29 November 2008

Daring Bakers and the Caramel Cake

We're back for another month of sugar-inducing delight, and this challenge definitely had us all on a sugar high. From Shuna Fish Lydon comes a recipe for Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting, recipe found on Bay Area Bites. Co-hosting with our hostess-of-the-month Dolores, Culinary Curiosity, are Alex, Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny, Foray into Food. Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go helped with the gluten-free variations.

The components that interested me the most was the caramel syrup (the leftovers of which I have yet to use) and brown butter in the buttercream (you'll find out how I used those leftovers tomorrow). We were given liberty to bake it in the size we preferred, and also to add different flavorings if we desired. I wanted to taste the flavor itself so I chose to follow the recipe as written.

I didn't read the instructions for the caramel syrup clearly the first time, and consequently ended up with sugar syrup. The second go went without any issues and the proper amount of sugar and water. Unfortunately, I didn't think that since the saucepan was dark the color of the syrup would be darker than it was. The finished syrup resulted in a light honey color instead of dark amber. My concern was that the caramel flavor wouldn't come through in the cake and the frosting.

But what's really important about caramel making: Don't rush a caramel. You rush a caramel and you get rotten caramel.

Instead of a round cake like I made for the last two cakes, I settled on a four-layer rectangular cake. I'm unsure if the cake rose as high as I thought it would have, but it worked out well for how high it did rise.

I didn't take a picture of the icing alone, but I can tell you that it was incredible! You'll probably read many Daring Bakers say that the icing was tooth-achingly sweet, and it was, but the ratio of icing-to-cake I used kept it from putting you into a coma since it wasn't thickly spread. Also, eat with a black cup of coffee or tea.

As for flavoring, the brown butter taste was the highlight for me. The caramel didn't really come through, not that I was surprised, so I really only tasted the brown butter. The recipe says to stir in coarse salt at the end and that really gave it another dimension, as well as cutting into the sweetness.

Icing the cake went just well because the frosting was the right consistency. A crumb coating is essential to achieving a smooth surface on the outside. Ever since I learned it a long time ago I always do it, and I'm always rewarded with a mostly smooth surface. It wasn't as smooth as I wanted, but dipping the offset spatula in hot water and lightly drying it off before smoothing the icing helped greatly.

That's supposed to be two balloons next to the 'y' on 'happy'. The icing tip was a large shell tip, but the icing didn't want to come out and I ended up with dots.

I chose to make this as my mom's second birthday cake. She was very surprised at how good this tasted and couldn't decide which was better, this or her first birthday cake, but it's impossible to choose between two completely different cakes (it's like choosing between a delicious bass and a mostly dead steak -- there is a big difference between mostly dead and and all dead, as mostly dead is still slightly alive). In the end, this made it on the 'cakes to make again' list (it's an informal list, actually).

Drizzled with remaining caramel syrup

My mom drizzled some juice from macerated strawberries on her slice (not shown) and not only did it help to further cut the sweetness, it also tasted great with the caramel-brown butter. However you say it, kăr'ə-məl, -mĕl', or kär'məl, this cake is a winner.

Don't forget to read the other Daring Bakers' posts. Browse through the blogroll to see some truly stunning creations.

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting
From Shuna Fish Lydon
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Caramel Syrup


  • 2 cups sugar

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)


  1. 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. (My note: It takes a while, you know, a watched pot never boils, so prep something else while keeping an eye on the pot, because once it does 'turn color' it doesn't take long before it reaches the correct color. And make sure you test the color on a light surface.)

  2. When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water through a piece of foil with a smallish hole in the center. Caramel will jump and sputter about, and the foil keeps it from getting on surfaces and on you.

  3. 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.} My note: It doesn't need to be as sticky as honey because it will thicken upon standing, but it should feel slightly tacky.

    If the syrup crystallizes, reheat the amount you need in a small saucepan on medium low, stirring often until it returns to a liquid state.

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

  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

  • Splash vanilla extract

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1 cup milk, at room temperature


  1. Preheat oven to 350°.

  2. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan. (Or cake pan of choice.<)/li>
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (I just used a large bowl and a hand-held mixer), cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

  4. 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.

  5. Sift flour and baking powder.

  6. 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.}

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

Caramelized Butter Icing


  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted

  • 4-6 tablespoons heavy cream (I used milk)

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup

  • Kosher or sea salt to taste


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

  2. Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

  3. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioners' 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 confectioners' 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.

Use your imagination when it comes to how you want the finished cake to look. Keep it simple by icing just the top, ice the sides, slice the cake into layers, whatever idea you come up with. Who says you can't play with food!


  1. So lovely that you used this month's DBC as birthday treats!! Love the little icing balloons :-)

  2. Nice cake shape! I think we both had the same icing consistency--looks very similar to mine :)

  3. I like the layering idea! Your bday cake looks great!!

  4. You had me at the word caramel! I would love this cake!

  5. What a good daughter you are. Your whole cake looks perfect. Caramel is tricky.

  6. VeggieGirl - This makes three DBer cakes I've used for birthday. Very timely, I must say.

    Chef D - I noticed that, too. Mine was kinda whipped in texture, but also a bit dense (if that makes any sense...).

    Baking Like Betty - Makes for a nice change from round cakes, that's for sure.

    Thanks for commenting!

    Morgana - Thank you =)

    Sam - Then you should definitely make it!

    Courtney - Oh yeah, I know how tricky it is. Thanks to the DBers, though, I'm much better at it than I was a few years ago.

  7. What a beautiful "bonus" birthday gift for your mom. I'm glad the browned butter pleased you, even if the caramel came out a bit light. Thanks for baking with us.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. Your thoughts are appreciated! ^,^


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