I find it more than a little ironic as well as amusing that I'm starting my food blogging journey with a baking entry. Let me state for the record that I am not a baker. I am merely an enthusiastic consumer of baked goods. But, our family friend at some point told me about her mother (who has since passed) making her a caramel cake for every birthday growing up with such wistfulness and longing, I just had to make it for her this year.
"Did you know that this sweet favorite of the American South actually has European roots? The American Caramel cake can be traced back to the France. The earliest American caramel cakes were iced, but not multi-layered like the typical ones we have today. Southern bakers immediately took to this French import, using their handy cast-iron pans to slow cook the caramel icing."
While I did not use cast iron for my recipe, I certainly used every nook and cranny of my stove. I would suggest using a tad bigger pots than they dictate in this recipe b/c boiling over is inevitable. At a certain point the glaze and frosting do "simmer down" - but not before they destroyed my smooth top range!
In the beginning stages, where there is a danger of overflow.
Final product at 230 degrees.
I would also suggest putting a layer of aluminum foil on the rack under your cakes as spill over is inevitable there as well. My third suggestion, when assembling layers-- first slice the top off the cake to make it even, then put rough cut side down so you can easily apply the glaze.
I also used cardboard cake rounds and a wooden cutting board to flip flop the delicate layers over without significant breakage. My last suggestion-- save icing the sides for last. I iced each layer a little bit, but by the time I got to the top-- it was all runing toward the bottom. I'm also going to try dipping my frosting spatula in hot water and smoothing the icing for an eye pleasing end product.
Hopefully you will benefit from my hard won wisdom! But, any way you put it together, this cake is slap your grandma good!
MAKES ONE 8" CAKE
Let the cake sit for two hours or so after icing it so that the frosting firms.
FOR THE CAKE:
12 oz. unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sugar
3 1⁄2 cups self-rising flour
1 1⁄2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. vanilla extract
FOR THE GLAZE AND FROSTING:
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
5 cups sugar
12 oz. unsalted butter
2 1⁄2 cups buttermilk
3 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1⁄2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup vegetable shortening
1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 350°. Beat butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 egg at a time, then beat in flour. Combine buttermilk and baking soda and beat into flour mixture. Add lemon juice and vanilla and beat well. Divide batter evenly among three greased and floured 8" round cake pans and bake until centers of cakes spring back when lightly pressed, 30–35 minutes. Let cakes cool in their pans.
2. For the glaze and frosting: Boil corn syrup, 1 cup of the sugar, 8 tbsp. of the butter, 1/2 cup of the buttermilk, 1 tsp. of the vanilla, and 1/2 tsp. of the baking soda together in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove glaze from heat. Boil shortening and remaining sugar, butter, buttermilk, vanilla, and baking soda together in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until temperature reaches 230° on a candy thermometer, 25–30 minutes. Remove frosting from heat, let cool for 5 minutes, then beat with a wooden spoon until it loses its shine, 5–7 minutes. Keep frosting warm over a pot of hot water.
3. Remove cake layers from pans. Put 1 layer on a cake plate. Brush one-third of the glaze over top and sides, let rest for 2 minutes, then ice top and sides with one-third of the frosting. Set another layer on top and repeat glazing, icing, and layering process, then repeat process again with remaining layer.
First published in Saveur, July 2004