Saturday, November 29, 2008

Caramel Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting

Let me preface this by saying that I am a little uneasy with making caramel. Most people are quite aware of how dangerous caramel can be but I really learned the hard way. Let me set the scene. I am making 'creme caramel' at culinary school, and am at the stage where you melt the sugar, turn it into amber caramel and pour the liquid into the bottom of ramekins that will then be filled with custard. In an effort to get a perfectly even layer of caramel, my finger slipped in the boiling hot caramel.. and I lost more skin that I ever thought possible. The whole class stared, I had to be sat down (I was pale and livid and it seemed that I might pass out).. and was obliged to wear a 'finger condom' for the next couple weeks. Restaurant kitchens all have a stack of these tiny little finger condoms (they are literally minuscule latex tubes meant to fit your finger)that cooks wear when they hurt themselves to make sure that they don't infect the food. It's not exactly the most flattering accessory and a clear (and visible!) reminder that you did something wrong. That was by far the worst injury I ever experienced while cooking and probably the most pain I've ever been in!

However, my love for cooking and trying new things has always forced me to go beyond my fears, and when I saw this month's Daring Bakers challenge from Shuna Fish Lydon , I knew it was a great time to face the (delicious)caramel monster again. I had already made caramel a couple weeks ago to accompany a pear clafoutis, and everything had gone why not with this cake? Oliver helped me in the kitchen for this one, and he insisted that he would pour the water in the amber-colored sugar to finish off the mixture. I felt like I was standing in the lab of a mad scientist for a couple seconds, as the sugar started to bubble furiously, the pot fumed to the ceiling, and Oliver jumped back with a somewhat shaky empty glass.

The rest of the cake was easy to make, so easy in fact that I was worried it might taste quite ordinary. Quite to the contrary, the cake was moist, rich in caramel flavor combined with a subtle mix of sweet and salty.

Recipe (found here)
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 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 (recipe found below) into the 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.

The cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Syrup
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (to "stop" 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.

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.


HoneyB said...

Looks delicious!

Engineer Baker said...

I've been lucky enough to avoid caramel burns, so kudos for being able to make caramel after such a painful experience. Your cake looks wonderful, and I'm glad things went off without a hitch.

Life for Beginners said...

This is the first time I've heard of these "finger condoms" but judging by the little kitchen mishaps, I guess they sure are necessary.

Here's to conquering more culinary fears en route to more recipes and experiments! :D

Matin said...

I dread making caramel but you made it sound so easy:-) The cake looks great. Thanks for sharing

Renee said...

Ouch on the injury! Your cake looks yummy.

Anonymous said...

Your cake is beautiful - kudos to you for not being afraid of the caramel after such an unfortunate happenstance!

Lauren said...

Ooo, your cake looks amazing! Great job!

Candice said...

Ouch to the injury! I'm also familiar with 'finger condoms' with what I do: I'm a massage therapist, and occasionally have to wear one at work if I cut my finger. Luckily for me I don't do that very often.

Your cake looks fantastic!

Angela said...

Your cake looks fabulous!

I'm glad to hear that you got through this caramel experience unscathed. I've had a few little splatters of caramel land on me in the past, but nothing as bad as a whole fingerful. Ouch!!

dolcigine said...

Yummy ... your cake looks great :-)!!! I love this picture!!!

Diana said...

You poor thing, that sounds so traumatic! I too have experience with finger condoms, they're so awkward. I'm glad you had someone to help in facing your caramel fear, your cake is awesome.

Joeli said...

Oh my goodness, your caramel accident sounds horrible! I'm glad it turned out better this time. Your cake looks delicious and I love your photos.

Carly said...

Your cake looks wonderful! This is my first time to your blog and it is fabulous. I will be stopping by often and am excited to make about 20 things I just saw on your blog!

Eat4Fun said...

Very nice looking cake! Wonderful job!

Dawn said...

I can only imagine how much that burn must have hurt. I am always uneasy about making caramel.
I also would love to go to the french culinary...someday I imagine. Wonderful cake!!

Amy said...

Way to face the fear and come out standing tall - your cake looks lovely.

miri said...

Oh GOD, that burn sounds so painful! The cake looks wonderful though, glad you overcame your caramel drawbacks.

Thip said...

sorry for the injury, but the cake looks delicious!

Anonymous said...

Youch! Caramel burns? No wonder you're wary.

Your cake is lovely!

Dana Treat said...

Oh ouch. I once burned a bunch a caramel but thought it might be salvagable. I wanted to taste it to make sure so I put my finger onto the wooden spoon I had been stirring it with. Thank god I didn't just put my tongue directly on the spoon, or I would never have tasted again! As it was, I had a second degree burn on my finger and also had to wear a finger condom. Anyway, the cake is gorgeous!

prettytastycakes said...

Very elegant cake! I'm glad you were able to face your fear of caramel...I was hoping I wouldn't burn myself for this challenge, but ended up cutting myself instead!

Shari@Whisk: a food blog said...

That's quite the story from culinary school! Looks like your cake turned out perfectly!

Anonymous said...


Ingrid said...

Sorry about your previous mishap. I never really realized how extremely dangerous caramel making was.
Your cake looked great!

Deborah said...

I can't imagine how bad that would hurt - no wonder you are scared of caramel! Your cake looks beautiful!

Claire said...

Wow...that sounds horrific! Glad you survived with your finger. Your cake looks wonderful!

Y said...

Ouch! I feel your pain! And those finger condoms are annoying.. if not necessary at times. Glad it didn't completely put you off working with caramel, as your cake looks fantastic.

bee said...

i'm proud of you for conquering your (legit) fear of caramel. i thought of you last week as i was making caramel sauce for thanksgiving.

Dolores said...

Ouch! I'm glad that all ended well with this batch of caramel. Thanks for baking with us.

Chloe said...

Just wanted to say thanks for posting this recipe - I made it today and it turned out so great. Because the recipient loves salt, I filled the cake with a buttery, slightly saltier version of the frosting, poured ganache and some of the extra caramel to coat, then sprinkled some fancy salt on top. Looked like a big salted caramel - YUUUUM!! Thanks again!

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