Indian summer continues on in full swelter here in the bay area. It’s honestly the hottest it’s been here for the last six months: the mornings start out promisingly grey and overcast, and then by mid-morning it’s just cloudless sky and shimmering heat. Not-so-little-Isabelle is growing out of her summer t-shirts and shorts, clothes I thought I could safely pack away by now but instead I’m desperately hoping will still fit until cooler weather finally arrives.
Despite the fact that fall never arrives quite timely here, my cravings are already shifting towards the dark, rich, and decadent.
Thus, this ultra rich blackout chocolate cake with an equally lush salted caramel buttercream, and a layer of sautéed apples to firmly ground it in fall. Chocolate and caramel is a classic, cozy combination; adding the apples was more of an experiment on my part, but I guessed the apples + caramel connection would pull all the components together. The gamble worked: it tastes like a caramel apple wrapped in chocolate, sweet and tangy and chocolatey all together. The topping of whipped cream and brûléed apples adds the final counterpoint to balance all the richness below. It feels luxurious and indulgent, the way you want your fall desserts.
Since this cake is so rich, I’ve rendered it as a 6 inch cake. This midnight black cake is inspired by the traditional Ebinger’s blackout cake and other oil-based cake recipes; the oil and sour cream in this recipe give it that addictively moist yet tender crumb. The husband has gone on record saying it’s his favorite chocolate cake of all the ones I’ve made. Its smooth chocolate flavor serves as a dark undercurrent beneath a sweet-smoky caramel buttercream flecked with sea salt. I did a version with confectioners’ sugar for this cake, which is a little simpler if you’re pressed for time, but honestly this swiss meringue version doesn’t take that much longer, and now that I’ve made both, I think this one is worth the extra effort on the stove.
I love any kind of baking apple; Granny Smith works here, or Honeycrisp is a personal favorite. The sautéed apples are simple enough, but the brûléed apples were inspired by a recent visit to Bluestem, a local restaurant, where I got to taste their new fall dessert menu. I love all the different layers of sweet in this cake, from fruity to caramelized to fudgy.
Now that I’ve spoken so glowingly of our never-ending summer, I’m positive things will take a turn and we’ll have rain clouds hovering over us next week. One can hope. In the meantime, stay cool – or stay warm, as the case might be, wherever you are!
- 3/4 cup (94 g) all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
- 1/3 cup (28 g) cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (115 g) sour cream
- 1/2 cup (120 g) hot water
- 1/3 cup (73 g) canola oil
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Salted Caramel Buttercream
- 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
- 1/4 cup (60 g) water
- 1/2 cup (120 g) boiling water
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
- 2 large egg whites
- 3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 medium baking apples like Granny Smith or Honeycrisp
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-in pieces
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup (115 g) heavy cream
For the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 6-in round baking pans with nonstick spray and line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.
- Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, espresso powder, and salt together in a large bowl.
- Add the sour cream, water, oil, egg, and vanilla extract and stir together to combine into a smooth batter.
- Divide between the two prepared pans and bake for 20-24 minutes until tops are set and a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and cool on wire racks for 15 minutes before unmolding. Let finish cooling on wire racks.
For the buttercream:
- Place the 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan. Cook on medium heat until sugar melts and comes to boil. When the syrup becomes dark golden, remove from heat and add the 1/2 cup boiling water. Add in the sea salt. Let syrup cool to room temperature before using.
- Combine the final 1/2 cup of sugar and egg whites in a medium heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.
- Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny, about 3 minutes. Continue whisking until temperature of mixture reaches 160 degrees F using a candy thermometer.
- Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled.
- Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth.
- When all the butter has been added, add in the vanilla and the caramel syrup and beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth.
- The buttercream is ready to be used. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it to prevent it from drying out.
For the apples:
- Peel and core the apples. Put aside half an apple for the topping. Cut the remaining apples into 1/2 inch cubes. Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the apples and sauté for about 8 minutes until the apples are semi-soft.
- Add sugar, flour, and cinnamon to the apples and stir to combine. Cook until mixture begins to bubble, then turn heat to low and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer filling to a bowl and let cool.
- Place one cake layer on a cake round or plate. Place buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2" star tip and pipe filling over the cake layer.
- Spread about half of the apple filling over the buttercream. You can save the rest for another use (it's great warmed over vanilla ice cream).
- Place the second cake layer on top. Whip cream into soft peaks and spread over the top.
- Slice the reserved apple half into thin slices. Spread out on a baking sheet and sprinkle generously with sugar. Using a handheld kitchen torch brûlée the sugar until the apples look glazed. You can also place the sheet under the oven broiling unit if you don't have a torch.
- Serve immediately. Or, you can refrigerate the cake with the whipped cream for a day. Be sure to cover it so it doesn't pick up any flavors from the refrigerator. Bring the cake out about 15 minutes before serving to let it come to room temperature.
Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says
Whoaaaa what a stunner!! This cake looks unreal!
Nicola Miller Editor of The Millers Tale says
What a pretty little cake and thank goodness for more ideas to use up our glut of apples.
Caroline Ciener says
This looks amazing! I have such a sweet tooth for stuff like this.
Annie | MontgomeryFest says
holy yum. and i can totally trick myself by thinking its healthy….there’s apple slices on top! 😉
Erin @ Texanerin Baking says
Oooh… someone else who adds the metric measurements! Yay. 🙂
That salted caramel buttercream sounds incredible! I think if I made that part first, I’d never get around to making the cake. 😉
Anna @ Crunchy Creamy Sweet says
Love this! Chocolate and caramel are my favorite!
Ashley @ Wishes & Dishes says
Such a beautiful presentation! I love it!
Cookin Canuck says
I’m so into fall right now that I get a little bit bitter every time the hot weather comes out. So I keep cooking soups and stews…that will make fall stick around, right? This cake is absolutely beautiful!
Stephanie @ Back For Seconds says
This is completely gorgeous!!
The Food Hunter says
that is the coolest looking cake!
Amazing looking photos and amazing sounding cake – will be trying this one out!
Cyndi - My Kitchen Craze says
It’s hot here where I am too. I hate it. I want fall weather! This cake almost looks to pretty to eat. So pretty and yummy! 🙂
Paula - bell'alimento says
That is one gorgeous looking cake!
This looks delicious and I love your website! serious yummy recipes!
Jessica (Savory Experiments) says
The whole cake looks divine, but I’m fairly certain I could eat the salted caramel buttercream by the bowl full!
Wow that cake looks beautiful and I bet it tastes great.
Heather // girlichef says
There is nothing about this that I don’t love and want – but ohemgee that Swiss meringue! (although I wouldn’t turn down powedered sugar, either…) Beautiful.
Ruthy T. (@DiscoveryStreet) says
oh man. this looks heavenly. and apples make it healthy right? 🙂
What a beautiful looking cake!! You have some good skills 🙂
Looks so freaking amazing!
Lisa @ Snappy Gourmet says
I don’t think I would have ever thought about apples with chocolate cake, but it sounds and looks delicious!
That looks delicious! Yum!
There is so much goodness going on w/ this cake, I’m not sure where to begin. The cake, the icing and oh those apples! Really great recipe!
this looks amazing!! you’re right.. it’s so hot.. I was in SF over the weekend, and I wore shorts and a tank top.
Oh wow this looks fabulous! I am going to have to try this recipe!
Well this looks AMAZING…the problem is, I can’t eat it right this very second!!!! 😉
Girl in Beta says
I love how this looks so simple, but I imagine the flavors are really complex.
I am now wanting a snack.
This looks delicious! Now I’m not a fan of apples as such but the chocolate cake and filling itself look amazing.
Sarah Walker Caron (Sarah's Cucina Bella) says
Salted caramel buttercream? Apples? Chocolate cake? Swoooooooon. This sounds incredible!
[email protected] says
This cake is the very embodiment of Fall flavors. Very well done indeed!
This is an absolutely lovely creation – no matter what the weather!
Oh my gosh this looks and sounds amazing!! Buttercream is my favorite.
Looks and sounds SO good!
Crystal Barrett says
Oh my!! This looks beautiful and sounds incredible! I could eat the entire cake myself!
Wow! Salivating right now!
Katie Matthews says
This looks so delicious! I’m always looking for really heavy cakes. My favourite! Fab autumnal flavours in it too!
OH MAN!!! This looks amazing. I pinned it for later!
Aly ~ Cooking In Stilettos says
This is a gorgeous cake with some of my favorite flavors and the photos are stunning!
Ah our summer came and went already! I am hoping it comes back for just a tiny bit even though fall is my favorite time of year. I am all about deep, dark moist chocolate, and while I love meringue, if I were ask for this on my death bed, I would add cream cheese frosting because I love to match up the two. My hubby loves apples of all varieties and will spend the rest of the year putting them in everything – I think it would be a huge surprise and a big treat if I could pull this cake for him!
Jessica Doll says
This sounds (and looks) absolutely delicious. I love that it’s a naked cake, too. 🙂
kristine foley says
This is calling my name! Holy yum!
Angie | Big Bear's Wife says
Salted caramel buttercream….I just want to eat that with a spoon!
OMG!! I don’t have words to describe how delicious this cake looks. Amazing!
Kim Beaulieu says
Is it wrong that I want to shove the whole thing in my face without sharing any? This is so pretty. I love the presentation.
I must say that’s one good looking cake nicely decorated.
Ayana Pitterson says
Oooh that looks so delicious. I love to cook, but for the love of me, baking things does not come out really nice like this. I have to put someone who can bake in the “you have talent” division. This looks amazingly delicious.
I NEED to find an occasion to make this! I love your description of the apples with caramel and chocolate. Yum.
The Accidental Mama says
What a great fall version of a chocolate cake. Not that you need an excuse to eat a chocolate cake, right?
The Accidental Mama
That looks so good…if you listen carefully, you can hear my thighs scream…
Melissa from HungryFoodLove.com says
Oh the caramel buttercream! I want a big bowl to eat it on the side!
This cake looks so perfect, it belongs in a bakery window!
Colleen (Souffle Bombay) says
I’m cleaning off the drool from my keyboard – the richness of the actual cake part is making me die! Must make!
Basically my mind is blown. Chocolate and apples usually don’t enter the same sphere to me, but I think that the caramel is the “glue” that binds them in loving matrimony. Lovely, lovely!
Jenn Pilgrim [The Newlywed Pilgrimage] says
You had me at chocolate cake. And salted caramel buttercream. What a pretty dessert! I love that it is so unique too. Trying…
MMM so yummy! Since I’m in a baking mood as of late, I may have to try this