So here is the good news, this is one tasty cake. The caramel frosting has a crystallized, almost maple candy-like outer shell and a creamy, caramel-flavored interior. The yellow cake is moist and delicious. The combination is a perfect bite. You don’t even want ice cream with this cake. Just enjoy it as it is.
So here is the bad news. This is a hard cake to make and not one that welcomes any messin’ around with the recipe. Caramel frosting is tricky stuff and you need to make a sturdy cake to handle such a heavy frosting. But if you follow the formula you get a delightful dish. And it is worth the effort.
And we do use the word “formula” here. As we (and others) often like to note, baking is a form of chemistry. And in many cases you simply can’t play with the basic formula and get good results. To be fair, baking is hardly as exact a science as “real” chemistry. Humidity, inconsistent ingredients, finicky ovens and variations in cookware make baking a very inexact science, even in the best conditions. But we suggest that if you make this cake you stick with the recipe (at least the first time you bake it).
We adapted the recipe (barely) from a Cook’s Country recipe. Cook’s Country is Cook’s Illustrated’s less
ridiculous? obnoxious? “overbearing” cousin, and tends to feature recipes that you can make and actually work. This is one of those recipes. They do add some technique and tuning to a traditional recipe, but in real terms the big addition is using all-purpose flour in the cake and not softer cake flour. Using AP flour makes for a firmer, but still moist, cake that can handle the thick, heavy frosting.
Otherwise, the other key technique is to beat extra butter into the frosting just before you apply it to the cake. Butter does make everything better, and if it makes the frosting easier to work with, then we are all for it. The bigger challenge will be keeping your fingers out of the frosting. It tastes so good, you can lose quite a bit as it makes its way to the cake. But we do encourage a little patience. When you combine the frosting with the cake, it is even better.
(Adapted from Cook’s Country)
Notes Before You Start:
- No extra notes. Just follow the recipe and take your time.
What You Get: A crowd-pleasing, sweet and flavorful cake with awesome caramel frosting. Yum.
What You Need: A stand mixer (or electric mixer) and 2, 9-inch cake pans.
How Long? 3 hours, with about an hour, maybe a little more, of active time. Details matter here, so taking your time is advised.
(Makes 1, 2-layer cake)
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 4 large eggs at 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 dark brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- For the cake, place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2, 9-inch cake pans and then line the bottom with parchment paper.
- Whisk the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla together in a small bowl or measuring cup.
- In the bowl of your mixer, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Then, with you mixer on slow speed, beat in the butter one piece at a time until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Pour in half of the liquid mixture an and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy, about a minute. Then slowly add the rest of the liquid to the bowl and beat until incorporated, about 15-20 seconds.
- Scrape the batter into the pans, smooth the tops and lightly tap to release any air bubbles. Place the cakes into the oven and cook until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20-25 minutres. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and turn out the cakes onto a wire rack. Let the cakes cool completely, at least 2 hours, before frosting.
- For the frosting, heat 8 tablespoons of the butter, brown sugar and salt together in a large saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan, 4-8 minutes. Whisk in the cream and cook until the bubbles reappear, 1-2 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and whisk in the vanilla.
- Transfer the hot frosting mixture to the bowl of your mixer. Then, at low speed, slowly mix in the confectioners’ sugar until incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the frosting is pale brown and just warm, 4-5 minutes. Then add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, one piece at a time, and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Line the edges of a cake stand (if you have one, otherwise use a plate) with strips of parchment. Place one of the cake layers on the stand. Spread 3/4 cup of the frosting on top of the cake and spread to the edges. Place the second cake on top and press lightly. Then frost the sides and top of the cake. Remove the parchment paper from under the cake. Slice and serve.
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