Blue Ribbon Chocolate Cake With Caramel Buttercream and Salty Pretzel Crunch

Blue Ribbon Cake
This is my winning entry for our state’s chocolate cake contest. It is the equivalent of a gold medal, which is great for me, because I have zero athletic ability and the Olympics were never an option.

Of course, I stayed true to living la vida locavore, many of the ingredients are Pennsylvania produced.

This is Daisy Organic Pastry Flour.  It has a fine texture and a lower protein than all-purpose flour.  It make for a tender cake.  The wheat is naturally grown and milled in Lancaster County without the use of pesticides or chemicals.

Pastry flour can be be difficult to find, so feel free to substitute an unbleached cake flour for very similar results.
Unsweetened applesauce from Solebury Orchards not only contributes to moistness, it also gives the cake a pleasant, slightly fudgy texture without imparting a detectable apple flavor. Applesauce is often used as a replacement for melted butter or oil in fat free baking. Do not be alarmed, this recipe is of the full fat variety.
Solebury Applesauce
Farm fresh eggs from Rick’s Egg Farm in Kintnersville gives a nice local, antibiotic/hormone free spin to this cake. 
This is a simple one bowl cake recipe, 

With a decadent, dreamy caramel sauce for drizzling.

To make the sauce, I melted butter and brown sugar in a sauce pan until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is bubbling.

I added organic corn syrup to the butter/sugar to prevent the sugar from getting grainy. I rarely use corn syrup but when I do, I like this natural product by Wholesome Sweeteners. It is made with non-GMO organic corn and it is guaranteed to be chemical free.  Caramel sauce definitely adds the wow factor to this cake.

And now for the frosting:
I’ve made,
And eaten
My fair share of frosting over the years,
But my favorite, 
By far, is Swiss meringue buttercream.

It involves egg whites

That are heated with sugar over a pot of simmering water.

Once the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm, I whip it to a state of marshmallow-y goodness.  Right now this is a delicious fat-free indulgence,

Until I add an obscene amount of butter.  Thankfully this cake serves up to 12 people, so the fat and sugar will be evenly distributed among my friends.  We are a close-knit group.  When one of us gains a pound, we all gain a pound.

I fold some of the cooled caramel sauce into the frosting, and get ready to assemble the cake.

Each layer gets a significant amount of frosting, salty, crushed pretzels, and a drizzle of caramel. 

Speaking of pretzels, these are Good’s pretzels, locally produced in Adamstown, PA, and true to their name, they are good pretzels. They are the only low fat portion of this recipe.

Here is the final cake before I make my way to the Farm Show in Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania has many talented bakers as you can see from the entries of the 2013 chocolate cake contest.  Each of these cakes are already winners, representing the best of the blue ribbon bakers from local agricultural fairs throughout the state, no wonder they call this the Super Bowl of baking.  

am over-the-moon thrilled to have won the state title representing Bucks County’s Middletown Grange.

The Middletown Grange in Wrightstown, Pennsylvania is a grassroots organization that preserves and promotes local agriculture and very generously supports many groups in our community.  

Blue Ribbon Chocolate Cake With Caramel Buttercream and Salty Pretzel Crunch
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12 servings
  • 1 ½ cups pastry flour or unbleached cake flour
  • ½ cup potato starch
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • ½ cup safflower oil or other neutral tasting vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ¾ cup half and half, heated to scalding
  • ½ teaspoon espresso powder
  • Caramel Sauce
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup organic corn syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Frosting
  • 1 ¼ cups pasteurized organic egg whites
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • 5 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature (20 ounces)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ⅓ cup cooled caramel sauce
  • 1 cup pretzels, crushed, plus extra whole pretzels for garnish
  1. Directions for Cake:
  2. Cake: Line 3 (8) inch cake pans with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Stir.
  5. Add eggs, buttermilk, applesauce, oil and vanilla. Mix until combined.
  6. Add espresso powder to half and half. Stir. Add to cake batter. Mix until combined. Divide evenly among cake pans. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until center springs back to the touch. Cool.
  7. For Caramel Sauce:
  8. Place butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat until melted.
  9. Add sugar, corn syrup and salt. Stir. Cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is bubbling.
  10. Add baking soda. Sauce will bubble. Stir and continue to cook until thickened slightly. Remove from heat.
  11. Add vanilla. Stir. Let cool. Sauce will thicken as it cools.
  12. For Frosting:
  13. Place egg whites and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir. Place over a pot of simmering water. Cook 15 minutes or until sugar is dissolved.
  14. Place hot egg white mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix until mixture is thick and fluffy and the bowl is cool to the touch.
  15. Add butter by the tablespoon, mixing after each addition. Keep whipping until thickened. Add vanilla and cooled caramel sauce. Mix until combined.
  16. Assembly: Place ¾ cup frosting on bottom layer. Drizzle caramel sauce over frosting and sprinkle with ½ cup crushed pretzels. Repeat. Drizzle caramel over top of frosted cake. Garnish with whole pretzels.

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