Friday, November 28, 2008

Daring Baker's Caramel Cake, or, Waiter! There's A Cake in My Sugar!

After several months of playing on the savory side of the street, the November Daring Baker's challenge embraced sugar in a big, big way. We made Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting, courtesy of Shuna at Eggbeater.

As far as cakes go, this one had several steps but wasn't outrageously difficult, time-consuming or expensive. The first step was to make a caramel syrup, which I accidentally crystallized the first time (quite embarrassing considering my candy-writing job.) After adding a little corn syrup the second attempt was a breeze, and I ended up with a beautifully dark amber caramel, with the consistency of a thick maple syrup.
The cake recipe called for some of this syrup, although I didn't really get much of a caramel taste in the end product. The batter was also very temperamental--it turned out fine, but the whole time I was making it, I felt like it was on the verge of breaking. I added an extra 1/4 cup of cake flour at the end, because it seemed so close to broken. It baked up beautifully (although it didn't gain much height), so maybe my fears were unfounded, but it did seem precariously on the edge for a while.

The cake recipe called for it to be topped with "Caramelized Butter Frosting," which I think is a bit of a misnomer, since it tasted much more like "Browned Butter Frosting." Although it did have some of the caramel sauce in it, this basic frosting recipe tasted like the browned butter base, and lots of sugar. So much sugar. This frosting had a good flavor, but it was painfully sweet. And I like sweet things! But because I had already decided to layer my caramel cake, I knew I couldn't stand to have the cake filled with this sweet, sweet frosting--it would just be overkill.

So instead, I used more of the caramel syrup to make a caramel-chocolate ganache. Although I used lots of milk chocolate and only a little bittersweet, the ganache still had a gorgeous deep, dark taste--I think the caramel gave it a lot of depth it wouldn't have otherwise. So I was able to cut the sweetness significantly by filling the layers with some whipped caramel-chocolate ganache, and adding a ring of ganache to the outside of the cake. This way, the frosting was still present on the outside of the cake, but didn't overwhelm it with sweetness or browned butter flavor.
Because the cake didn't rise too much, I got three thin layers out of it, instead of the 4 I was planning. This was fine, though, because the cake was quite substantial in the end! The caramel cake had a great texture; it was really moist but not dense or heavy. I thinned out the remaining caramel syrup with water and brushed each layer with the caramel soaking syrup before assembling the cake, to add flavor and moistness. This also meant that, between the cake, frosting, ganache, and syrup, I used up all of the caramel, which is good because I hate having small bits left over after baking. You can see where the caramel syrup soaked into the cake layers in this picture:
In addition to the frosting and ganache on top, I decided to decorate the cake with some sugar work. My original plan was to make sugar corkscrews and spun sugar, but because I decided to finish this cake on the one rainy day Los Angeles has every year, the moisture in the air completely screwed up my plans, and I had to settle for some sugar discs. I ended up really liking the look, but was a little disappointed to not be able to complete my original vision. I also dislike that the decorations don't contribute to the final taste of the cake (although my husband ate his with his slice and loved them, go figure).

Would I make this cake again? Probably not, unless specifically requested to. It was actually pretty tasty in the end, with the caramel soaking syrup and the caramel-chocolate ganache, but I feel like a similar--or better--result could be achieved with a different recipe that wasn't so finnicky and temperamental. But, as always, it was great to experiment and try something new, and we definitely scarfed the cake down once it was done.

This recipe comes from Shuna Fish Lydon at Eggbeater, as published on Bay Area Bites. Our hosts were Dolores, Alex, Jenny, and Natalie.

Caramel Cake

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Sauce

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Caramelized Butter Frosting

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.

Caramel-Chocolate Ganache

1/2 cup caramel sauce
1 cup heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick
9 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter, softened

Whisk together the cream and caramel sauce in a medium saucepan and add the cinnamon stick. Heat over low heat to infuse the cinnamon, bring to a simmer. Once simmering remove the cinnamon stick and pour the hot cream/caramel mixture over the chopped chocolate. Allow it to sit and soften for 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Add the softened butter and whisk until incorporated. Press cling wrap over the surface and leave at room temperature until ready to use. Can be whipped for a lighter texture, or heated briefly to pour.

Sugar for Sugar Work

5 oz granulated sugar
5 oz water
1/4 tsp lemon juice

Combine all in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, insert a candy thermometer. Stir until sugar dissolves and brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Cook without stirring until it reaches 300 degrees, remove from heat. (Sugar will continue cooking and probably get to the 310-315 degree range.) Allow to cool slightly until it is the proper temperature for spinning or corkscrews. If it gets too cool, reheat briefly.


  1. Loving the neatly arranged sugar discs. I wouldn't mind biting into those decorations :)

  2. ta déco est vraiment splendide ! j'adore, ça donne un côté encore + gourmand !

  3. This cake looks amazing--I love the way you decorated it!

  4. your cake is beautiful! wow!

  5. That whipped caramel chocolate ganache sounds to-die-for. Fabulous idea for cutting the sweetness of the frosting.

  6. WHat a great looking cake. I had pondered using chocolate on top but stuck with the frosting with lots of salt added!

  7. Your cake looks wonderful! I love the chocolate on top :)

  8. WOW! I can't belive what some people came up with for this cake... yours has to be one of the spunkiest I've seen! Funny, creative and totaly joyful! BRAVO... I'm amazed!

  9. beautiful works .... well explained...great for the holidays!
    peace to all, mtw

  10. I can imagine ganache being a good idea here! Looks lovely with the sugar dots!

  11. Anonymous5:17 PM

    I love the chocolate-caramel ganache. Your cake looks perfectly yummy!

  12. Your cake looks and sounds amazing!

  13. You are so creative! I just love your cake!

  14. I love the geometric design of your cake! So pretty!

  15. Wow that cake looks too pretty to eat!

  16. I love your additions of the caramel sauce as soaking syrup and the chocolate caramel ganache. And your cake turned out beautifully. Thanks for baking with us this month.

  17. Thanks for the tip on condensation for sugar making. I'll definitely try that next time!

  18. So beautiful! I love the way the filling seeped into the cake. It looks divine!

  19. beautifully decorated! great call on the caramel chocolate ganache, i'll bet that added a nice new dimension to the cake :)

  20. Gorgeous job, Liz! I love the caramel on top! Hey, I don't know if you were at 3rd St on Sunday, but I saw a car that has a license plate frame that said Cake or Death and I of course thought of you. Is that your car? :)

  21. Wow, your cake looks fantastic! I love the incredibly pretty decorations! Great job!



  22. Love the look of your cake, very pretty! Good thing you added the caramel chocolate ganache, mine really was too sweet.

  23. This is great! Your pictures are beautiful. I love all your special touches.

  24. The cake looks gorgeous! I love the idea of adding panache!

  25. The cake looks is a very nice.

  26. Arghf! Seing that cake I have just gained 5 lbs. What a good presentation!

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  28. Wow that cake looks too pretty to eat!

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