Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nov 29: Daring Bakers - Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting plus Bonus

Welcome to my 5th Daring Baker's Challenge!

This month's challenge consists of a Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting and a optional candy making bonus challenge: Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels.

I joined the Daring Bakers to challenge myself so, of course, I made both recipes and snapped many pictures along the way.

I've made candy in college in a food science class and my first DB Challenge was my first cake so this is the second time for making candy and making a cake from scratch. I'm still learning as we go. lol!

Thanks to November's Host and Co-Host for setting up and providing support for this challenge.
Delores who blogs at Culinary Curiosity (

Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo) at (
Jenny of Foray into Food (
Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go ( for gluten-free assistance.

Recipe Source:
Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon (, as published on Bay Area Bites

Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, Copyright 2007, ISBN: 978-1579652111

The Main Daring Bakers Challenge: Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting
This recipe consist of three primary components - caramel syrup, frosting and the cake.

Caramel Syrup
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. [I used medium heat. I've burned too many items using high heat so I've learned to turn down the heat and be patient. lol!]

Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.
[Note: The syrup will boil for what seems like a long time, but when the sugar starts changing color you have a minute or less. I noticed the edges were starting to brown, by the time I got the camera set up to take the shot, the color changed drastically where I thought the sugar had burned. Fortuantely, I stopped just in the nick of time. Another 10 seconds would have ruined the syrup.]

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. [WARNING]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.
[I used a thermometer and boiled to about 230F. The consistency was slightly thicker than maple syrup, but not as viscous as corn syrup.]

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.

Cream 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.


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 [I used a hand blender], add confectioner's sugar a little at a time.

When mixture looks too chunky to take any more (I used the full 1 lb box), add a bit of cream and 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

The Cake Design: An Evolution
My goal was to have a cake frosted with a smooth top and sides and decorated with spun sugar.

Up to this point making the syrup, the cake and the frosting turned out to be very easy... However, the most frustrating part of this challenge was frosting the cake.

Shouldn't this be the easy part? The home stretch?
Of course, I couldn't get off that easy on the challenge.

I put down a thin layer of frosting, the crumb coat, as I was going back and applying the final layer, the frosting was sticking to the spatula and coming off the cake.

All I could think was "You got to be freakin kidding!"

Instead of putting down a smooth layer of frosting on the side, I had to pull out the piping bag and use a star tip on the side of the cake.
[I posted my dilemma to the Daring Bakers Forum. Co-hostess Jenny suggested that my frosting may be too thick/stiff and the remedy is to add more cream/caramel syrup. Her suggestion sounds reasonable. In hindsight, my frosting was not as loose/soft as a store-bought container of frosting. I'll keep that in mind for the next challenge were we make frosting. :-)]

My first look...
Instead of a smooth side, I had to dab on the frosting with a star tip.
The spun sugar started getting clumpy, due to the humidity? I had to pull strands apart from the main mass.

Looks too plain... not enough spun sugar was salvaged.

The second look...
Okay... instead of the spun sugar topper, let's do dots of the caramel syrup and make a spiralgraph (Lissajous) pattern.

Dang! That syrup is a little runny. Also, the pattern looks like the Cingular logo.

The third look...
Let's try adding the spun sugar, since I made it.

Nope... no go. It looks like a copper scouring pad on top of the cake.

The Completed Cake
Since I went down the path of using syrup atop of the cake, the end result is to just pour it on top of the cake. Fortunately, I didn't have more syrup or I would have gone for the overflowing effect down the side of the cake.

The cake had a nice caramel flavor.
FYI... Other DB'ers have mentioned that this cake was very sweet for them. However, for me, it was just right. One thing I noticed about this cake is the density... like a pound cake.

Bonus Challenge - Candy Making:
- makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels -
1 cup golden syrup [This stuff is pretty tasty with a light caramel flavor.]
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

[Note: I made this recipe twice... a half recipe and this time a full recipe. I came up 2 ounces short on the Golden Syrup, where 1 ounces went to the half recipe and the other ounce went to taste testing, so I supplemented using corn syrup. :-)]

A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer


Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil.

Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges.

Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F.

Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks.

Gradually stir in the hot cream;
[WARNING: have a catch pan ready... when you stir the mixture with cream it will want to foam over. Fortunately, I had the other pot to catch the overflow!]

it will bubble up, steam dramatically and will foam up to overflowing, so be careful.
[WARNING: have a catch pan ready... when you stir the mixture with cream it will want to foam over. Fortunately, I had the other pot to catch the overflow!]

Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan.

[I split the difference and boiled to 262 F. I should have stuck to 260 F since I like the caramels softer. I only used 1 tsp of vanilla extract. My first batch I used the full amount and found that I didn't like the vanilla extract in the caramel.]

Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

[The next morning - I found that a lightly oiled pizza cutter worked really well]

The finished Caramel with a little extra sea salt.
Tasted like the middle of an Almond Roca (butter, sweet and caramel flavored).


Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

[Definitely would make a great caramel sauce!]
Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.


nikkita said...

LOL I had a good laugh reading your adventures with the cake decorating part. I wanted to do spun sugar myself but the weather's been hot and the frosting itself started to melt. But well done on yours though (in spite of what's left of it ^_^)

Anonymous said...

Your cake looks fantastic! I had trouble getting even a crumb layer to stick to the cake, so scraped it off and opted to just do swirls on top.

plutosangel said...

I really like your blog..Your posts are so detailed and your pics are really nice. Nice job

Anonymous said...

I had very similar difficulties decorating my cake...and I pretty much settled on the same design in the end, though yours looks much neater :) The candy looks awesome, I can't wait to try it!

Gretchen Noelle said...

What fun that you challenged yourself like this. Too bad the frosting did not behave as you wanted it to. Great job though!

Aparna Balasubramanian said...

I don't know if you had fun while making your cake, but I enjoyed reading your post.

Your cake doesn't look too bad to me. You should have seen mine under all the weirdo piping I did to hide my mistakes!

Diana said...

your cake looks lovely. Your pictures came out great, I'm amazed you were able to get a picture while pouring the water in. Very impressive!

Cody said...

The frosting was definitely not very cooperative. Even my cupcake swirls started to fall off as I was taking the picture.

Good job on the caramels! I didn't even bother... non-chocolate candy-making is not my strong suit, and I didn't feel like throwing a pot through my TV in frustration. (You never know...)

Renee said...

You cake looks great! I love reading about your adventures and your photos are excellent!

Anonymous said...

Great photos-I love how you've gotten every step of the way covered :) The cake and caramels look great too!

Fit Chick said...

Great pictures and your cake looks so good! My caramel sauce was a bit thin also, but my taste buds didn't care!

Jessica said...

I like your copper scouring pad - lol. Nice job :)

Amy said...

Seeing your step by step was very helpful - I might have to try making the caramels now!

Anonymous said...

Wow, your cake is beautiful. After reading your post, I feel guilty for how much I neglected my entry. You put a ton of effort into this and I am impressed. Great job.

Sunshinemom said...

Fantastic cake, and caramels! I like the step by step pictures you have added:)

Leslie said...

Spun sugar? I dont think I could ever pull it off!! I thought the cake was perfect in flavor and texture as well!!!
Great job!

Lauren said...

Ooo, your cake looks amazing! Awesome job on the caramels as well =D. Love the step-by-step pics too!

Anonymous said...

caramel for ever, definitely :)
great great job !

Anonymous said...

Sorry John I thought I had posted something to you! I love the photos of the caramel it is so dark and thick and the cake looks smashing. Happy holidays to you and your kin. Yours Audax thanks for the comments on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Once again you have amazed me with your cake making abilities! You see... told you there were more things to "make" besides ribs! Though, I love your ribs too! :) So happy to see you have expanded on your cooking abilities. It is obvious that you have knack for cake and candy making as well as BBQ. Top Chef look out!

Thank you for the caramel. I have been hiding it in different places around the house, because people keep chowing down on "my" caramels. ha ha! I am now in need of more hiding spots. :)

I did melt some down with cream on the stove-top as well as in the microwave. The stove-top is definitely the way to go. The constant stirring and slow warming made it creamy, whereas the microwave made it hard like butter brickle candy. Still yummy though either way.

I put the stove-top version (nice, thick, and creamy) over some vanilla ice cream. Now THAT is yummy living!!

Continue having fun with your cooking adventures and I'll continue having fun watching you bloom! Your pictures are spectacular!

Anonymous said...

nice job! congrats on the looks great. :)

Eat4Fun said...

Shawn, Thanks :-)
Yes, there is a world of food beyone ribs... There's tri-tip, corned beef, poultry and the art of charcuterie too. lol.

It is true the baking has expanded my horizons.

I'm glad you enjoyed the caramels and the sauce is turning out.

It just doesn't stop at the caramels... I'll have other tasty morsels to share too.

Anonymous said...

I love you cake and you put way more effort into decorating then I did! I'm going to have to work on that. Nice job and also, thanks for the comment on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Great looking cake and caramels! I also found a pizza cutter did the job cutting the caramels. Great photos too.

Ago said...

Hi John!!! Bravooooo!!!
Your cake is very very very goooddd!!!! this cake is very sweet for me, too but i think that It's because I've forgotten the salt :-PPP
Ago :-D

Anonymous said...

As usual, your step by step photos are awesome, and the final product(s) came out amazing. I was so glad to see that you also let your syrup go as far as it could prior to burnt LOL. It really does make a difference in the flavor and color of the cake :)

Dazy said...

Hey I too tried baking cup cakes and caramel cakes just after my exams got over. I go weak in the knees with a mention of muffins and cakes.