I bake to work off pent-up frustration. When the going gets tough, the baking gets fancier. Frosted layer cake? Too fussy to bother with when I am feeling calm and collect. But by gosh that’s all I want to bake the last few days. Let’s just say self control was put to good use many times.
I’ve been leafing through a number of red velvet cake recipes since Monday but the thought of using food colour made me procrastinate. I woke up in the middle of the night last night and was greeted by the latest issue of Test Kitchen Notes, America’s Test Kitchen’s email newsletter. First recipe under the What To Cook This Week section was the mouth watering description of Easy Caramel Cake.
A Southern favourite, caramel cake boasts a rich, toffee-flavoured frosting spread over layers of yellow cake. But the best part—the caramel frosting that develops a thin, crystalline crust on its exterior—is notoriously troublesome to make. We came up with an easy, foolproof technique that put the icing, so to speak, on the cake.
I knew I found my ticket to serenity.
I quickly surveyed my kitchen for ingredients in the recipe (available for download for limited time). I did a happy dance when the carton had exactly 1/2 cup of heavy cream the recipe calls for. Isn’t it amazing when the desire to bake, an inspiring recipe, and availability of ingredients all converge in one unplanned moment? I would be the inevitable owner of a classic Southern caramel cake.
The reverse creaming method used in making the buttermilk cake layers was my favourite. There is little chance of overbeating the batter. The tender and perfectly level cakes meant trimming was unnecessary. I love the simplicity of this cake base and already bookmarked it for future layer cake creations.
The frosting was more temperamental. I started with a stovetop butterscotch sauce. Icing sugar was beat into the warm liquid until it cooled. Small amount of softened butter was the finishing touch and the mixture ought to be “frostable” consistency. Not so. After the stated amount of mixing time, the frosting remained pourable and definitely would not cling or mound on the cake. I kept the mixer running for at least another 7 minutes before I was happy with the consistency. At this point, the countdown began.
The large amount of icing sugar in the caramel frosting is responsible for setting up the frosting and creating the signature crystalline crust. Icing sugar dries astonishingly fast and I had a slim window to get it all done. The recipe said to use 3/4 cup of frosting to fill between the layers. I took out my trusty quick release ice cream scoop (1/4 cup size!) and plopped three big scoops of frosting on my cake. I spread, I smoothed, I levelled, and I repeated the process for the top layer. If you are not confident about icing a cake, I have a suggestion. Simply fill the middle and the top of the cake with 1 to 1 1/4 cup of frosting for a more streamline look. Nobody would object to a small dish of extra frosting at serving time.
I chose to ice the side of the cake as well. By this time, the frost already started hardening. That was not a bad thing actually. It was solid enough to cling to the side of the cake without sliding! I roughly covered the entire perimeter as speedy as I could but still not fast enough. The frosting set sufficiently that I could not smooth it like I planned. So I went with “rustic”.
My friends from Georgia grew up on Caramel Cake and warned me about its addictive yet sweet quality. I agree this cake is caramely sweet in the proudest Southern tradition. However, what prevented it from toeing into cloying territory is the balanced cake to frosting ratio. And that subtle crunch as I broke the whisper thin crust? You must try it. I sliced this 9-inch southern belle into 11 pieces (my hidden talent: divide cakes into prime number portions) and the knife sunk in without resistance.
With a fancy easy Caramel Cake in hand, my good mood returns. Don’t make me mad or I will threaten to bake more layer cakes. Worst. Threat. Ever.