Recipe Review

Martha Stewart’s Mile High Chocolate Cake Nearly Burned My House Down — But It Was So Worth It

updated Apr 30, 2021
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Credit: Meghan Splawn

Leave it to the queen of Very Good Things to bring us a tall, dark, and handsome chocolate cake filled with rich salted caramel and finished with a thick whipped ganache-like icing. I’ve been thinking about this cake for months, ever since I first watched Martha make it on The Today Show while promoting her latest book Cake Perfection. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get this cake out of my head: Richard Gere, Martha’s neighbor, called to inquire about getting a piece after seeing her on Today.

Now, I don’t have Martha for a neighbor, so instead I had to wait three months to be able to block off a weekend afternoon to make this cake for myself. Luckily, the six layers of chocolate cake, homemade caramel, and a seriously stunning frosting were well worth it — despite the fact that I almost burned my kitchen down. I would recommend this cake to everyone, and it makes plenty to share with your neighbors, too.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

How to Make Martha Stewart’s Mile High Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

Martha Stewart’s recipe is very detailed, and I appreciate that she walks you through each part of the process. You’ll start by making the cake batter, which yields enough for three 9-inch layers. The batter is pretty simple and doesn’t require a stand mixer, but I underestimated just how much it would make and had a fair amount spill out from even my largest Pyrex bowl. This should have given me a clue when it came to the caramel later, but nevertheless I carried on with baking and cooling the cakes.

While the cakes are doing their thing, you’ll make a caramel that will act as the filling. This is where things went terribly wrong for me. Martha suggests making a dry caramel, which involves heating sugar until it caramelizes without adding any water. Because dry caramel almost always crystalizes for me, I watched the pot very closely, and was excited when it turned to liquid and caramelized to a beautiful golden hue. But as I began adding the cream, I immediately realized my pot was too small (YOU SAID A MEDIUM POT MARTHA) and the caramel boiled over, with almost a cup of it spilling onto my cooktop and burning and filling my kitchen with smoke. I was able to rescue the pot, move the caramel to another pot, clean up, and continue, but needless to say it was a subplot I really didn’t need.

With the cakes and the caramel both cooling, you can move onto making the chocolate frosting. The frosting is surprisingly simple and yet produces a texture similar to whipped ganache. It has a double dose of chocolate: You’ll bloom cocoa powder in hot water, then stream it into a mixture of whipped butter, powdered sugar, and melted dark chocolate. To achieve the perfect consistency, you’ll rest the frosting for 30 minutes, during which time you can layer the cake and the caramel.

Layering the cakes follows a standard procedure: Slice the three cakes in half, trimming off the natural dome from baking, then build the cake by layering 3/4 cup caramel between each cake layer (even with my boil-over incident I had plenty of caramel). The unfrosted cake chills for a bit, then gets a crumb coat before the final frosting. This cake is best sliced and served at room temperature, so you can serve it up almost immediately after frosting.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

My Honest Review of Martha’s Mile High Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

Despite having to open every window in my kitchen to clear out the smoke after my caramel spill-over, this is one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever made and eaten. The chocolate cake is tender and incredibly moist, and soaks up the flavor of the rich caramel in the most delicious way. Near the middle of the cake, the layers of caramel and cake create an almost fudge-like texture that’s absolutely delightful. The frosting was a bit of a revelation for me too. Usually chocolate frostings are thick and fudge-like, but this one is light and fluffy — almost like a whipped cream without a bit of cream in it.

Of course, I couldn’t eat all this cake alone! (Although I do wish I had frozen some slices for the future.) I sent out a text to my neighbors asking them to take cake off my hands (you know, just like Richard and Martha). Reviews included: “This is the best cake we’ve ever had — amazing!” and “So freaking delicious.”

Credit: Meghan Splawn

If You Decide to Try Martha’s Mile High Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake, a Few Tips

If you want to be the best neighbor on your street or in your building, or you’ve got a special occasion to celebrate with cake, I’d reach for this recipe from Martha Stewart immediately. Here’s a little advice if you decide to take it on.

  • Use a really big bowl for mixing the cake. My large (6-quart) Pyrex mixing bowl wasn’t quite large enough for the batter, which created a small mess. Also, having to carefully mix in a too-small bowl can lead to over-mixing, as evidenced by the irregular crumb in my finished cake layers. With that said, use your biggest bowl.
  • Honestly, you can skip making the caramel. You’ll need 4 cups of caramel for filling the cake, and while it’s certainly cost-effective to make your own, you can use almost any caramel recipe you like or shortcut this part and buy a high-quality caramel sauce. A pro tip? Ask your local bakery if you can order some for pickup!
  • Be generous with the caramel when layering the cake. I really wanted the drippy caramel moment that Martha’s photos teased, but I think this was either food styling magic or she used more than the 3/4 cup of caramel called for. If you make the caramel in this original recipe, you’ll have plenty of extra, so don’t hesitate to use 1 whole cup per layer.
Credit: Kitchn