Last year I told you all about the cake so good that I cannot celebrate my birthday, almost every birthday of my entire life, without it. And while that carrot cake is still irreplaceable, why have one cake when you can have a big party and two cakes on your birthday? It sure sounds good to me.
In fact, you could go as far as to say that the whole party was an excuse for me to cook, and in particular to bake two cakes. And not just any cake, but this cake, this caramel cake.
Caramel cake has long been an object of desire in my family, in South Carolina we look forward to the local 12-layer version, and in Tennessee we come home with Driver's Burnt Sugar cake. I've made a few attempts at caramel cake in the past, however I find the 12-layer version (like this) a bit too much like candy for my taste, not enough cake and too much sugary icing. Other versions involve just plain cake frosted with caramel icing, which doesn't have enough deep caramel flavor for me. So for a while now I scrounged caramel cake recipes, combining notes and coming up with a recipe that I thought would meet my caramel cake dreams.
I may be biased, considering I'm eating a piece of this caramel cake as I type, but I think this is one of the best cakes I've made, ever, ever, ever. First of all, it incorporates caramel syrup into the cake itself, so it's a true caramel cake, and it's got just enough of that sweet-crackly burnt sugar icing that I love. But most of all, I think this is the most perfectly-moist crumbed cake I've had. I actually got nervous as I was typing up the recipe, wanting to make sure I copied my stained scribbled notes exactly right, so that I could record this one for all the future caramel cakes to come.
Don't be afraid of the caramel in the first step of this recipe, it's very easy and only requires that you watch the pan closely as it boils. I suppose it would be logical to make extra caramel syrup for adhering the cake layers, but I never remember to, so I simply assemble the cake layers with a few spoonfuls of maple syrup that I have on hand. Keep in mind these cakes don't rise very much, so don't be surprised.
for caramel syrup:
1 cup sugar plus 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup water for stopping
14 tablespoons (7 oz) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup caramel syrup (from above)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons maple syrup or caramel syrup
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Make caramel syrup: Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, have the additional 1/4 cup water ready on the side. Boil the syrup, watching closely, until it turns dark amber. Remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining water to "stop" the caramel. Stir the mixture with a fork until it comes together, then set aside to cool to room temperature.
2. Make cake: Preheat oven to 350 F, grease and flour 3 9-inch cake pans. In a bowl cream the butter until smooth, then cream in the brown sugar and salt until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the caramel syrup. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla, until very smooth and combined. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the flour in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk, to make a smooth cake batter. Divide cake batter among prepared pans. Bake in the center of the oven (rotating pans halfway through), for 30 minutes, or until firm, golden, and the sides pull away from the edge of the pan. Set aside to cool.
3. On a cake plate, stack the cake layers, spreading 2 tablespoons maple syrup or caramel syrup between the layers so that they stick together. Press down firmly (at this point, the cake can be triple-wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to one month, or simply covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight).
4. Glaze cake: Combine cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan. Boil the mixture until it reaches 235 F, or soft-ball stage. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vanilla. Give the mixture several rapid stirs, then quickly pour it over the cake before the glaze hardens.