Chocolate Guinness Caramel Cake

serves 8

For the cake

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghiradelli)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon espresso powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1/3 cup vegetable oil, or other flavorless oil

1 cup Guinness Stout 

For the caramel

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the frosting

2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 ounces (1/2 block) cream cheese, cold

1/2 cup marshmallow fluff

1/4 cup reserved caramel

1/2 pound of confectioners' sugar, about 1 1/2-2 cups

Preheat the oven to 375º F.  Line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper and spray with non-stick baking spray.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, and soda.  Whisk in the salt, sugar, and espresso powder.  In another bowl, stir together the vanilla, vinegar, oil, and beer.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk until combined.  Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan.  Bake until the sides have pulled away from the pan and the top springs back when gently pressed, about 35-40 minutes.  Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes.  Invert the cake, remove the parchment paper, and place it top side up on a rack to cool completely.

To make the caramel

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the sugar and water. Place the pan over medium-high heat.  Increase the heat to high, cover and boil for 2 minutes.  Uncover and gently swirl the saucepan until the mixture is a deep golden brown.  Use a pastry brush dipped in water to remove any crystallization on the edges of the pan.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and slowly add the cream and butter.  Return the pan to a low heat and gently stir until smooth.  Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and salt; stir to combine.  Transfer the caramel to a bowl and set aside.  Allow the caramel to cool to room temperature before using, stirring occasionally.  Do not refrigerate or the mixture will become too hard. (Reserve 1/4 cup of the caramel for the frosting.) 

For the frosting 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese.  Add the marshmallow fluff and reserved 1/4 cup of caramel and blend on low.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the confectioners' sugar and beat just until blended.

To assemble

Slice the cooled cake in half horizontally.  Place the bottom half on a serving platter.  Pour the remaining room temperature caramel over the cake half.  Using an off-set spatula, spread the caramel evenly over the cake in one direction leaving a 1/4-inch border. (Do not use a back and forth motion.  That will cause the caramel to pull up the tender cake crumbs.)  Place the top half of the cake on top of the caramel.  Spoon dollops of the frosting on the cake and spread evenly with an off-set spatula.  Using the back of a spoon, gently press into the frosting and lift to create swirls.  Allow the frosting to set and serve at room temperature.  Enjoy!

If making the cake the day before, refrigerate loosely covered.  Bring to room temperature, about 1-2 hours before serving.  

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