Monday, August 30, 2010

Cake of the Week: Caramel Cake

I’m one to experiment in the kitchen – I like testing the possibilities of a recipe, adapting it to fit my mood/budget/what’s in my cabinets. Sometimes this goes well (remember the More is More Bars?)…sometimes not so much (the Blue Cake Disaster)…But sometimes it’s really important for a recipe to work out perfectly. And in those circumstances, I follow it word for word.

Saturday was just such a circumstance. We planned to celebrate Emily’s birthday that night, so Jess and I prepared for an epic cake. Right before leaving Boston, Jess came across a recipe she had torn out of a Food and Wine Magazine: Caramel Cake. It looked AWESOME, the perfect birthday cake for Emily!

BUT, dun dun dunnnn…the frosting required a candy thermometer. I fear recipes that involve tricksy tools like that! Hmmm, should we try it anyways? Yes. It’s a special occasion, so let’s do it! We bought the ingredients and the required hardware…

We made three cake layers, dipping our fingers in the batter for a taste…OMG yummm! This cake is going to be SO GOOD!

Then it was time for the frosting. We read through the recipe completely, assembled all our ingredients, and made a game-plan (you stir the sugar until it melts, while I add in the cream, etc.). And then we followed the recipe exactly. Word for word. AND IT DIDN’T WORK.

After removing the caramel mixture from the heat and letting it cool for 25 minutes, we were supposed to beat it for 15 minutes until it thickened. We beat it for close to 45 minutes…and NOTHING HAPPENED. We tried everything: refrigerating it for a while, adding cornstartch, beating and beating and beating it. But the caramel stayed liquid – nothing remotely close to frosting consistency. 

What a waste! I raged (in a surpristing change of roles, Jess was the one calming me down).

I hate Food and Wine! I hate this recipe! They lied! I’m so mad that it didn’t work! Just look at that rant-inducing totally liquid caramel! Jess even considered calling the restaurant from which the recipe came to inquire/complain.

Our rage exhausted, we finally we gave up – something had to be done…the question was,What?

Put on your shoes, we’re going to the grocery store. Two blocks of cream cheese later, we had a game plan.

I mixed a bit of the caramel mixture into half a block of cream cheese and piped it around the cake layer to serve as a wall for the liquidy caramel. 

Then I poured the caramel in and topped it with the next cake layer. 

Then we mixed the rest of the cream cheese with more of the caramel until it was the right consistency and tasted good (and OH MAN did it taste good!). 

We concluded that the cream cheese was actually a better idea than straight caramel, since the tanginess off the cheese cut the extreme sugariness of the caramel. 

Crisis averted, we frosted the cake and sprinkled toasted pecans on top.

To see the full recipe, go here. I’ll only share the cake recipe, since the caramel icing was a total fail.

Revelatory Caramel Cake

1 cup whole milk

4 large egg whites, at room temperature

2 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 cups sifted cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, softened

3/4 cup heavy cream


Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter three 8-inch cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and flour the pans, tapping out the excess.

In a bowl, mix 1/4 cup of the milk with the egg whites and vanilla extract. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, mix the flour with the sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of milk. Beat at low speed until blended, then beat at medium speed until smooth, 1 minute. Beat in the egg white mixture in 3 batches.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Stir one-third of the whipped cream into the batter, then fold in the rest. Divide the batter between the pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Unmold the cakes and peel off the parchment. Invert the cakes and let cool completely.

Our cake did turn out beautifully! I lit the candles, 

we sang Happy Birthday, 

and Emily made a wish!

My only wish was that we hadn't wasted so much stress and ingredients on a malfunctioning recipe...

But like I said, overall it was delicious!