My “Chocolate Salted Caramel Buttercream” Birthday Cake Surprise For Alex! This “52 In 22” Cooking Challenge Was A Stacking Disaster!

My “52 In 22” Cooking Challenge Has A Birthday To Celebrate!

As those who are following this year-long series know, my wife Alex suggested I pick a new cookbook each week to make a recipe from , every week for all of 2022 – hence the “52 In 22” cooking challenge – and her request came back to haunt her!

Here is the stack I set out for weeks #11-20:

I put “CAKE By Courtney” in the stack on purpose: because I knew it was going to be Alex’s birthday during week #17 and I wanted to make her a cake!

Courtney Rich has been on my wife’s talkshow, “The Kelly Clarkson Show” several times – making incredibly delicious and creative desserts, and those pink post-its sticking out of the book are all of Courtney’s notes to Alex highlighting some of the recipes she thought Alex would love…which led me to make a “Chocolate Salted Caramel Buttercream Cake!”

Let The Adventure Begin!”

Let me set the stage: I wanted to make a special cake just for her, but I have said on many occasions that I am NOT a baker – so this was going to be a kitchen adventure to be sure!

There are four different steps to this dish:

1 – Make A Chocolate Cake

2 – Make Salted Caramel

3 – Make Buttercream

4 – Build A Birthday Cake

Sounds easy enough! Let’s get started with step #1:

Step #1: Make A Chocolate Cake!

This part of the recipe has a lot of components, but making a cake batter is fairly easy – even for me: first, turn your oven on to 325 degrees.

Using a stand mixer, add 2 cups flour, 1-3/4 cups sugar, 3/4 cup dark cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons of baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon baking powder and 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Mix on low for 30 seconds.

As you can see, not difficult, as long as you follow Courtney’s directions…

Next up, mix the wet ingredients that will be used for the batter:

In a mixing bowl, whisk one cup buttermilk (room temperature), 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 3 room temperature eggs, I cup of hot water and a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.

Everything seemed to be going well…the process isn’t complicated, I just needed to keep following the recipe exactly….which of course I couldn’t:

The next step is to turn the mixer back on and slowly pour the wet into the dry!

After thirty seconds, you can pour the batter into whatever type of pan you plan to bake in – I liked that so many of the “CAKE By Courtney” recipes were layered, so I chose 4″ baking pans…

I took some of the salted caramel chocolate nibs and sprinkled them in two of the four cake pans.

So…step one was a success…I put them into the oven.

While they baked in the oven at 325 for about 25 minutes, I moved to step two:

Step #2: Making Salted Caramel!

Next up, let’s make some salted caramel from scratch!

Mix 1/2 cup water, 1 cup of granulated sugar and two tablespoons of corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. DO NOT STIR!

That’s right, just let it cook until it turns to a golden brown, which will happen quickly so keep an eye on it!

While that is underway – don’t stray too far – heat 3/4 cup of heavy cream in a microwave-safe container – when golden, remove the caramelized sugar syrup form the heat and slowly stir in the cream…

Mix it as you go, and after you’ve done that, add 2 teaspoons of salt and the same amount of Vanilla extract, stir and set aside to completely cool!

When that was done, I took the cakes out of the oven and let them cool as well, then took them out of their mold: now it was time to go to step #3!

Step #3: Making A Buttercream!

Back at the stand mixer, I grabbed the remaining ingredients not yet used and made my buttercream base.

This was where I pulled back a bit on the recipe…first, I beat two cups of slightly chilled butter at medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes, scraping down the sides throughout…then I lowered the speed to medium-low and added 3 cups of powdered sugar…the recipe called for SIX cups, but I was worried that would be too sweet…

Next step is to add a half cup of your liquid salted caramel mixture, blending it slowly – you have more than that in your saucepan, so take a taste and add more – when it’s your degree of delicious salted caramel flavor, blend in the stand mixer for 5 minutes and it will be fluffy and creamy!

So, the first three parts of this recipe went well – what could go wrong now?

Step #4: Building A Birthday Cake!

Yes, there’s my three-tiered cake after I stacked them up…that’s how you build a better birthday cake to be sure, right?

A step back: before I stack them, I put one of the cakes on the plate and poured some that leftover salted caramel sauce in it, and then a smear of the gorgeous buttercream like this:

Easy, right?



Well, here’s it all started to fall apart for me…I stacked the cakes three high, and as directed, started to spread the delicious buttercream around the side…and for some reason it began to stick and tear at the sides of the cake, pulling off crumbs, and the result looked like a salt’n’pepper coating!

I trudged on, picking at the noticeable chocolate crumbs and finally got it coated, but I am about to share a shameful secret:

My Disastrous “Leaning Tower Of Pisa” Birthday Cake!

Yes, shortly after laboriously dabbing the Buttercream all around the cake with my fingers, managing to hide all of the chocolate crumbs, the cake began to tilt….


Yes, the bottom layer couldn’t handle the weight of the tower and it came crashing down!

What now? 

Time To Rebuild!

I took the top two layers off, discarded the bottom, and stacked the two remaining cakes once again, re-frosted as needed and then added some salted caramel chocolate chips and green sprinkles – Alex’s favorite color – and then I named the cake:

“The Leaning Tower Of Pisa” Birthday Cake!

Since it looked so much like the leaning tower, why not call it that?

First of all, bravo to “Cake By Courtney” – her cookbook is easy to follow, filled with tons of great photos, and lots of great recipes too!

The stacking disaster was my fault completely. 

And one last “insult to injury”:

The two green candles I put in at the back promptly caused it to collapse, like a rockslide!

I patched it up as best I could, and now it was time to present:

So there you have it: Alex was VERY generous about the presentation, and as for the taste, it was delicious!

The chocolate cake was rich but not sweet, the salted caramel buttercream frosting was delicious, and my sister happened to be in town, and he and her husband Bob gave it a “thumbs up” as well!

If you’ve been following along, you know that my “52 In 22” cooking challenge has gone around the world to see unique food lifestyles like this:

Yes I cooked “Izakaya” – Japanese Pub food!

Click here to see all of the fun recipes:

Here’s another recipe I shared recently as part of the challenge – simple and delicious:

This legendary roast chicken is served alongside a bread salad – what a delicious feast!

Click here for the entire recipe:

I love to replicate great dishes from iconic restaurants around the world like this one:

This Parisian “potato cake” is incredible and you can make it at home!

Here’s the recipe:

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As for my “52 Cookbooks 52 Recipes” challenge, I am sharing and storing all of these recipes here!

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Categories: 52 In 22!, Bite Eat Swallow, Bite! Eat! Repeat!, Chef memoirs, Cookbooks, Eat This!, Food, Food Pictures, Food Porn, Recipes, Wacky Food, World's Wildest Food

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7 replies

  1. I agree with Alex that it was so sweet of you to bake her a cake from scratch, and not just any cake but a fabulous chocolate, salted carmel cake with buttercream frosting!! And it was absolutely delicious!! I’m saving the recipe to make it myself though I’ll go easy on the towers!!!

  2. HI John, I can tell from the recipe that this is a very soft cake. This type of fudgy cake is best baked in a deep tin and isn’t ideal for stacking. One tip for stacking is to use a few wooden skewers in the middle region of the cake to help hold it together. Icing soft cakes is difficult. I always do a thin crumb coat. It does get full of crumbs but after you refrigerate it with the crumb coat applied until it has hardened, you will be able to apply a thick coat of icing without having the crumb problem. Thanks for this recipe, it sounds divine.

    • Robbie thank you for that insight! Great point on the size – I made the WRONG decision to stack a small round cake an dyes, it was a bit “Spongier” than it should have been…Alex laughed and it tasted good but boy, was that last step a disaster! I appreciate the great comments!


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