Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's the Most Wonderful Time for a Sugar Coma

Here is the dramatic unveiling of my first Daring Bakers Challenge: Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting. Ta da!

I did not want this cake in the house, as the amount of butter in it is obscene and I really like caramel. I originally was going to cut the recipe in half and make cupcakes but I decided to take the cake to Thanksgiving dinner instead. It seemed like a good compromise, since that way I could bring a nice hostess gift and pawn off- I mean share- the near cup and half of buttery goodness with others. Cake travels better than cupcakes and since Joe and I were commuting about an hour to his family's house, cake it was. I apologize, no cupcakes after all this month. I'll have to make two cupcake recipes in December to make up for it. Twist my arm, I'll do it.

There are three components to the cake: the frosting, the cake, and the caramel syrup. Let's talk about the caramel syrup first since you'll have to make that first to use in the cake and the frosting. I started making this cake the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, mostly because I was going in to shadow a nurse anesthetist Wednesday morning and I was super excited about it. I love surgery and was giddy at the prospect at spending a whole day in the OR, I was like a kid on Christmas eve. So I made brown butter and caramel syrup to calm my nerves. What, you don't do that when you're stressed?

The caramel syrup recipe is very basic: you heat sugar and water in a pan and let it bubble away til it turns a dark amber, and then you stop the caramelization process by dumping in water. Then the mixture will spatter, covering everything within a 10 mile radius with caramel and if you're lucky, that 5 miles won't include any vital body parts.

No, it's not that scary. My oven is always filthy so while it did splatter, it wasn't awful and was an easy clean up. And I only burned my wrist a little! A big improvement from the pear-caramel incident.

A lot of the Daring Bakers were having trouble with the caramel but I've made caramel enough times to be pretty confident in making it. The trick is: don't mess with it. Stir the water and sugar together and after that don't touch it, you'll just mess it up and it will become a big crystallized mess. Check it constantly for color though, you need to watch caramel. Here's what mine looked like:

See this? Your caramel will hang out in that stage for seems like forever. Patience, friend. Leave it alone.

The second picture shows when the caramel begins to color around the edges: here's when you want to start watching it really closely. Stages 2-4 happen in a matter of minutes and if you're not careful, you'll scorch the caramel.

This is getting pretty dark: almost there, get your water ready!

This is what I judged 'dark amber' to look like. Here's where you dump in the water and hope that you survive.

If you do survive, here's what your caramel syrup will look like:

Pretty! Here's the official recipe:



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.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

See? I warned you. Caramel is serious stuff. I have scars on my toes to prove it from the pear incident. Joe made me wear shoes this time around. Apparently he should of had me wear mittens too since I burned my wrist. C'est la vie, I should just wear a full body suit when baking.

Now you can move onto the cake and frosting. Here's the cake recipe:



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.


I took issue with this recipe. It's vague, for one. And the proportions just aren't right. There's way too much sugar, the granulated sugar and the caramel syrup, and 1/2 tsp of leavener in an entire cake is a ludicrously small amount. You put more leavener in pancakes, for goodness sake. Technically I'm not supposed to deviate from the assigned recipe but um, hypothetically I would cut down on the sugar by at least a 1/4 cup and would add 2 tsp baking powder instead of a measly 1/2 tsp.

I also browned the butter the night before and chilled it to add that delightful toffee taste to the cake. Just brown the amount of butter called for, chill until set and then use as directed.

Next up: 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.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

I cheated on this one as well. I had leftover buttercream frozen from the casatta cake and since it had all the components of the frosting ingredients, I dumped a bunch of it into a pan, browned it, and then whipped it with some powdered sugar and caramel syrup. Since I don't like American buttercream, mine was more of a caramel glaze than buttercream: I didn't add very much powdered sugar. But that suited me just fine.

To assemble, I cut the cake in half, drizzled caramel syrup over each layer, poured the glaze on top and then drizzled with more caramel syrup.I had left over maple cookie dough frozen so I made the rest of those for garnish (and snacking!). I was going to use royal icing to decorate the cookies but my powdered sugar supply was ravaged by this point. So I just glazed them with yet more caramel syrup to make them shiny and pretty and then stuck them on top.

Sugar coma much? I actually craved vegetables by the time I was finished making this.

The cake went over pretty well at Thanksgiving dinner. It was good but a small piece went a long way: this stuff is sweet. I would maybe make it for a caramel lovers birthday or something but other than that, it's too labor intensive and sweet to make very often. I did enjoy the first challenge though, bring on December's!

Here's the standard blurb I have to post about who 'hosted' this months event: Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater, who came up with the recipe (, Dolores ( , Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo:, and Jenny of Foray into Food ( Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go ( for gluten free tips.

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon (, as published on Bay Area Bites ( Shuna Fish Lydon’s recipe ( … he-recipe/)


Renee said...

Your cake looks like a caramel cake! I love the rich color!

Eat4Fun said...

Great job and contratulations on completing your first DB Challenge! Good idea about pawning off/sharing the cake. :-)

madcapcupcake said...

Congrats on your first challenge - love the maple leaf cookies!! :)

nikkita said...

oh my, I love your version of the frosting!! Your cake looks great. Welcome to the DB ^_^

dolcigine said...

Also my 1st challenge :-)!! ... Your cake looks fantastic :-)!!!

Angela said...

Great minds think alike---I took my cake to a party to share out the calories ;)

Your cake is beautiful! Welcome to The Daring Bakers!

Diana said...

Congratulations on your first challenge! I'm envisioning someone cooking in full firefighter gear to make the caramel :) I made a sort of funnel lid out of foil for my pan and that really helped. Your cake looks really pretty and totally perfect for fall.

kimberleyblue said...

Your cake has such a great colour - awesome job!

Welcome to the Daring Bakers, and happy Thanksgiving!

Feng said...

Wow, I love your decoration, very pretty!

CookiePie said...

Your cake is absolutely gorgeous! I love the glaze and the flowers. Lovely!!

Amy said...

I wish I'd had your site to look at to determine when to pour the water into my syrup. I guess I did not have enough patience! Great job - congrats on finishing your first challenge!

Fran Z said...

Lovely cake for Thanksgiving! Congrats!

Leslie said...

Sugar coma..indeed! You did a wonderful job on this challange!

Lauren said...

Mmm, your cake looks awesome! Love the maple leaves on top!

Carly said...

Great job on your first challenge. Your a pro! Looks delicious!

Sophie said...

Thanks, fellow daring bakers!

Rebecca said...

What a lovely brown color--I'm jealous!

Gretchen Noelle said...

Love the look of your cake. Maple cookie dough in leaf shapes seems perfect! Great job!

Jane said...

Yours is the first cake that looks like caramel! And the leaves you decorated with... How autumnal!

I usually try to share my DB challenges too. Very often they are wonderful, but not that healthy.