Saturday, August 6, 2011

Caramel Cake Recipe

"I'm on bring you a caramel cake tonight.  And I don't want you to do nothing but set in your kitchen and eat the whole thing for supper."
quote from Minny in The Help by Kathryn Stockett (page 98)
Last week my oldest son turned twelve and requested a home baked Caramel Cake.  Being a young man of very specific tastes, he is not fond of many foods, but loves all things caramel.  Although I had sampled caramel cake a few times in my life, I had never made it and did not have a recipe handy.  I started my search for caramel cake recipes in my collection of church and community cookbooks, but was surprised to find none.  I knew that the origins of this sweet confection are in the South, but it was not something my family members ever made.  I perused a few recipes on the internet, but quickly dismissed them because they all involved a candy thermometer and finicky boiling sugar. 

A few days before my son's big day, I found the perfect recipe in my Cook's Country 2008 Annual.  This is a hardback cookbook that includes a year's worth of Cook's Country magazines.  I love this collection because it has an index of all of the practical and delicious recipes from the whole year and because it was given to me by a dear friend on my 40th birthday.  She even wrote an inscription on the inside of the front cover which makes me smile every time I read it.  This recipe is for "Easy Caramel Cake" and comes from the December/January 2009 issue.  The wise people at America's Test Kitchen who create Cook's Country magazine have, of course, taken the guess work out of the caramel frosting and although I wouldn't exactly deem this cake easy it is foolproof and delectable.

It wasn't until the candles had been blown out and I was enjoying my piece of this scrumptious dessert that I remembered the references to caramel cake in the entertaining and thought provoking book The Help.  I can't believe I hadn't thought of it sooner! In Kathryn Stockett's novel, a maid named Minny makes caramel cake, among other things, for the women that employ her.  This memorable character is a feisty hardworking lady who deals with the temperamental recipe for caramel frosting by talking to herself.  If homemade caramel frosting has the power to make Minny jittery then surely I need the fool-proof method created by the food scientist of Cook's Country in order to make this Southern delicacy.

My caramel cake held a starring role on my son's birthday.  The frosting was sweet with a hint of saltiness and  the cake was tender with a perfect crumb.  On August 10th the movie version of the book The Help comes out in theaters.  I wonder if caramel cake will make an appearance?  If you haven't read the book I highly recommend that you do, preferable before you see the movie, and I also suggest that you make a Caramel Cake to enjoy after the show.

Caramel Cake Recipe

1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces and softened

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

For the cake layers:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
  2. Whisk buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla in large measuring cup.  With electric mixer on low speed, mix flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined.  Beat in butter, 1 piece at a time, until only pea-sized pieces remain.  Pour in half of buttermilk mixture and beat over medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.  Slowly add remaining buttermilk mixture to bowl and beat until incorporated, about 15 seconds.
  3. Pour equal amounts of batter into prepared pans and bake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.
  4. Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks.  Cool completely, at least 1 hour.
For the frosting:
  1. Heat 8 tablespoons butter, brown sugar, and salt in large saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles appear around perimeter of pan, 4 to 8 minutes.  Whisk in cream and cook until ring of bubbles reappears, about 1 more minute.  Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla.
  2. Transfer hot frosting mixture to bowl and, with electric mixer on low speed, gradually mix in confectioners' sugar until incorporated.  Increase speed to medium and beat until frosting is pale brown and just warm, about 5 minutes.  Add remaining butter, 1 piece at a time, and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Frost cake immediately.
To assemble cake:
  1. Place one cake on serving platter.  Spread 3/4 cup frosting over cake, then top with second cake.  
  2. Spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake.
  3. Serve.
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