Blue Ribbon Chocolate Cake With Caramel Buttercream and Salty Pretzel Crunch

I dabble in competitive baking,

Sometimes I get lucky.
This is my winning entry for our state’s chocolate cake contest.
It is the culinary equivalent of a gold medal,
Which is great for me
Since I have zero athletic ability,
And the Olympics were never an option.

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

My flour of choice is Daisy Organic Pastry Flour.  It has a fine texture and it is low in protein.  The wheat is naturally grown and milled in Lancaster County, and the flour is available on the Daisy website. You could substitute an unbleached cake flour if you don’t have access to pastry flour.
Unsweetened applesauce from Solebury Orchards gives the cake moistness and a slightly fudgy texture without imparting a detectable apple flavor.   
Farm fresh eggs from Rick’s Egg Farm in Kintnersville adds a nice local spin to this cake.  These eggs are antibiotic and hormone free.
This is a simple one bowl cake recipe. 

There is also a dreamy caramel sauce.

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 GMO-free organic corn and guaranteed to be chemical free.


A little baking soda at the end will help to thicken the sauce.  As it cools, it will continue to thicken even more.

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 now for the cake assembly.

I line a cake stand with strips of parchment paper because frosting a cake can be a messy job.

I add frosting to each layer of cake with a drizzle of caramel sauce and crushed pretzels. 

 These are Good’s pretzels, locally produced in Adamstown, PA.

Here is the final cake.

Pennsylvania has many talented bakers as you can see from the entries of the 2013 chocolate cake contest.  There were 67 cakes representing the blue ribbon winners 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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