat in Colorado to celebrate the release of her book.  I don't ever get out on my own like that and this was one of the first big industry meet-ups that I was asked to attend.  I was thrilled!!!  Brett was equally excited and we made all the necessary arrangements for me to take my first solo trip since Everett was born.  Last week, I unfortunately had to cancel...

As I said in the beginning of this post, I write this with very mixed feelings.  Today I fell great and I am mostly content, but I've been dealing with some recurring health issues... I thought my episode with Mal de Debarquement was a one-time thing last year, but it looks like it might be something that I will have to consider forever.  

What's that fancy french word you ask?  MdDS is similar to land sickness.  Ever get off a long flight or a cruise and still feel a bit wobbly for a few hours?  Now imagine that feeling but it doesn't go away for weeks, months, and sometimes years.  I had my first experience with MdDs last year after flying to California and back.  I wrote about my month stuck in bed in this post.  The syndrome is most easily described as something similar to vertigo, but a feeling of rocking/bobbing/swaying instead of spinning. I was given the rare diagnosis last year after landing myself in the ER.  It felt like I was in a row boat in a hurricane.  Thankfully, symptoms eventually subsided and I went into "remission" about 4 to 6 weeks later...

Since I've pretty much felt fine this past year, aside from the motion sickness and migraines I typically get, I thought it was a one-time thing and had no reservations about traveling again.  With my history of motion sickness and migraines, I guess it's no surprise to learn that this could always come back... After our family vacation to Toronto last month, it came back.  Thankfully symptoms were much much milder, but enough for me to come to a realization that I will always be susceptible to MdDS.  

Chocolate Cake with Caramel Buttercream

For the past few weeks, I've been researching symptoms and treatments all while feeling like I am floating around on a pool raft.  There aren't really any "cures," but only ways to manage symptoms and some preventative tips for when you might encounter a trigger (traveling).  I was terrified at first.  What if it never goes away?  What if it gets worse?  Will I ever travel again?  For the first time, I joined an online support group.  Reading about what other people were going through was equal parts comforting and terrifying.  Some had mild symptoms like me while others were suffering for years and years.  

It was devastating when I canceled this highly anticipated trip to Colorado, but I am determined not to let fear keep me from traveling ever again.  I am learning so much now about triggers and how to manage my symptoms (lots of rest and low-stress, two things that I constantly struggle with on a daily basis).  My family doctor suggested I book another appointment with my neurologist (scary that I have one of those now, but it's for my migraines) to discuss vestibular migraines and a treatment plan for when I do eventually travel again.  Just last night, Brett and I booked our flights home for Christmas.  I'm a little scared of what will happen, but mostly feeling excited and confident that I can overcome this terrible illness and not let it control my life.  I read that it's life-altering, not life-threatening, so I will not let it beat me!  Hopefully optimism wins.  And if not, at least I can drown my sorrows in chocolate cake =) 

Chocolate Caramel Cake
adapted from Half Baked Harvest

For the Chocolate Cake
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup canola oil
4 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup hot coffee

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour three 8-inch round cake pans and set aside. Stir together the dry ingredients (including the sugar) in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs, buttermilk, yogurt, oil, melted chocolate, and vanilla on medium speed for about 3 minutes.  With the mixer on low, add in the dry ingredients in two batches.  Mix until combined.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.  With the mixer on low, slowly stream in the coffee and mix until combined.

Evenly distribute the cake batter between the prepared pans.  Bake for 3o to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack fro about 20 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

For the Caramel Buttercream
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 to 4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 to 3/4 cup caramel sauce, or to taste (recipe to follow)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
splash milk, as needed
pinch salt (optional)

Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the confectioner's sugar until incorporated.  Turn the mixer to medium and mix until combined.  Add in the remaining ingredients and mix until smooth.  Add more/less caramel, sugar, and milk until desired thickness and sweetness is achieved.  

For the Coconut Caramel Sauce
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups coconut cream, full-fat coconut milk, or heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

In a large, dry skillet, heat the sugar over medium-high heat.  Cook the sugar until it melts into a medium golden color.  Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the butter, a tablespoon at a time.  Whisk in the coconut cream.

Return the skillet to medium heat and cook until thick, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt.  Carefully pour into a heat-safe container and cool.  Sauce will thicken as it cools.

Assembly
Place a cooled cake layer on a cake board or serving plate.  Spread on about 1 cup of buttercream with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.  Top with the next layer of cake and repeat.  Crumb coat the cake with caramel buttercream and chill in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes.

Frost the cake with the remaining buttercream.  Before serving, slightly reheat the caramel so that it flows (should be thicker than honey) and is about room temperature (not too warm or it might melt the buttercream).  Drizzle over the cake (I start by adding drips around the edges, but can you just pour onto the top and then spread around).  The caramel will most likely continue to slowly drip down the cake, so try to not get discouraged - it will still taste amazing!!