Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Caramel Cake with Brown Butter Icing

For my last week in my current job a colleague suggested maybe I should step up the baking a little. I don't need much encouragement and had been thinking it would be good to have an excuse to make a cake - doing a lot of lunchtime baking has meant cakes have been off the menu for a while as they take too long to cook (though I was planning to make a microwave cake I never quite got to it).

I have had this recipe sitting in my collection for a while, but have only made it once before - to rave reviews. I wanted to make something a bit different - avoid the standard chocolate/carrot/coffee/citrus cake options (though I note I didn't manage to escape the letter 'c' - what's with that?). So I embarked on recreating Shuna Fish Lydon's caramel cake (originally discovered via a Daring Bakers challenge a couple of years ago).

The cake is quite dense and really moist, and though the caramel flavour isn't overly strong it's very, very nice. The real feature (and killer) on this cake, though, is the icing; made with browned or caramelised butter, it has a distinct flavour. Unfortunately, as you can see above, this does make quite the mess...

The process for the cake is pretty standard, except for the inclusion of a caramel syrup, which you make first. This is pretty simple, though; sugar and water in a saucepan, heat until dark amber, add some more water (very carefully!) and whisk until it reduces and is sticky:

(you do obviously need to let the sugar cool before testing it this way! I take small scoops with a teaspoon and wait for a few moments until it's cool enough to touch)

I doubled the recipe below to make a 25cm cake (which would have been better cooked in two layers, in case you're thinking of trying to make such a behemoth!) - as you can see that made quite a lot of batter! However, my workplace hosts a large number of sweet-toothed folk, and it wouldn't do to disappoint in the last week. ;-)

Why does cake batter look so delicious?

 It takes quite a while for the butter to get nicely browned, but watch it carefully as it can burn and will taste bitter and not really be redeemable. I check if it's done by tasting (well, when I think it's done I taste to make sure) - though this sounds disgusting it's not really - the caramelised butter does have a nice flavour and though I wouldn't eat it by the spoonful a tiny bit off a teaspoon is easily tolerable. ;-) Once it has cooked strain it through a sieve and the resulting liquid is the magical factor in the icing.

The icing looks pretty magic when it's ready to go, too - so fluffy it makes me want to eat the whole bowlful (I recommend against it, though, you'd probably die).

I may have put a little too much icing on the cake. It was a little dark around the edges, though, and you have to compensate for that kind of thing, right? Right??? Anyway, my workmates were complaining of sugar crashes and other such issues after they ate my cake - is that something to be proud of?

Once I had made the cake and baked it, beaten up my icing and was ready to decorate, I realised I hadn't yet made toffee. I had planned to use this to decorate so although it was 10.45pm I plonked some sugar in a saucepan and turned it up high to melt. Unfortunately I then got a little distracted icing my cake - uh-oh - and it was only when I smelt the burnt sugar that I realised that it was a bit past its best. About the same time I looked into the pot and exclaimed in dismay at the dark colour, the fire alarm went off. Oops! So I made a quick dash for the 'Fire Alarm Cancel' button. Thank goodness for that, huh? Unfortunately, although the alarm sounding from the kitchen shut off, I could still hear it, coming from what sounded like outside our apartment. So I frantically (and pointlessly, I think) raced out the door and down the stairs, trying to figure out where the sound was. After racing down the three flights to the ground floor and then back up to our apartment (no-one else came out of their apartments, which I took to be a good sign), it stopped as I reached our door again. Thank goodness for that! But that was plenty enough excitement to ensure I didn't get to sleep as early as I ought to have... And the toffee-making had to wait for this morning, when I turned the extractor fan on full and watched like a hawk to ensure no burning. Still, when the microwave beeped to indicate something was ready I leapt out my skin...

Neighbour-man: if you read this, I hope we didn't wake you! If we did, that little cake we brought over was like a deposit to help mitigate the effects...

So, my recommendations: don't leave your toffee unattended, cook large cakes in multiple layers, and don't leave your toffee unattended. Oh, and to make toffee, put about a cup of sugar in a small saucepan with just enough water that the sugar is wet (think wet sand) but not liquidy, then cook over a high heat without stirring (you can swirl the pot if necessary but do as little as possible) until amber in colour. Pour onto greaseproof paper or a silicon mat to set, then when cool break into pieces. You can use the same toffee to make swirly shapes or even spun sugar (but that's trickier and messier!).

Caramel Cake with Brown Butter Icing (makes a 20cm cake)
Caramel syrup
2 cups sugar
½ cup water
1 additional cup of water
150g unsalted butter, soft
1 ¼ cups sugar
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup caramel syrup
2 eggs
Splash vanilla extract
2 cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 cup milk

To make caramel syrup, mix first measure of water and sugar and heat on high until dark amber. Pour in the extra water carefully and whisk over medium heat until it has reduced and feels sticky between two fingers.

To make the cake, preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius and grease a round 20cm cake tin.

Cream butter, then add sugar, salt and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Slowly pour 1/3 cup caramel syrup into the bowl. Scrape down sides and increase speed. Add eggs and vanilla a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down and beat until light.

Mix together flour and baking powder. Mixing on low, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then ½ the milk, then the next 1/3 dry, remaining milk, and the last of the dry. Use spatula to finish mixing, then turn into cake pan. Place pan on cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes, then rotate. Bake again for another 15-20 minutes, until sides pull away from sides and a knife comes out clean.

180g butter
500g icing sugar
4-6 Tbsp cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
Salt to taste

Cook butter over medium heat until brown. Sieve and set aside to cool. In mixer, beat butter, adding icing sugar gradually until mixture is too chunky to take any more. Add a little cream or caramel syrup. Repeat until all sugar is incorporated and mixture looks smooth. Add salt to taste.


  1. Delicious! I am a caramel fiend, so this definitely appeals. I love that caramel sauce is added to the cake batter, and that icing sounds amaaaaazing. Bring on the sugar crashes!

  2. Highly recommend you try it - just make sure you have plenty of people to share it with as otherwise you seriously might make yourself diabetic or something! ;-)

  3. What do you do with the rest of the caramel syrup - the recipe only says to add 1/3?

  4. Ah yes, Penny, sorry! You can use it to decorate (you can see I swirled some on top) and it works well as a topping for ice-cream or anything else you can think of. You probably could make half as much; I haven't tried and if you put too little sugar in it might not cook evenly as the heat might not conduct through the mass the same way - and since sugar is pretty cheap and the syrup has a long shelf life I guess the writer of the recipe figured it would be easier to make more.


Theme Design by Quentin de Manson Web Design