Rich sea-salted dulce de leche buttercream will wow your taste buds in this Salted Caramel Popcorn Cake (aka Crunch 'n Munch Cake). Along with three brown sugar cake layers it supports a pile of caramel corn, honey-roasted peanuts and dulce de leche drizzle.
Read the recipe notes for additional information, and what to expect when baking and assembling this cake.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray three 8-inch round baking pans with flour-based baking spray (or grease and flour pans).
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and baking soda together. Combine the buttermilk and vanilla extract in a glass measure with a pour spout.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the brown sugar, butter, oil and salt. Beat on medium-high until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scraped down the bowl using a rubber spatula. Add egg whites one at a time, mixing well between each egg addition.
Decrease the mixer speed to low and add the dry and wet ingredients in three additions. Begin and end with flour. Stop mixing when just a few streaks of flour remain. Finish folding together the ingredients by hand with a large rubber spatula. This will ensure that your cake’s texture is even and won’t bake with tunnels (air holes) throughout.
Place approximately 2 2/3 cup of batter into each of the prepared pans. Smooth the batter evenly with a rubber spatula and tap the pans on a work surface to release any air pockets. Bake cakes until golden and crowned, about 25 to 30 minutes. The cakes are done when a toothpick tester inserted near the center comes out clean.
Cool the cakes in the pans on a rack for 5 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Level them using a serrated knife or cake leveler, if needed (my cakes did not require leveling).
Salted dulce de leche buttercream
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, combine the butter and confectioners' sugar. Beat on low speed, gradually increasing to medium as the sugar is incorporated. The mixture will be thick.
When the butter and sugar are just combined with some streaks of sugar still remaining, stop the mixer and add the dulce de leche in three additions until thoroughly combined, mixing well after each addition. Beat in milk or cream 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture is a spreadable consistency, about 2 tablespoons. Beat in the fine sea salt. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy.
Scrape down the bowl and beat again to make sure no streaks of butter or sugar remain. Beat again if necessary. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel to prevent the frosting from drying out.
Place a cake layer on a cake board or flat serving plate. Top with 1 1/4 cups of buttercream; spread evenly. Repeat process with next cake layer. Place remaining cake layer on top. Frost the entire cake in a thin coat of the buttercream (crumb coat). Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
Cover cake with a second generous, thick layer of the buttercream. Smooth the top and sides evenly using an offset spatula, a cake smoother, or a bench scraper.
Place the remaining buttercream in a large piping bag fitted with a large closed star decorator tip. Pipe 8 large swirls on the top edge of the cake. Immediately place a caramel corn cluster on top of each swirl.
In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the dulce de leche and heavy cream. Heat 30 seconds or until hot, and the mixture stirs together easily. Pick up the mixture with a spoon and it should all in a ribbon back into the bowl. If it doesn’t fall correctly stir in a little more cream. Heat again if necessary.
Spoon or pipe the 3/4 of the caramel on top of the cake so that it drips down the edges. Top with handfuls of caramel corn, drizzling as you go with the remaining dulce de leche so that all layers of the caramel corn get a little of the drizzle. Sprinkle the peanuts on top. Add pinches of coarse sea salt to the caramel drip and drizzle.
Serve slices of cake at room temperature. Store leftovers covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator.
What to expect:
Tender, light cake layers that won’t rise much during baking. You shouldn’t have to level these cakes, but if your oven runs hot it could force them to crown (rise in the centers). Go ahead and level them using a serrated knife.
Lots of buttercream. The recipe makes a big stand mixer-sized bowlful, but it’s the star of the show and really wows as the filling and covering on this cake. If you’re not a big frosting fan you could halve the recipe. But my tasters loved the cake recipe written, as is.
A thick drizzle. Some brands of dulce de leche thin better than others. Some may require more cream to achieve a nice ribbon-like consistency. My recommendation is n’dulce brand, which is well behaved and thins easily. If your drizzle doesn’t thin easily, experiment with a little more heavy cream and heat.
Aaand, about the caramel corn's crunch. Ideally, you’ll assemble and serve this cake on the same day. That way the caramel corn will remain fresh and crunchy. I used Crunch ‘n Munch brand caramel corn clusters, which has a thick coating of caramel that I feel has a little more longevity in the refrigerator that other caramel corn. Over time in the fridge, the caramel corn with soften and lose its crunch.
Try to enjoy this cake within a couple days of assembly, and share the love! You shouldn’t have any trouble pawning slices off to co-workers, friends, and family.The brown sugar cake layers are adapted for this recipe from a New York Times recipe that you can find right here. The buttercream recipe and other elements are original to sprinnklebakes.com.
Keyword brown sugar cake layers, caramel popcorn, coarse sea salt, dulce de leche, salted dulce de leche frosting, unsalted butter