Thursday, November 20, 2008

Daring Bakers -- Caramel Cake=delicious!

I am posting a day late for this month's Daring Baker's Challenge.  It was really a great challenge.  Not only do I LOVE caramel, but this recipe was absolutely delicious (especially the frosting).  I loved it so much that I used the frosting recipe for an additional sheet cake for the wedding cake that I made (which I shall reveal shortly).  Unfortunately, I did not care so much about the presentation at the time I was making this recipe, as I previously mentioned, I was too wrapped up in worrying about presentation for the wedding cake.  Thank you to our wonderful hosts this month: Alex of blondie and brownie, Jenny of Foray into Food, and to help out with the alternative Daring Bakers, Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.  The woman leading the pack this time was Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater.  The recipe for the caramel cake and its delectable frosting comes from Shuna Fish Lydon as published on Bay Area Bites.  The Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels (which I have yet to try and make) are a recipe from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, Copyright 2007, ISBN: 978-1579652111.  And now, the moment you've been waiting for, the recipe:

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

10 T unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp 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 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk, 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 and 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 portion 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 pans.
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.

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 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 (NO JOKE!).  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).

Caramelized Butter Frosting

12 T unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner's sugar, sifted
4-6 T heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
2-4 T caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste (I used Fleur de Sal)

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 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.

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.

Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels
(Makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels)

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 tsp fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 T plus 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 T unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

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 350F.  Meanwhile, combine the cream and the 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 350F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks.  Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful.  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 245F.  Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260F for soft, chewy caramels, or 265F 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.  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.


Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse, flaked salt.  Add an extra scant 1/4 tsp 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.

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

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla, add 1/2 tsp 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.

Caramel Sauce:  Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228F.  Pour it into a sauce boat 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 saucepan just until hot and flowing before use.  You can stir in 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.

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