Chocolate Caramel Cake

I’ve got a number of chocolate cakes in my repertoire, from a super-dense Chocolate Orbit Cake to soft, warm Chocolate Dulce de Leche Cakes, from My Paris Kitchen. And they all share one thing in common: a lot of chocolate. I’m not much for adding things that detract from the chocolate flavor, so I shy away from adding raspberries or other fruits and berries, or layering them with cream, or what have you. I just like straight-on chocolate cakes.

That said (and what would the internet be with people contradicting themselves?), I do like caramel with chocolate – and for the record – coffee as well. So when I came upon a rich chocolate cake studded with gooey pieces of tender caramel, I knew I had to get on it, pronto.

As I gathered ingredients, I was extra careful this time around. Right now there is a butter shortage in France. And in the rest of the world, vanilla has soared in price. Fortunately, I stocked up on butter, and buy vanilla by the quart, so I’m set for a while. But rather than feeling smug about it, for those of you that don’t regularly buy ten blocks of butter at a time, or keep five bottles of vanilla extract squirreled away in a locked safe, I pulled out my bottle of chocolate extract for this cake to offer up a complementary alternative. And I mean, complementary as in, they go well together. (Chocolate extract costs a fraction of what vanilla extract is going for these days, so it might feel like it’s free, even though technically, it’s not.)

I can’t help you in the butter department, if the shortage is affecting you, but chocolate extract is nice to have on hand, and certainly a more affordable alternative, and I like to use it along with vanilla extract when making chocolate desserts.

It doesn’t quite replace vanilla, which has its own, gloriously magnificent aroma; I’ve been known to dab a little under my nose when using it while baking because I like the smell so much. (And yes, I wash my hands with soap and water afterward…) But chocolate extract adds a few extra chocolate “notes” to chocolate cakes, tarts, ice cream, and other chocolate desserts.

I spotted this cake in a French cooking magazine, but tweaked a few things, including doubling the number of caramels and adding a bit of extract to it.

Europeans don’t add vanilla to things with the same abandon as Americans, and usually use arôme vanille (vanilla in a glucose base), or packets of vanilla sugar, rather than vanilla extract, which is alcohol-based. And of course, there is artificial vanilla, which should be avoided everywhere.

The result is a cake with lots of chocolate flavor, with pools of soft caramel poking through the top. I was considering serving it with a scoop of ice cream, or crème anglaise.

But as it sat on the counter, with a knife conveniently alongside it – well, like most good cakes, passersby (namely, me and Romain) lopped off pieces when we passed it…and before I knew it, it was gone. You might have better luck around it, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Chocolate Caramel Cake
Print Recipe
10 to 12 servings
Inspired by Elle à tableI use a glass-bottom springform pan, which is your best friend if you're a little OCD about getting cakes neatly out of springform pans. If you don't use one, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.I used soft caramels that I bought. If you want, you can make your own salted butter caramels. If you go the store-bought route, buy soft caramels, which will melt, and meld, into the cake better than hard caramels.
7 ounces (200g) unsalted butter, cubed
8 ounces (230g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (70g) flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or Dutch-process
3/4 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
2/3, plus 1/3 cup (200g, total) sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon chocolate extract (optional)
pinch of salt
12 soft caramels (85g), cut in half
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Butter a 9-inch (23cm) springform pan. Dust the inside with flour or cocoa powder, and tap out any excess. If not using a glass-bottom springform pan, line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder.
3. In a large bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the 2/3 cup (130g) of sugar, then the egg yolks, vanilla extract, and chocolate extract (if using). Mix the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture until it's free of any lumps.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, or by hand in a large bowl with a whisk, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they just start to hold their shape. Add the salt and gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup (70g) of sugar gradually, whipping until the egg whites hold their shape and are smooth and creamy. Do not overbeat.
5. Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until no streaks of white are visible. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and strew the pieces of caramels over the top of the cake. (Avoid putting them too close to the sides of the pan: the caramels will stick to the side of the cake pan and make it harder to cut.)
6. Bake for 25 minutes, until the center still feels soft, but like it's almost about to set. Let cool, then remove the sides of the springform pan and serve.

Serving: This cake is good enough on its own, although can be served with whipped cream or ice cream, such as vanilla ice cream or cinnamon ice cream.

Storage: Cakes like this don't keep well so it's best enjoyed the same day its made, although can be kept up to two days at room temperature. I haven't frozen it because it didn't last very long. If you freeze it, let us know how it works out in the comments.


Chocolate-Caramel Cake: A moist, rich chocolate cake for chocolate-lovers!

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60 comments

  • Ada
    November 27, 2017 6:32pm

    This looks good! Reply

  • Monisha C
    November 27, 2017 6:36pm

    Hi David, I’ve read and re-read the recipe – when do I add in the dry ingredients? After step 3?

    Oops! Fixed – it’s added to the chocolate mixture before the egg whites are folded in : ) – dl Reply

  • November 27, 2017 6:40pm

    Incredible. I love chocolate and caramel together.
    With the butter situation I am leaning toward oil cakes, which are nice and moist. But the taste is different than with butter.
    Somebody else surely will bring this up but you mean “complement,” which means “go together” rather than “compliment,” which is praise. Reply

  • Jayne Niemi
    November 27, 2017 6:41pm

    What! A butter shortage in France? Quelle horreur! Seriously, I had not yet heard about this. Et, this cake sounds luscious. Reply

  • Rachael
    November 27, 2017 6:46pm

    I have never thought of using chocolate extract. Thanks so much for this tip! Reply

  • Stephen Slade
    November 27, 2017 6:47pm

    Hi David, Could you tell us what vanilla extract you use? I have tried so many.

    By the way, your new book was a hit with us!!

    Thanks,

    Steve Reply

  • Bob
    November 27, 2017 6:53pm

    David: This recipe looks FANTASTIC! Thanks so much!

    I really just wanted to tell you how much I am loving your newest book: L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home”! It is fabulous! I cringe reading your and Romain’s “adventures.” I know (hope) it will end well but then I don’t want it to! Thanks again! Reply

  • Suellen
    November 27, 2017 6:58pm

    Just drooled over my smart phone. Yum. Gonna make this for sure. Reply

  • November 27, 2017 7:10pm
    David Lebovitz

    Stephen: Glad you liked the book! I use Mexican and Madagascar vanilla from Patricia Rain. Her vanilla is excellent. It’s more expensive than others but I like it very much.

    Bob: Glad you’re enjoying L’appart as well. It was quite a story to tell (and experience) but I’m glad I don’t have to do it again ; )

    Taste of France: Thanks. I think I was so agonized over “passersby” vs. “passers-by” that I overlooked that. Reply

    • Linda Butwinick
      November 28, 2017 1:19pm

      Droll. Reply

  • Elena
    November 27, 2017 7:28pm

    The chocolate extract is something very new for me, but I will try to find it.
    I will make this cake on Christmas Eve for singers & Carolers.
    Thank you very much! Reply

  • jeannine athas
    November 27, 2017 7:41pm

    Please advise where to purchase the caramel with salt. That is in US and France. Thanks. Reply

    • November 27, 2017 7:46pm
      David Lebovitz

      I got mine (shown) at G. Detou in Paris. In the U.S, they have very good salted butter caramels at Little Flower although you don’t really need to use fancy caramels for this, as they’re going to melt into the cake, so you could use something available locally. Reply

  • JuliaKateLucy
    November 27, 2017 7:42pm

    Now I regret eating all the caramels we brought back from our October trip to Paris. Pretty sure the Dear Husband would love this cake. Need to search for more caramels now. Reply

  • jeannine athas
    November 27, 2017 7:44pm

    Hello from sunny SFBA although I live in Paris, rue des Bluets and my market is the Poppincourt unless I’m lazy and walk to Menilmontant. I invited a friend from Marin to join me for the book launch at Draeger’s. Sadly there was no info supplied in your mail to reserve. Disappointed and surprised since you’re a highly organized professional. Reply

  • Arabella
    November 27, 2017 8:01pm

    Fold in the flour after the egg whites? Reply

  • Alene
    November 27, 2017 8:08pm

    I read about the butter shortage in France in the NYTimes. I believe It’s due to some silly reason. But vanilla! We were in Costco this weekend in Sarasota, FL, and vanilla, their large container, was $60!! It’s generally around $18. I was shocked shocked! Now this is a problem. It’s baking season! Now I have to do some research on why this happened. Probably because of war, or people dying, or some reason that will make me feel badly. This world is complicated. Sighhh. Reply

  • Arnolda
    November 27, 2017 9:58pm

    Yes, the price of butter has risen along with the shortage. We have plenty here in New Zealand – we make it from our grass-fed cows and its great but the price here has more than doubled – the big manufacturers did this because they can and the small boutique ones followed suit as it seemed like such a good idea!! Costs and incomes, however, have far from doubled! So please we could use tips for removing butter and replacing it with oil in recipes for baking? Reply

    • Hillary
      November 28, 2017 2:01am

      You would need to replace butter with shortening or margarine, not oil, in most recipes that call for butter. Unless the recipe calls for melted butter, you would not get the same consistency using oil where butter was supposed to be used. Whatever you substitute will obviously also change the flavor of the finished product. Reply

    • Emma
      November 28, 2017 1:07pm

      You can try coconut oil for cakes whose flavor can get on well with it. There is also odorless coconut oil. It is interesting because it is hard at room temperature, even if the melting point is lower than butter.
      Let’s say I have never tried it. And it is expensive. So maybe not a good tip ;-) Reply

  • Rafael Ebron
    November 27, 2017 10:12pm

    flan + chocolate cake. you’re so close. Totally missed you at Market Hall. Maybe next time. Good luck with the books. Reply

  • Chandler in Las Vegas
    November 27, 2017 10:25pm

    David, I like that you are continuing the conversation in the comments. I compliment you on your complement. Chocolate extract is, in my opinion, vastly under used. I use it in any recipe that calls for espresso powder. I notice that you buy vanilla from the Vanilla Queen and that you buy in quarts. Have you noticed any off flavors or aromas from the plastic bottles they use? Reply

  • Nikki P
    November 27, 2017 10:32pm

    Perfect “excuse” to make caramels.
    I found a recipe for Anise flavored caramel and I want to try that but not a whole batch so this will be the perfect use for the rest.
    I made brownies this week to bring for Thanksgiving and I came to the conclusion that there is something very sexy about watching 1 pound of butter melt into 1 1/2 pounds of chocolate. Not to mention the aroma!
    Thank you for a wonderful recipe and delightful reading. Reply

  • Anne
    November 28, 2017 1:30am

    I’ve recently seen French butter for sale in Canada; we don’t normally see it at all, so I wonder about the shortage in France. Reply

  • Kimberly B.
    November 28, 2017 2:12am

    Oh my. My two favorite flavors combined together. So fun to see you at the Danville book signing. Reply

  • Susan McLean
    November 28, 2017 3:44am

    Looks Lucious, Mssr. David!
    Would adding the coffee flavor
    work with this, or too much?

    L’Appart ! Felt like I lived through
    it with you, Oh My, don’t know how
    you endured it, plus write My Paris Kitchen.
    Happy Holidays to you and Mssr. Romain. Reply

  • PatMilitoStrauss
    November 28, 2017 4:56am

    I’m trying this one!
    I’m w you David- imitation vanilla should be avoided everywhere. That comment cracked me up. Reply

  • November 28, 2017 5:48am

    You had me at chocolate and caramel! ;) This cake looks divine and I love how easy it is to make ♥ Reply

  • Lisa
    November 28, 2017 6:22am

    This cake looks amaaaazing!! I live in Mauritius (vanilla country) and it seems to be a big destination for people from France, so if you know anyone going to Mauritius for a bit of December summer sun, get them to pick up some vanilla for you! Reply

  • Heather
    November 28, 2017 6:44am

    Can’t wait to make this for the Christmas party on Saturday. I made your Cranberry Raisin Pie for Thanksgiving and it turned out amazing delicious!
    Thank you for the book signing at Market Hall, enjoying the read very much. Reply

  • Peony
    November 28, 2017 9:11am

    This looks as if it would be well-received at a party! My 11 year-old and I enjoyed meeting you at Market Hall and were impressed with your friendliness and great signature. Both my mother and I started reading the book and are enjoying it (although we really need two bookmarks to mark our respective pages). Reply

  • Jennie
    November 28, 2017 1:22pm

    I also made your Cranberry Raisin Pie for Thanksgiving! And I paired it with your Cinnamon Ice Cream. They were a dreamy combination and very popular. Thank you for the delicious memories, David. Reply

  • tim
    November 28, 2017 6:22pm

    No shortage here in NJ. I think the price i last bought was Land O Lakes for 2.67 per pound. Reply

  • Linda Freedland
    November 29, 2017 2:06am

    Am making this cake! But I can’t believe the price of vanilla. I’ve been buying mine from Charles Baldwin in West Stockbridge, MA.for years. They’ve been making their own vanilla extract for over100 years-in the same oak buckets. I just checked their prices -a qt is $150. Unbelievable. Will still go back, love the place and the owners. Reply

    • November 29, 2017 2:35am
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, vanilla prices have gone through the roof. The upside is that for most home cooks, you only use a teaspoon or so at a time. So even though it’s pricey, a little goes a long way. (It’s hitting bakeries pretty hard right now, though.) Reply

  • November 29, 2017 10:12am

    Oh my. This looks like perfection in a cake — I’ve been obsessed with caramel for years. Haven’t used chocolate extract before (haven’t even thought about it as an ingredient).

    In Paris for now, and am recently stocked up on butter (thankfully) but without an oven, I’ll have to bookmark this recipe for when I’m back in the States :) Reply

  • Ann
    November 29, 2017 7:26pm

    A while ago America’s Test Kitchen did a taste test of pure vs. artificial vanilla extracts and found that in high heat applications (i.e. baking), there is little difference between the two (https://www.americastestkitchen.com/taste_tests/455-vanilla-extract). If the price of pure extract is still high when my current stash runs out, I won’t worry too much about switching to the artificial stuff. Reply

    • November 29, 2017 8:41pm
      David Lebovitz

      I remember when that came out and it caused a ruckus. It says at the end of the article that they artificial vanilla for it’s “mild and gentle flavor,” which isn’t exactly a selling point, to me. Also they noted that real vanilla (in the U.S., although not in France) contains alcohol, which food science writer Harold McGee said (of adding alcohol to things) augments the flavors of food. I also don’t love using synthetic products, so I won’t be switching ;) Reply

    • JP
      December 1, 2017 12:25am

      I agree with you, Ann, 100%. I have used artificial vanilla in the past and never could really tell any difference. When ATC came out with their results I knew why. Only a little vanilla is necessary so I can’t see any risk. I will never pay these ridiculous prices for vanilla. They can’t hold me hostage! Reply

  • Susan
    November 29, 2017 8:10pm

    David, I came to your Sur la Table event a few weeks ago in NYC and it was such a treat to get to meet and chat with you! I’m loving the new book (and commiserating, as we had a new stove installed and . . . two months later, the company is replacing it. Disaster.)

    I noticed in the Instagram link to the butter pic that you appear to freeze the butter in a ziplock bag. I’m guessing to ensure freshness? Gulp–I’ve never done that! Is it better to do so? Thanks, and please keep writing–your voice puts a smile on my face. Reply

    • November 29, 2017 8:37pm
      David Lebovitz

      Glad you came and enjoy the event as much as I did! (And good luck with the new stove…I hear ya…)

      The freezer is a pretty unforgiving place, and double wrapping the butter helps prevent it from getting dried out, especially since those butter wrappers aren’t exactly air-tight. Reply

      • Bebe
        December 2, 2017 5:42pm

        Butter can also pick up odors that change its taste. Freezers are full of odors that we don’t usually notice. I’m even careful about what I put near it in the refrigerator. Reply

  • November 29, 2017 10:12pm

    Agree with you that chocolate should only be chocolate! AND agree with you that you can break that rule if it’s caramel! Can’t wait to make this! Reply

  • Sarahb1313
    December 1, 2017 7:24pm

    Looking forward to this evening ;-)
    This cake looks great. Once it gets into the rotation, I am afraid I will get trapped with it! Deb P has a recipe for brownies in a similar way with the caramel and they are infamous- it is certainly the way to impress even “non-dessert” people (I know, who the heck doesn’t eat dessert???).
    I am now panicked over the vanilla. I have about 16 oz of my homemade left and I tend to be generous using it and giving it away… Butter here, so far ok… Reply

    • Sarah
      December 2, 2017 9:04pm

      Penzeys has vanilla on sale today and tomorrow. Hope you get this message. Reply

  • Sarah
    December 1, 2017 8:11pm

    I’m anxious to try this recipe! Just want to let you know that Star Kay White extracts will no longer be sold to consumers so stock up! I called them to find out where I could buy it locally and was told that they will only be selling to industry people in larger quantities. I ordered some chocolate extract from Beanilla as it had really good reviews. Reply

  • pam
    December 2, 2017 5:59pm

    Great recipe! I just started reading your new book and I am planning on making the Cherry flan soon. I am amazed that you could keep your focus while dealing with the struggles of l’appart! Please bring your book tour to Jacksonville, Florida! Thanks for your blog!! Reply

  • Cherie
    December 6, 2017 4:52am

    Has anyone thought of layering this cake with maybe a Carmel butter cream or a ganache? Just a thought…any ideas? Thinking along those lines for Christmas dinner. Reply

    • December 6, 2017 1:45pm
      David Lebovitz

      This cake would be very difficult to slice in half crosswise because it’s not very high, and quite moist (also the bits of caramel would be hard to slice through). If you want to make is more festive for the holidays, you could serve it with a scoop of cinnamon ice creamReply

  • Brenda Prowse
    December 8, 2017 9:14pm

    I am making the cake again this week end! I made it last week and it was superb. I could only eat a very small slice-too sweet for me but oh such a grand chocolate flavor. Our dinner guests will love it. Thanks for the recommendations for vanilla and the chocolate extract. Be warned if you do store the cake in the fridge the caramels will harden up. Reply

  • December 9, 2017 4:26am

    Looks like a great recipe! However is it possible to decrease the amount of sugar without sacrificing the moistness of the cake? Reply

  • Susan
    December 9, 2017 4:17pm

    David, how do you think this would work out if made into cupcakes? Using liners of course. I am presently in Barbados and there does not appear to be any shortage of butter from France in the markets here! Reply

    • December 9, 2017 4:24pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s not a tall cake, but moist and somewhat compact, so I wouldn’t think it’s ideal for cupcakes. You might want to try these German Chocolate Cupcakes instead. Reply

  • Susan
    December 9, 2017 5:21pm

    Thank you. I will scrap that idea. Reply

  • JoAnn Cola
    December 10, 2017 3:33am

    I just made this today, and I see why it didn’t last too long! It is so good! I used up my Scharffenberger bittersweet chocolate chunks mixed with a few semi-sweet chips to make the stated amount. Unbelievably good! I’ll definitely make this one again. Reply

  • JOYCE MCKINNEY
    December 11, 2017 4:14pm

    I made the cake and it was a big hit. However, the top puffed up and was a little crisp and crumbly. It didn’t look like your photo. What did I do wrong, do you suppose? I would include a photo but I don’t see that as an option here. Reply

    • December 11, 2017 5:41pm
      David Lebovitz

      That’s normal in cakes where eggs are used, especially when they are aerated by beating or whipping. The way the heating elements in your oven might have something to do with that and generally the top should sink down, and the cake will still be delicious. (Some people like to eat the crispy bits on top.) Reply

  • irina
    December 13, 2017 4:37am

    I made this cake tonight for our weekly family dinner and I was a huge hit! Bravo. I did not have chocolate extract or fancy caramels so just used what was around. Turned out great. Reply

  • Melinda
    December 13, 2017 11:00am

    Hi David, just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed both L’appart and this cake! We’ve been try to soothe our (wildfire ravaged) nerves here in our Southern CA town of Ojai, so over the weekend, once our mandatory evacuation order was lifted, my husband set about making this yummy cake. Since finding true French salted caramels in this tiny town wasn’t possible, he ended up using pieces of chocolate covered caramel candies (maybe by Lindt?), which we found in the candy aisle of a large supermarket chain. They ended up being a great choice because they sort of hung around on top and got soft and gooey, but were still distinct from the cake. Anyway, thanks for offering us a great diversion during a stressful time! Reply

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