Smith Island-Inspired Caramel-Coffee Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Smith Island-Inspired Caramel-Coffee Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Prior to moving to Maryland, I had never heard of Smith
Island cakes. Once here, I had the chance to visit Smith Island with my
husband, on a photo assignment for his work. We visited a baker’s house and
watched her make
an original in her
kitchen, then we meandered around the quaint island village before closing our
day with a trip to an incredible bakery on the island that makes the cakes for
pick-up or mail orders. (Check out their story and shop with them at this link
http://smithislandcake.com/ .) If you
ever have a day to make the boat trip to Smith Island, I encourage you to go.


As you might imagine, I was enchanted with the cakes, the
people, and the island. Smith Island cakes have 10 layers, each filled with
various icings, and some are topped with ganache while others are traditionally
iced. As soon as I returned from my day with the SI bakers, I tried my hand at
some flavor combinations I personally enjoy: chocolate peanut butter and white
chocolate apricot, just to see if I could make the cakes and have them look and
taste even half as lovely as the originals. Though I wasn’t blogging at the
time and therefore have no picture evidence of those attempts, I remember that
that were really good (how could I go wrong with those combinations,
frankly??), they looked fine, and everyone enjoyed them. That being said, they
weren’t nearly as pretty or as tasty as the originals. These bakers spend their
days making the cakes, and they have perfected the art.

Here’s something interesting, though. Obviously, I’m not a
trained pastry chef or baker. Every success I have is by trial and error. The
upside of this news is that I have tremendous kitchen baking fails almost every
day. Pinterest-fail worthy fails. And that’s okay. It’s real and funny and
quite the learning experience when things go wrong in the kitchen. I’ve learned
to embrace the imperfection of my self-taught baking and to keep plugging
along. My Smith Island-inspired cakes are no exception. They slope too much;
they are a touch wavy; some layers break apart too easily.

I’m working on those
minor problems. I say minor because the cakes are good. They are moist
and rich and decadent, and gone as quickly as they are placed on the serving
table. That’s the only kudos I need. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve
ordered a dessert cake in a restaurant and was handed a lovely slice that was
dry and not even worth the calorie count. Who wants that? When I order cake or
make cake, I want a melt-in-my-mouth dessert that tastes as good or better than
it looks. You get where I’m going with this. It’s just not worth it, otherwise.

I say all of this to encourage you to try the cake and to be
kind to yourself if it’s not gorgeous, but still tastes great. That’s the most
important part, of course! Tonight, I’m making my daughter’s birthday cake; she
requested her favorite: coconut. I think I’ll try to make it into a Smith
Island cake, just for fun. And if it’s ugly, we’re still serving it, maybe with
blindfolds. 😉 
The cake I’ve chosen to showcase here is a real, decadent,
sweet lover’s delight. The cake itself is rich in coffee flavor, the filling, a
creamy caramel, and the ganache, a bittersweet chocolate to cut some of the
richness. I think you’ll like it, so give it a try. You’ll notice that I use a
cake mix. Gasp. Hey, it’s easier for the recipe because this is an intense
prep, and I promise you won’t be able to tell the difference.
Smith Island-Inspired
Caramel-Coffee Cake with Chocolate Ganache
Ingredients for the
2 boxes butter yellow cake mix
2 sticks butter, softened, minus 2 tbs. (save those for
greasing pan)
Ingredients for the
caramel filling:
2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream, plus more if needed
32 oz. confectioner’s sugar (2-16 oz. boxes)
Ingredients for the
chocolate ganache:
16 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Plan on making the caramel filling a bit ahead so it has
time to cool completely on the counter while you bake. To make the filling,
melt the butter in heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Add the brown sugar and cream.
Cook over medium-low heat until sugar is dissolved (about 2-3 minutes). Remove
from heat, add vanilla, and transfer to a large glass mixing bowl. Using a
mixer with the batter attachment or a hand-held mixer, beat in confectioner’s
sugar until smooth and creamy. Add 1 tbs. of heavy cream, as needed, to get the
right consistency for spreadable icing.
For the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and
flour 5 8-inch round cake pans (I use disposable pans for this cake since I
don’t have 5 8-inch metal pans; any dollar store has them, FYI, so I just stock
Beat butter until smooth. Add buttermilk, coffee, vanilla,
and eggs, one at a time. Add the cake mixes and beat just until smooth.
Measure about ¾ cup of batter (maybe a little less) in each
pan, and use a spoon—or a crepe spreader if you have one— to carefully even out
the batter. It’s better to be heavier on the edges than in the middle.
My oven fits 5 pans at a time, so I do this in batches of
five. Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until cakes are done. They have a light spring
to their centers when ready. Remove from oven and carefully transfer to wire
cooling racks. They are delicate!
Repeat with next set of 5. There might be some batter left
over. I usually bake it in one cake pan and make a mini-cake to freeze and
later use in trifles or parfaits.
Once cakes are cool, they are ready to layer and ice.
Go ahead and make the ganache before layering. That will
give it the time it needs to rest before pouring over the cake.
To make the ganache, put the chopped chocolate in a food
processor. Heat the heavy cream until it simmers, but doesn’t boil. Pour the
hot cream over the chocolate and allow to rest for about 2 minutes. Pulse
several times until the mixture is smooth. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes
before pouring over entire layered cake.
To layer the cake, place the first layer on a flat plate. (A
tip: I usually cover just the edges of the plate with wax paper, all around, so
that it can be pulled from under the cake once the ganache has finished
running. This prevents a lot of chocolate pile-up on the plate’s rim. That’s up
to you. Too much chocolate certainly never hurt anyone, so don’t stress over
that part.)
Carefully spread the caramel filling over the cake
layer. The filling should be thin, and half-to-almost as thick as each cake
layer. Repeat with 9 layers, then place the 10th on the top, without
icing. Gently take your hand and press the cake together, at the top center to
stabilize a bit more.
Begin pouring ganache on the top center and allow it to run
down the sides. Fill in where needed, or leave in a rustic presentation. I
immediately refrigerate, uncovered, so the ganache will set. Remove from fridge
once set and slice to serve. This is a top-heavy cake, so slice with care.

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