Salted Caramel Popcorn Cake

This salted caramel popcorn cake will blow your mind and light up your taste buds like fireworks. With pillowy soft peanut butter sponges, outrageously delicious brown butter icing, a mountain of salted caramel popcorn, and an overflow of salted caramel. It’s also gluten-free. Doesn’t it sound like a dream come true?

The salted caramel popcorn cake on a decorative cake stand, with a generous caramel drizzle, dripping down the sides, and a heap of caramel popcorn on top.

Ingredients

For 3 x 6 inch gluten free peanut butter sponges:

  • 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp (190 mL) milk
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 1/3 cups (400 g) plain gluten free flour blend (I’ve used a simple store-bought blend of rice, potato and maize flour with no added xanthan gum)
  • 3/4 tsp xanthan gum
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 3/4 cups + 2 tbsp (375 g) white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick (113 g) unsalted butter, room temparature
  • 7/8 cup (225 g) smooth natural peanut butter, room temperature/soft

For brown butter frosting:

  • 4 sticks (450 g) unsalted butter
  • 2 3/4 cups (350 g) powdered sugar
  • pinch of salt

For salted caramel:

  • 1 1/2 cups (300 g) white sugar
  • 3/4 stick + 1 1/2 tbsp (105 g) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup + 1 1/2 tbsp (200 mL) double/heavy cream
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp salt

For caramel popcorn:

  • 6 cups (115 g) popcorn
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) white sugar
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp (30 g) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
The salted caramel popcorn cake on a decorative cake stand, with a piece having been cut and placed on a white plate next to the cake stand.

Instructions

For 3 x 6 inch gluten free peanut butter sponges:

  1. Preheat the oven to 355 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius) and line three 6 inch round cake pans with baking/greaseproof paper (see post).
  2. Whisk together the milk and eggs in a small bowl until smooth.
  3. Sift together the gluten-free flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a separate bigger mixing bowl.
  4. Combine the unsalted butter and peanut butter in a mixing bowl. Whisk the butter into the dry ingredients with a hand mixer until tiny, pea-sized chunks form.
  5. Add the milk+egg mixture and whisk with a hand mixer until a smooth cake batter forms.
  6. Evenly spread the cake batter amongst the three cake pans and smooth the tops.
  7. Preheat the oven to 355°F (180°C) and bake the cakes for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the tops are golden brown.
  8. Allow 10 minutes for the cakes to cool in the pans before turning out onto a cooling rack.
  9. If the cakes have domed while baking, level them off once they have cooled (the cut-offs make for an excellent snack).

For brown butter frosting:

  1. Brown the butter by melting it in a tall-sided saucepan and then simmering it for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until it turns a deep brown color and begins to smell nutty. Because the butter will bubble, use a large saucepan.
  2. Remove the butter from the fire as soon as it turns a dark brown color (otherwise it may burn) and pour it into a mixing bowl.
  3. I recommend using a pot with a light-colored bottom so you can see how the butter changes color.
  4. Allow the butter to cool until it is firm but still “spreadable” at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
  5. Brown butter that has been cooled and firmed up should be whisked until it is pale, fluffy, and has grown in volume.
  6. Whisk in the powdered sugar for another 4 to 5 minutes, or until the frosting is thick and fluffy.

For salted caramel:

  1. Melt the sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until it is a deep golden brown.
  2. Mix in the butter until it has melted and is completely absorbed into the caramel. (Be careful, as the caramel will bubble up a lot when you add the butter!) Allow for 2 to 3 minutes of cooking time.
  3. Slowly drizzle in the double/heavy cream, while firmly mixing. (Be cautious, as the caramel might bubble up and emit steam when double cream is added!)
  4. To test the consistency of the caramel sauce, spoon out a tiny quantity and set it aside to cool. If it’s too thick, add a little more double/heavy cream and continue until the correct consistency is achieved. (The salted caramel should be rather liquid because it will be drizzled over the cake, but not too much so that it drips all the way down.)
  5. Add the salt after the last addition of the double/heavy cream and simmer for 1 minute, then remove from heat and set aside to cool fully.

For caramel popcorn:

  1. Put the popcorn in a large mixing bowl or a baking sheet fitted with a silicone mat or aluminum foil.
  2. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture is a light amber/golden color. Don’t allow the sugar to get a rich golden color.
  3. The rationale for adding the water here (as opposed to the salted caramel sauce) is that we want a more controlled caramelisation of the sugar since once the baking soda is introduced, the caramel might burn fast.
  4. Mix in the butter until it has melted and is completely absorbed into the caramel. (Be cautious, since the caramel may bubble up a lot when you add the butter!) Allow for 30 seconds of cooking time.
  5. Add the baking soda and stir fast to avoid burning yourself. The mixture may bubble up, so be cautious not to burn yourself.
  6. Pour the bubbling caramel over the popcorn and toss the popcorn and caramel together quickly. Working quickly is essential at this stage, as the caramel hardens quickly, and we want an even thin layer of caramel to cover all of the popcorn.
  7. Allow the caramelized popcorn to cool completely before breaking it into smaller pieces.

Assembling the cake:

  1. Spread a thick amount of brown butter icing on top of a peanut butter sponge to assemble the cake. Drizzle with salted caramel sauce. Then repeat with another layer.
  2. The third and final peanut butter sponge should be placed on top. Cover the top and edges of the cake with the remaining brown butter icing. Using an icing smoother, smooth out the frosting.
  3. Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes. This will help to stiffen up the frosting and keep it tidy after the salted caramel is poured on top.
  4. Drizzle the salted caramel over the top of the cake and down the edges.
  5. On top of the cake, pile the caramel popcorn. Stick the different pieces together with the salted caramel (to make it more stable).
  6. Enjoy!

Storage

The salted caramel peanut butter cake can be stored in the fridge for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container (or carefully wrapped in cling film).

The salted caramel popcorn cake on a decorative cake stand, with a generous caramel drizzle, dripping down the sides, and a heap of caramel popcorn on top.

Source: The Loopy Whisk

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