Daring Bakers: Caramel Cake with Caramelized Brown Butter Frosting
Here I am on a Saturday morning, writing the post for the Daring Bakers’ November challenge. It’s due today, but with all the chaos of construction in our house, and cooking for Thanksgiving, somehow there wasn’t time to write. Let me rethink that: I didn’t feel like writing until this morning. In fact, baking hasn’t been all that enjoyable since the space I normally work in is being shared with this Mac, a printer, and all sorts of other lovely things that usually have places somewhere upstairs, like bills, and catalogues, magazines I’ve got recipes tagged in, and things I don’t want to lose track of — like the check book we couldn’t find yesterday when we needed it for the contractor. It’s a complete dust covered disaster.
To complete the image, my son’s computer is set up on a card table directly behind mine, so it’s a tight squeeze with the two of us sitting back to back, clicking and pecking away.
Needless to say, my kitchen is always in some stage of being used and in a reduced space, I’m exhausted with trying to make it look reasonable, too. Good thing this month’s challenge was such a breeze — and a completely delicious one!
This month, we’ve had the opportunity to delve into Eggbeater author & chef Shuna Fish Lydon’s recipe for Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting. Additionally, we could choose to make Alice Medrich’s Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels, but I bowed out on this one to save for another time. Many thanks to this month’s hosts, Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food, for such excellent choices. Natalie of Gluten a Go Go assisted with quantities and ingredients for alternative diets. Nice job, ladies!
Browned Butter and Caramel? Oh my. Absolutely perfect flavors for the season! Wait. Isn’t browned butter good in any season?
That’s what I thought. Now add some lovely hazelnuts and pear crisps and voila!
Caramel Cake with Caramelized Brown Butter Frosting
Wanting to serve this cake for Thanksgiving where many could sample and critique, I baked the cake one afternoon, made the frosting the next, and chilled both until the morning of Thanksgiving when I assembled it, decorated it, then took it on a 45 minute drive to where we’d celebrate the day. It’s quite the cake, as not one mishap crossed my path in all that went on. Amazing!
Because the caramel syrup goes into the cake batter and the frosting, it has to be made first, and then let cool.
I’ve made lots of caramel, but never caramel syrup. The color of this syrup is absolutely gorgeous if you let it sit untouched while it bubbles and slowly darkens. As the directions state, just when it begins to smoke, it’s removed from the heat, and water — not cream or milk as other caramel recipes call for — is slowly poured down the side of the pan. What remains is a clear mahogany syrup that will cool and thicken, but stay thin enough to easly pour or drizzle. Although the taste of the caramel was a bit sharp, it was perfect in the cake and drizzles over the top. The sharpness adds quite a bit to the flavor over all.
The key to being safe with this is to wear a mitt on your pouring hand as you add the water, pour down the side of the pan, and most importantly, make sure your pan is more narrow than wide, and has tall sides. A silicone spatula is also helpful as it can stand up to the high temps of the sugar.
I played around with the idea of making two layers in 6″ pans and then splitting those layers, having fun with the image of a towering little cake and quickly tossed out the idea. It would be fun, but having to hold it for a 45 minute drive was tempting fate. Plus, I didn’t want to have to make more buttercream for all those layers. In the end, I chose to use one 8″ x 3″ pan with a removable bottom. I sprayed the pan before pouring in the batter and set it on a thick baking sheet before putting it in a 350 degree F oven using convection settings for 40-45 minutes.
To make the batter, I made sure all ingredients were room temperature — about 65 degrees F. I’m familiar with the method of alternating wet and dry ingredients into the creamed butter, so that went well also. The end result does give the appearance of something wanting to separate, but it never does. The baking was uneventful and the cake cooled in the pan on a rack until room temperature. Then I removed the sides and placed the layer in a large ziplock bag, pushed out the air and stored it in the fridge.
Caramelized Butter Frosting:
I love browned butter, and have noticed that with the less expensive butter, there is much more frothing and bubbling when browning it. In fact, after all that action ends and a golden brown butter is left, there is also quite a reduction in the quantity of butter.
I began with 12 T of unsalted butter as the recipe called for and ended up with about 8-9T after browning. There was no need to strain as I wait until it cools a bit and all dark solid matter is settled on the bottom of the pan. It’s then easy to pour off the browned butter. I made this the night before I made the frosting, and it hardens a bit at room temperature. So a quick run in the microwave the next day just to soften it a bit helped get things started.
I measured out 6 T of heavy cream, but only used 5 T I measured 4 T of caramel syrup but used only 3 T. By tasting, I ended up adding 3 good pinches of kosher salt which helped balance the sweetness a bit.
After chilling the frosting overnight, to soften it the next day, I put it in the microwave on the lowest power setting (1) for 1 minute, twice, stirring in between. Then I stirred it until it was soft — no Kitchen Aid necessary.
Assembling the Cake:
Split the single layer in half and use about half the frosting on each layer — do not frost the sides.
I received a bounty of lovely hazelnuts from Oh Nuts! in the mail so chopped those in half and sprinkled them liberally over the top. Just dipping those nuts into that caramel syrup is heavenly!
Drizzle a thin stream of caramel syrup over the frosting and nuts.
I used my mandoline to slice a couple of Bosc pears — peelings, seeds, and all — and then dry them (see recipe below…).
Insert dried pears into the cake in a circular pattern. As the frosting softens the pears, they will gently lay down on top of one another, making a fan effect.
To serve, drizzle more caramel syrup on the plate and set a slice on it. The cake is quite rich, but the crunch of hazelnuts with the caramel syrup and cake is very nice. It’s quite a bit sweeter than what I prefer, but in small quantities, it’s a beautiful flavor and I can just imagine it with apples or orange and/or some rosemary. I’d also like to know what a bit of mascarpone does to the frosting. I think I’d enjoy it even more if the sweetnes wasn’t so prevalent.
1-2 Bosc pears
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
Preheat oven to 175 degrees F.
In a medium sized sauce pan heat the water and sugar over medium heat, stirring until the sugar melts.
Slice the pears very thinly — using a mandoline if possible — about 1/8 – 1/16″. Prepare a couple of baking sheets by lining them with parchment or silicone.
Carefully drop the pear slices into the warm syrup a couple at a time without layering them and let cook for about 1-1/2 minutes. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, briefly drain, and place pears onto prepared pans making sure the slices are not touching.
Place pans in the oven and bake, checking occasionally, until the pears are dry and crisp — about 3 hours. The thicker the slices, the longer it takes.
Place on a wire rack to cool, and the pears will continue to harden. When completely cool, remove to a very dry, well sealed container. Any moisture at all will quickly soften the pears.
Conclusion: This was one of the easier challenges and delicious when considering that. I could easily make this cake in a couple of hours and most likely will since I’d love to try the flavor possibilities I mentioned. The caramel syrup is so easy, I can imagine just having it in the fridge for all kinds of things — including ice cream. Nom nom nom. Maybe bananas….peanutbutter? Oh, the possibilities…
Don’t forget to check out the other Daring Bakers and their Caramel Cake creations. You’re bound to see amazing things out there!