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.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Nov 28: Vinegar Making update

Almost 3 weeks since I've started my white vinegar making experiment using Pinot Grigio. []

Today, I added about 1/4C liquid (10% Vodka solution).
Surprised to see that the spider web mass has formed a layer on the surface of the liquid... in only 2 days. This is a good sign that the aceto-bacteria have colonized the wine mixture and thriving.

With positive signs that I am making vinegar, I was emboldened to give the liquid a taste (about 1/2 tsp). There is definitely a mild sour taste, not as strong as rice wine vinegar. No particular flavor or sweetness.

I stirred the mixture down... Not sure if I'm supposed to do that or not.
The image shows the cellulose layer containing the mother.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Nov 27: Happy Thanksgiving!

Today, we gather with our family and friends to celebrate and count our blessings.

The celebration involves food!

A traditional Turkey - a 24 pounder!

Dressing. Two types this year - corn bread and bread (crouton).
Crouton stuffing shown below.

Sweet Potatoes with a mini-marshmallow topping.

A refrigerated/layered salad.

The rest of the plate: Starting at the top going clockwise
Collard greens, dressing, Waldorf salad, glazed carrots, layered salad, turkey, mashed potatoes, buttered dinner roll and sweet potatoes (in the center.)

Dessert: pecan pie and pumpkin pie.
The pecan pie was tasty, but the golden syrup didn't stand out. The problem with some recipes is there is a layer of sweet "custard" with only a single layer of pecans floating on top. This pie was chock full of nuts which makes it stand out.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nov 26: Pecan Pie for Turkey Day

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving where we gather with friends and family to share thanks and eat!

The lore of Thanksgiving goes back to the colonist in Plymouth... starving and suffering from a poor harvest, the colonist were on the verge of a famine. Thankfully, the local Native American tribe came to the rescue with food. Everyone feasted! This is what we learned in elementary school...

I've been wanting to try Golden Syrup and I found a bottle at the local supermarket. Golden Syrup is an inverted sugar, similar to corn syrup, but with more flavor than corn syrup. The golden syrup has a light caramel flavor.

The Golden Syrup came with a Pecan Pie recipe... A famous pecan pie recipe!
Of course, I have to give it a try!

Pecan Pie
1 (9-inch) pie shell [I used a Pillsbury premade pie crust]
1 1/2 cup pecans
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup golden syrup
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine the sugar, egg yolks, golden syrup, butter, cream and salt into a sauce pan.
Heat on low to medium-low, stirring to combine.
Heat mixture to 160 F. When the color is uniform and slightly thickens...
Pour mixture through a strainer into a bowl.
Mix in vanilla.

Pre-bake the crust.
Unroll the crust and fit into a pie pan.

Dock (prick) the crust with a fork to prevent puffing.
Optional: Fancy up the edges for a better appearance.

Allow the crust to cool.
When cool arrange the pecans.

Pour the strained syrup mixture over the pecans, making sure the pecans are coated.
I also added more pecans by hand

Bake 350F for 20 minutes.

This will be the contribution to the Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.
It looks good... Hopefully it will taste good too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nov 20: Chicken a la King

I was trying to decide what to do with the leftover roasted chicken when I struck upon Chicken a la King. Chicken a la King is one of those American dishes that has fallen out of popularity... along with jello molds, Swiss steak and Mai Tai.

My first taste of Chicken a la King was probably 25 or 30 years ago at my (mom's) uncle's diner.
His diner was located in an industrial area of town beneath a high rise freeway, next to a brewery. His customers consisted of blue collar workers and well as suits.

He would occasionally call my mom to help out during seasonal rushes. I tagged along to help, if that's what it was called back in the day. I mainly remember taking potatoes and running them through a french fry maker and busing tables.

Another memory is my dad driving us to the diner for the breakfast rush and watching the sunrise from the backseat of the car. However, I think my parents wanted me out of the house since they were worried that my favorite activities were to "eat, sleep and watch TV." Little did they know that as an adult... my daily schedule is "work, eat, watch some TV, get little sleep"... and repeat.

To find a recipe, I had to dig through my cookbooks... I found a recipe in "The Complete Everyday Cookbook", Copyright 1971. Hmmm.... 1971. That sounds about right for Chicken a la King. The recipe I made is loosely based upon the recipe in the above mentioned book.

Chicken a la King
The Fixins' - starting at the top, left of the photo.

1 egg yolk, mixed with a few drops of hot sauce (Frank's Red Hot)
1/4 C peas
2 T diced Pimentos
2T Flour
1 1/4 C Chicken Broth
1/2 C Mushrooms, chopped
1 C Cooked Chicken, coarsely chopped (plus 1/2C cooked potatoes, coarsely chopped)
Chicken Fat from the roast
1/3 C Heavy Cream

Using the chicken fat (about 1 or 2 T) saute the mushrooms until soft.
Add the flour to slightly cook.
Add the broth and mix thoroughly... bring to a gentle simmer.

Add the peas, chicken, potatoes and heavy cream.
Mix and bring to a simmer to heat the ingredients and allow the sauce to thicken.
Stir and add the pimentos

After 5 minutes of simmering, slowly add the egg yolk and stir to thicken the sauce.

The books suggest serving over waffles. Waffles!?!? I don't remember that.
Instead, I served the mixture over noodles.

The taste was akin to a chicken pot pie filling. The sauce was silky smooth... which was a pleasant surprise. The dish was good, but wasn't what I remembered as Chicken a la King. I seem to recall a stronger "cooked" bell pepper flavor... from the pimentos? However, that memory is about 30 years old.

*** Update Nov 21 ****
This is the recipe from the cookbook.
"The Complete Everyday Cookbook" by Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc. 1971.

Chicken a la King
1/4 C butter or margarine
1 C sliced mushrooms
1/4 C flour
1 C Chicken Stock
1 1/2 C half and half milk
1/2 C diced pimento
3 C diced cooked chicken
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat butter in a blazer pan of chafing dish over direct heat.
Add mushrooms and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
Stir in flour.
Add stock and half and half milk.
Place blazer pan over hot water.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and smooth.
Add pimiento and chicken.
Heat thoroughly.
Stir a little of the hot sauce into the egg yolks.
Add slowly to remaining sauce and stir, until smooth and hot.
Server over crispy waffles.
Makes 6 servings.

Note: For my recipe I added peas... and I misread the instructions about the egg yolk. I thought the recipe called for some hot sauce (as in pepper sauce) mixed into the egg yolks. I guess they orginally meant hot sauce as in the gravy to temper the yolks. :-)

Other dishes that have fallen out of favor...
Chipped beef on toast (SOS)
Poached eggs (Adam and Eve on a raft [toast])