Friday, November 28, 2008

Daring Caramel

It's that time again folks! No, not time to bug your eyes out over the stock market again - It's time for the November Daring Baker's Challenge!

This month was an adventurous return to sweets after a couple months of savory challenges. This months challenge was hosted by Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food. The ever-lovely Natalie of Gluten-a-go-go was fabulous enough to convert this recipe for all of our Alternative Daring Bakers.

The recipe this month is Caramel Cake with a Caramelized Butter Frosting courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater. This recipe was first published on Bay Area Bites. There was also the optional challenge of Alice Medrich’s Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels - with plenty of variations open to us.

I was very excited when I logged on to the Daring Bakers forum on the first of November only to find a recipe chock full of caramel. Generally I'm not too into sweets (makes ya wonder why I joined the Daring Bakers don't it?) but when it comes to caramel I am an absolute sucker. I can't get enough of it! OK, that's not true, but I can eat at least 4 pieces of it - which as my family knows is like a heroic feat. So, I was quite satisfied to find out we'd be making a caramel cake (which I didn't even know existed) topped with a caramelized butter frosting (I'd never come up with an idea like that on my own - go Shuna!) and optional cream caramels (which I'd attempted once before and burnt horribly).

The most difficult part of the challenge was actually the optional part - the caramels. Since that was the part I was most interested in - I persevered - even though it took 3 tries to get it right. That's right - 3 tries. I was about ready to pull my damn hair out. First off, the caramels are made with golden syrup, which although big in the UK, it's not exactly easy to find in the US. Though I did eventually find it at my commissary...after trying four other stores.

I do have to say, after finding Lyle's Golden Syrup I will never, ever again use corn syrup. The flavor is so amazing! It's so nutty and caramelized - much better than the saccharine sweet of corn syrup. I couldn't resist licking my fingers every time I spilled some - which over time I started 'accidentally' spilling more and more - if ya know what I mean.

And oh yes, you so do.

So, I was quite the happy camper trotting home with my treasured golden syrup. Making caramels - pshaw! So easy I could do it in my sleep.

...or at least I would've been able to do it in my sleep had my candy thermometer actually worked...which it didn't. (Although just as a point of interest I don't recommend cooking in your sleep - unless you have a burning desire to light your house on fire. Heh. Get it? Burning desire? OK I'll stop now.)

Let's just say burnt sugar smells really bad.

So, new candy thermometer in hand and another trip to the commissary later I was ready to attempt the caramels again. Only this time I didn't cook them to a high enough temperature...

But at least Mr. TA has plenty of caramel sauce for his ice cream...right?

After about a week I was ready to try again. I drove up to the commissary one more time, this time buying two bottles of golden syrup (and this stuff ain't cheap, yo). I mixed the golden syrup and sugar, patiently stirring until it was one homogeneous, wet-sand, ooky-yellow mixture. I heated it very slowly, gently stirring and wiping the sides with a wet pastry brush. Heated the cream to just the right temperature, made sure the butter was chilled...

Et voila! Creme Caramels!

I just didn't realize they'd make so much. Now I'm trying to pawn off caramel on the fellow slaves at Mr. TA's work. I cut it up into sticks and wrapped them up individually - and apparently one young buck thought it'd be a swell idea to gobble the whole thing down at once. Apparently he was on a sugar high for most of the day. Though I do believe this was the same chap that thought it would be a good idea to roll up all the fondant on a test cake I made for my sisters wedding and eat it like an apple.

Yeah...they grow 'em smart where he comes from.

So, caramels accomplished I waited until the day before Thanksgiving to whip up the caramel cake and browned butter frosting. Mr. TA and I had Thanksgiving with our neighbor N this year. We would've loved to visit Mr. TA's dad and his wife B, but it just wasn't in the cards. Dinner with N was very nice and relaxed - I say any Thanksgiving that gets you with a gin and tonic in hand by 2 pm is a success, eh?

Both cake and frosting came out very well the first time. Many of my fellow DBers thought the cake and frosting were tooth-achingly sweet, and combined it was just too much for them. So I was a little wary about the recipe, and only made half a batch of the frosting. The cake was sweet, but not a whole more so than I find most cakes. I made cupcakes for easier distribution to Mr. TAs coworkers, so as single sized portions they weren't too bad. The frosting was very sweet as well, but no more so than any other frostings I've had. I mean, after all, isn't frosting just a fattening binding agent and sugar? It's pretty much supposed to be slap-in-the-face sweet. The browned butter in it was out-friggin-standing though. I will definitely be trying browned butter in more sweets in the future.

The one thing I really didn't like about the recipe was how incredibly dense the cake was. I tried the batter before cooking and it was delicious, but once cooked into my little cakes it was just dense and chewy - not really my type of cake. The only thing I like dense and chewy are brownies - and Chewbacca

Heh...Chewbacca. I'm a riot, aren't I?


Caramels? Lots of work but totally worth it in the end.

Caramelized Butter Frosting? Oh heck yes.

Caramel Cake? Meh, not so much.

But I'll let you be the judge on it...


10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Notes from Natalie for those of you baking gluten-free:

So the GF changes to the cake would be:

2 cups of gluten free flour blend (w/xanthan gum) or 2 cups of gf flour blend + 1 1/2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
1/2 - 1 tsp baking powder (this would be the recipe amount to the amount it might need to be raised to & I'm going to check)

I'll let you when I get the cake finished, how it turns out and if the baking powder amount needs to be raised.

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)

- makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels -

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer


Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

Be sure to check out all the other lovely Daring Bakers!


Jude said...

Thanks for reminding me of my plummeting 401k numbers. :(

Couldn't even try the caramels. For the first time in my life I ran out of sugar in the pantry -- thanks to the cake.

Kristin said...

There are tears of frustration in my eyes at this moment because you're pawning off your delicious and hard-won caramels on some dink at your husband's work, when I COULD BE EATING THEM. Life is so not fair.

But cheers to the commissary coming through for you in the end. That's funny.

Gretchen Noelle said...

Adorable cupcakes! I am with you on great frosting, so-so cake.

jillian said...

Beautiful cupcakes! Your caramels make me wish I made to optional challenge too. Its funny though..I like the cake but could do without the frosting.

Anne said...

I love Lyle's, too. I started using it last month and will never go back, either! Your cupcakes and caramels are perfection!

Sherry Trifle - Lovely Cats said...

An absolutely adorable cupcake! Congratulations on the successful caramel making too.

Ruth said...

Wow your cupcakes and caramels look fantastic. I cant seem to find that golden syrup I gotta get my hands on some since you say its so delicious

Regina said...

Congrats on getting your caramels to work - they look lovely! I'm totally with you on the browned butter frosting... amazing!

Y said...

Cute cupcakes! I love the little balls of caramel and salt on top.

Dolores said...

Third time's the charm. Your caramels (and your cupcakes and your divine caramel buttercream) look GREAT!