Chocolate Dulce De Leche Pretzel Cake
Reporting from Day 18 for COVID-19 quarantine. The forced time spent at home has revived my baking (and cooking!) spirit. There’s a thrill to treat your supply cabinet like an episode of Chopped and get creative with substitutions. So far the only ingredient I haven’t be able to get my hands on is yeast - everyone is apparently taking this moment to bake some homemade bread. Alas, there’s plenty else I can work with.
My best baking bud, Jaqui at Parlor Ice Cream Co., and I decided to start an pandemic baking club. Sort of like a book club, but more delicious. Every week in quarantine we’ll pick a challenging recipe and give it a shot. First up, was Milk Bar’s Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Cake - I mean, just look at those product photos. I had always wanted to try one of Milk Bar’s “naked” cakes; however, we realized quickly that the recipe didn’t exist in any of Christina Tosi’s three cookbooks or online. Already mentally committed, we decided to wing it.
I started by baking my favorite Devil’s food cake recipe - 4 layers of 6” round cake. Wrapped those in plastic wrap and let them cool overnight so they would be easy to work with during assembly. Meanwhile, I did something I had always wanted to do - make dulce de leche in the slow cooker! Literally all you do is put a can of sweetened condensed milk in the slow cooker, cover with water, and set to low for 10 hours. The thick, dark, and sweet dulce de leche emerges like magic!
The next day, I whipped up some butter cream frosting with a generous dollop of dulce de leche mixed in and crushed some pretzels with a rolling pin. From there, assembly time!
The cake is as follows from bottom to top:
-Dulce de Leche Frosting
-Dulce de Leche
-Chocolate Cake…repeat and end with frosting on the top.
Finally, the pretzel crunch! It is just some crushed up pretzels mixed with butter and sugar. Feels exactly like making a graham cracker pie crust, but chunkier. Once cooled, this was the perfect topper for the cake!
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup nonalkalized cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup milk
Dulce De Leche
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
Dulce De Leche Frosting
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3-4 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup dulce de leche
2 tbsp heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp butter, softened to room temperature
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup pretzel crumbs
Make the Dulce De Leche. Place the can of sweetened condensed milk in your slow cooker and cover with 1-2” of water. Set on low for 10 hours. Be careful when removing the can from the slow cooker, let cool completely before opening.
Make the Chocolate Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter three 6-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with a circle of parchment or wax paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and slowly add the sugar. Continue beating until light and smooth, about 4 minutes. Add the cocoa powder slowly and vanilla and beat at medium speed for 1 minute more. With the mixer running at medium-low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute between each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Combine the water and milk in a saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from the heat. With the mixer at low speed, Alternate adding the milk/water mixture and the flour mixture. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans - Lightly drop each pan onto the counter to settle the batter. Bake until the cakes begin to pull away from the sides of the pans and the center springs back when touched lightly, about 25-27 minutes. Cool the cakes, in the pans, on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn the cake layers out of the pans and cool on the rack. Wrap the layers in plastic wrap and store in fridge until ready for assembly.
Make the Dulce De Leche Frosting: whip the butter in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add confectioner’s sugar slowly. Add the ducle de leche, heavy whipping cream, and vanilla, Whip until desired texture.
Make the Pretzel Crunch: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together. Combine with pretzel crumbs and press into the bottom of an 8x8 baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool completely before using.
Layer of chocolate cake, frosting, dulce de leche, pretzel crumbs
Layer of cake, frosting, dulce de leche pretzel crumbs
Layer of cake, frosting, pretzel crunch
If you have a cake ring and some acetate, that is the easiest way to build a tall “naked” cake this way. If you don’t have those things, you can hack it together by making a cake ring out of tin foil and using parchment paper and duct tape instead of acetate. I hacked it together and it worked just fine!