Saturday, June 25, 2011

Caramel Cake--New and Improved! [Rhonda]

Caramel Cake

Degree of difficulty: medium (two tricky things: exact cook time for cake, and how much powdered sugar to use to get a spreadable consistency without getting it too sweet)

Time: 15 minutes to make cake once the ingredients are room temp, 25 minutes or so to cook the cake, half hour to cool it, 25 minutes to make icing (there’s a cooling process involved) and decorate cake

Verdict: Totally worth it

Serves: 10 – 12

Sometimes the cake gods are just with you.

But it didn’t start out that way last Thursday. I was preparing food to take to my mom’s in SC, an 83rd birthday celebration for her. Short on time, long on ambition. Typical Rhonda.

Her perennial favorite for the last ten years has been caramel cake. It’s also made appearances at the Kaisers’ lake cottage in Michigan for many Fourth of Julys—once melting on the way up in Zack’s no-AC car (we dubbed it “slide cake” and ate it with a spoon).

With recent attempts, however, I wasn’t happy with the cake part (too floury-tasting). That’s why I flipped to the 1-2-3-4 Yellow Cake recipe in Joy of Cooking. Sounded easy enough.

Yeah well. When I set the layers on the racks to cool, they looked just like those little tan sea sponges you buy in the souvenir shops in Tarpon Springs, Fla. Not the light and fluffy exhibit I was hoping for.


I quickly zeroed in on the cookbook’s Buttermilk Layer Cake recipe. I think it’s the cake flour and the cup of buttermilk that make this a keeper. Without question, the lightest, tastiest cake I’ve ever—ever!—made.

The icing was a homerun too. Because I was squeezed for time, once the butter/brown sugar/milk mixture had reached the boiling point, I set it in an ice water bath and kept stirring to cool it off. Plus I used much less powdered sugar than normal, so the butter/brown sugar taste really came through.

When all was said and done down South, there was one measly piece left to take home to Michael. Despite traveling on its side in a plastic container for the full 7 ½ hours and getting knocked around a bit, it became the single-slice food shot you see here.

Click. And Michael scarfed it down.

Buttermilk Layer Cake

(All ingredients should be room temp)

Sift together:

2 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, beat until creamy, about 30 seconds:

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter

Gradually add and beat on high speed until lightened in color and texture, 2 to 4 minutes:

1 1/3 cups sugar

Whisk together, then gradually beat in, taking about 2 minutes:

3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with, in 2 parts:

1 cup buttermilk

Beat on low speed until smooth. Divide batter into two greased and floured 9 x 2 inch pans (I line the bottom with a circle of waxed paper). Bake in preheated 350 F oven for 25 to 27 minutes. Let cool in pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pans. Invert the cake and peel off the waxed paper. Let cool right side up on the rack.

Caramel Icing


2 sticks butter
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup whole milk
2 cups to 3 ½ cups powdered sugar

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add brown sugar and cook over low heat 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add milk and continue cooking, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil, about 5 minutes (I use a candy thermometer and get it to 212 F). Remove from heat. Cool. (Setting the saucepan into an ice water bath cools it quickly but you have to keep stirring or it will harden too much.)

Place cooled mixture in large mixing bowl and begin adding powdered sugar while beating the icing with an electric mixer. Add powdered sugar until spreadable consistency is took about 2 cups for me. (A few minutes in the fridge will thicken the icing too.)

Spread on cake. No need to refrigerate once it’s done, unless you’re riding around with it in Zack’s old Volvo.

Suggested soundtrack: Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. One kick-ass piece of music, also from the gods

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