Hey guys, it’s almost the end of October, which means that it’s about time to start thinking about Halloween recipes!
So today I present to you this awesome and delicious dark chocolate cake with pumpkin Italian buttercream (which I already hinted at in my last post), filled with a salted caramel sauce, and topped with dark chocolate ganache.
It’s the best! I was soooo thrilled with how the buttercream turned out. I’d never made pumpkin buttercream before, and I wasn’t too sure the flavor would work well with a light Italian buttercream base, but seriously guys, this buttercream tastes amazing!
If you love pumpkin and chocolate, you’d better make sure you put this cake on your Halloween to-bake list 🙂
I have to admit, though, because this cake consists of quite a few elements, it’s not one of the easiest cake projects. Not that it’s difficult to make, exactly, but it will take you some time in the kitchen to whip it up.
My suggestion? Make the chocolate cake layers and the salted caramel sauce a few days ahead. The caramel will keep for aaaages if you can keep your hands of it, and I always think that the flavor of the cake layers only improves with a night or two in the fridge. And bonus: a cool cake is much easier to cut in half 😉
Just make sure to allow the cake layers to cool to room temperature first before wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap and storing them in the fridge.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of cake layers, this chocolate cake is the best! If you like my recipe for chocolate cupcakes (aka: the best chocolate cupcakes ever!), I’m pretty sure you’ll love this cake, too, because the recipes are quite similar. Like the cupcakes, this chocolate cake is moist, dense and extremely chocolatey!
As I can’t stand it when chocolate cake doesn’t taste like chocolate I made sure to add plenty of cocoa powder to this recipe when I developed it a few years ago. That, and a little hint of coffee, just to give the chocolate flavor a little boost. If you hate to actually drink coffee (I know I do), don’t worry: you won’t taste the coffee. It just deepens the flavor of the chocolate.
Oh, and by the way, the recipe for the chocolate cake layers is super easy, too! Just a matter of mixing sugar, oil and eggs together, then adding wet and dry ingredients and mixing again. Pour into a pan, bake and you’re done!
I love easy recipes…
The recipe for pumpkin buttercream is a bit more difficult though, but only for inexperienced bakers… If you’ve made Italian buttercream before, or if you’ve worked with a sugar or candy thermometer before, I’m sure you can do it with one hand tied behind your back. Well, only if you own a stand mixer, I guess… It’s hard to hold a hand held mixer and pouring syrup into egg whites with just one hand 🙂
Anyway, my point is, making Italian buttercream is really not that difficult at all. If you happen to be a novice baker, just take your time to read through the instructions, maybe check out my post on Italian buttercream and give it a go! There’s not much that can go wrong… Just be careful with the hot sugar syrup.
Once you’ve made the Italian buttercream base, you mix in a spicy pumpkin puree until the mixture looks gorgeously golden and fluffy, and that’s the buttercream done, too. Whip up a little chocolate ganache, spoon it over the cake, allow to set, and dive in!
Oh, and don’t you just love the rustic look of this cake? I decided just to give it a crumbcoat, so you can still see the layers underneath a bit through the outer layer of buttercream. I’ve seen cakes decorated like this on Pinterest, and thought it would be perfect for this cake!
- 200g (or 1 cup) granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 60ml (or ¼ cup) water
- 30g (or 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cubed
- 120ml (or ½ cup) heavy whipping cream
- 290g (or 1⅓ cup + 2 teaspoons) granulated sugar
- 240g (or 1 cup + 4 teaspoons, packed) light brown sugar
- 120ml (or ½ cup) sunflower oil, or another neutral tasting vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs (about 110g)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 60ml (or ¼ cup) hot water
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee powder
- 240ml (or 1 cup) buttermilk
- 260g (or 2 cup + 4 teaspoons) all-purpose flour
- 180g (or 1½ cup + 2 teaspoons) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 240g (or 1 cup) homemade or store bought pumpkin puree
- 28g (or 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 110g (or ½ cup, packed) light brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 240g (or 1 cup + 3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon) granulated sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 4 large egg whites (about 130g, or ½ cup)
- 225g (or 1 cup) unsalted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature
- 90g (or 3 ounces) dark chocolate
- 20g (or 5 teaspoons) granulated sugar
- 60ml (or ¼ cup) heavy whipping cream
- 15g (or 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter
- Start by filling your kitchen sink with about 5-cm/2-inches of cold water. Once the caramel is done, you need to dunk the bottom of the pan in this cold water bath to stop the caramel from cooking.
- Add the sugar, salt and the water to a medium-sized, light-colored saucepan. The light color of the saucepan makes it easy to monitor the color of the caramel as it cooks. Heat over low heat, stirring with a metal spoon until the sugar has dissolved.
- Crank up the heat to medium-high and cook to a golden caramel. Don't stir it at this point. The syrup will first start to caramelize at the edge of the pan. Once this happens, you can gently whisk the caramel to get an even color.
- Once you're happy with the color of the caramel, turn the heat down and whisk in the cubed butter. The caramel will sizzle and bubble once you add the butter. This is normal. Whisk gently and crank up the heat to medium-high again.
- Carefully drizzle in the cream, whisking continuously. Again, the caramel will bubble and sizzle, so be careful. Once all the cream has been added, turn the heat down, stop whisking and allow to cook for 1 minute. Then remove the pan from the heat and dunk the bottom of the pan into the water bath in the sink.
- Pour the caramel into a heatproof container, such as a clean jar, and allow it to cool to room temperature. You can make the caramel ahead, as it will keep, stored in a covered jar in the fridge, for weeks.
- Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F ( standard oven setting). Butter two 20-cm/8-inch round cake pans. I usually line the bottom of the pan with baking parchment.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine the sugars, oil, eggs and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix until well combined, about one minute.
- Dissolve the coffee granules in the hot water, then stir in the buttermilk. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Add the wet and dry ingredients to the egg and sugar mixture. Gently stir the ingredients together, using a rubber spatula or a spoon. Once you’ve incorporated most of the dry ingredients, mix briefly with the mixer until the batter is smooth, about 15 seconds.
- Using a spoon, divide and spread the batter evenly over and in the pans. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and allow the cakes to cool to room temperature. Preferably, make the cakes a day (or 3) ahead, so they can cool in the fridge overnight. A cold cake is easier to cut into layers and decorate. If you decide to make the cakes ahead, allow them to cool to room temperature before wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap, then store them in the fridge until needed.
- Combine the pumpkin puree, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Crank up the heat to medium and continue to heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. As the mixture is quite thick, you need to look for slow bubbles.
- Once the puree is bubbling, set the heat to medium-low and cook the mixture for 5 minutes, stirring slowly but continuously, to allow some of the moisture to evaporate. Then remove the puree from the heat and blitz to a finer puree in a blender or with a stick blender.
- Allow the spicy pumpkin puree to cool to room temperature, then chill for about 30 minutes to an hour in the fridge. You can also make this spicy pumpkin puree, which you will mix into your buttercream base, up to 3 days ahead and store it in the fridge in an airtight container until needed.
- Combine sugar and water in a medium-sized saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring with a metal spoon until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is clear. Crank up the heat to medium-high and allow syrup to come to a boil.
- In the meantime, place the egg whites in a medium-sized, heatproof bowl and mix (with a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) until the whites are almost able to hold soft peaks.
- Once the sugar syrup has come to a boil, clip on a candy (or sugar) thermometer or insert the probe of a multimeter. Cook until the syrup reaches a temperature of 113°C/235°F, then immediately remove from the heat and slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the bowl with the egg whites, mixing continuously to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Don't pour the syrup onto the whisk, or the syrup may splatter against the sides of the bowl (or into your face!). Instead, aim for a spot close to the whisk.
- Once all the syrup has been added, keep mixing until the bottom of the bowl feels cool to the touch and the meringue has cooled down to at least body temperature.
- Once the meringue has cooled to room temperature, start adding the butter to the meringue one cube at a time, mixing well after each addition. As you're adding the butter, the mixture will lose most of its volume and at some point may even start to look as if it's separating. Don't panic! Just keep mixing and the buttercream will magically come together and become smooth and creamy.
- Add the chilled pumpkin puree to the buttercream one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once you’ve added all the puree, mix for another 2 minutes, or until the buttercream looks creamy and smooth.
- Use immediately or store in an airtight container or a zipper bag in the fridge for up to a week. To use buttercream that has been refrigerated, first allow to come to room temperature then beat with the mixer until smooth and spreadable again.
- Once the cakes have cooled, using a sharp serrated knife to remove any dome from the cakes to level them, then carefully split each cake in half. Make sure to keep your knife perfectly level (place your other hand on top of the cakes; this will give you more control over the knife).
- Reserve one of the bottom layers of the cakes for the top of the finished cake. Place a small dollop of buttercream in the middle of a serving plate and place one of the remaining three cake layers on top of it (press the cake layer down onto the plate). The buttercream will prevent the cake from slipping. Place the serving plate on top of a rotating cake stand or a lazy Susan.
- Scoop about 200g or 1 cup of buttercream on top of the cake layer and, using a spatula or a spoon, spread it evenly over the top of the cake layer, pushing it towards and a little over the sides of the layer with your spatula. This 'overhanging' buttercream will make frosting the assembled cake a lot easier.
- Place the second layer neatly on top of the first and press down lightly. Fit a piping bag with a small open tip and fill it with about 100g or ½ cup of buttercream. Pipe a border of buttercream around the edge of the second cake layer.
- Using a spoon, scoop half of the cooled caramel sauce onto the middle of the second cake layer, gently pushing it against the buttercream border you just made.
- Place the third cake layer on top, pressing down lightly, top with another 200g (or 1 cup) of buttercream. Using a spatula or spoon, spread the buttercream evenly over the cake layer, pushing the buttercream a little over the sides of the layer again.
- Place the cake layer you reserved neatly, flat-side up, on top of the cake. At this point, you should have a cake with four visible cake layers and some overhanging buttercream.
- Crumb coat the cake by using a spatula to smooth the overhanging buttercream over the sides of the cake, pushing it over the top edge of the cake. If necessary, add some more buttercream to the sides of the cake until you have a nice thin coating. It’s okay if you can still see the cake underneath. Use the excess buttercream you pushed over the top edge of the cake to thinly frost the top. It doesn't matter if there are any crumbs visible in the frosting. Place the cake in the fridge for 60 minutes to allow the crumb coat to harden.
- Chop the chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl. Set aside. In a small saucepan, combine cream and sugar. Heat over low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then bring the mixture to scalding point.
- Pour the hot cream mixture over the chopped chocolate. Allow to rest for about 1 minute, then stir with a spoon until the chocolate has melted and the mixture looks smooth. Add the butter and stir until well combined. The ganache should be thick, but pourable.
- Remove the cake from the fridge and drizzle the ganache over the top. Use a spoon to push the ganache a little over the sides of the cake. Place back in the fridge to allow the ganache to set, about 30-60 minutes.
- Remove the cake from the fridge a few hours before serving to allow it to come to room temperature. Cake will keep, stored in an airtight container in the fridge, for up to 3 days.
You can make the caramel sauce, the chocolate layers, and the spicy pumpkin puree which you will use to flavor the buttercream up to 3 days ahead.
Just found your blog, this cake looks heavenly! Wow! Your recipes really look amazing.
The Tough Cookie says
Mmm, I’m making this cake for my birthday celebration at work tomorrow. Can’t wait to taste the finished product (the pumpkin puree and the caramel are delish!).
And congratulations on your pregnancy! What fun!! It’s a life-changer, for sure, but so worth it! 🙂
The Tough Cookie says
Thanks Alison 😀 How did the cake turn out?
It was delicious! My buttercream totally split/curdled (maybe my puree was too watery?), so it didn’t look as nice as yours, but the cake was delicious and everyone at work loved it! 🙂 Yum! 🙂
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Alison, I’m so glad you liked the cake despite the fact that the buttercream separated! I think you’re right in thinking the pumpkin puree was still a bit too watery. Buttercream hates too much liquid 😉
What if you don’t own a candy thermometer?
The Tough Cookie says
Try the Swiss method for making the buttercream. You don’t need a candy thermometer for it 😉
Hi, this is going to sound a little crazy but Im getting married in 11 days and Im making the cake. This recipe is perfect and I really want this for my cake. If I was to cover the whole thing in a thin layer of ganache would fondant icing go over that? What do you think?
The Tough Cookie says
Wow, wow, wow, Rachel! I only wish I’d seen your comment earlier! My son turned 1 last weekend, so I was a bit preoccupied and didn’t have time to check my comments. First of all, congratulations! You must be so excited to be getting married in just, um 3 days! Secondly, I don’t work much with fondant icing, but I’ve read online that you can certainly cover a cake that’s been coated in ganache with fondant. Here is the link! And I wish you the most magical wedding day 😀