Daring Bakers: The Rise and Fall of a Caramel Cake

I prepared myself for this challenge, finally!  Knowing that the deadline was close to Thanksgiving and my vacation to LA, I knew I would not have the opportunity to make this cake in time if I didn’t do it soon.  So, I decided that I had to get it done early.  As fate would have it, Ben and I had dinner plans with two of our good friends so I had a reason to make the cake and people to eat it!

I made the caramel syrup first.  I read the WARNING about the caramel, but didn’t pay too much attention to it.  The result was a sticky sugary mess and a smoke alarm that refused to quit with its incessant beeping!  Ok, it wasn’t really that bad.  I did make the smoke alarm go off though.  Do I get points for that?  The caramel does sputter pretty seriously when you add the water, so yes, be careful!  It was a lovely amber color and made the house smell pretty great.

The cake batter came together well and smelled so great with the addition of the caramel syrup.  I had all my ingredients at room temperature, which truly is an important step.

I baked the cake for 30 minutes, a quick 180 and then 15 minutes more.  This may have been a little long, but not the end of the world.

I decided to cut the cake in half and make a two-layer cake.  The more frosting I can get on a cake the better.

I love the flavor of brown butter, so I was very excited to try this frosting.  I used all the butter and powdered sugar called for, about 5 tablespoons of cream and 4 tablespoons of the caramel and that created a pretty good consistency.

The cake was a little crumby and a few cake pieces found their way into the frosting when I started to frost the cake.  Once I got a good crumb coat on the cake, it was fine.

I deicded to use more frosting (any excuse is a good one!) and pipe some dots around the bottom and top edge of the cake.  Then I had to do something with the extra syrup.  Do I drizzled what was left on top and on the sides of the cake.  I was going for a drippy effect on the sides which wasn’t a complete success, but it looked OK.

I had to transport this cake to dinner where it would wait in the car for a few hours, then to the Hartman’s for dessert.  All of this went smoothly…and then…I had the cake in one of those big cake carriers with the latching sides.  The cake was on a cake stand, but I made sure that it wouldn’t slide all over the place by putter a dish towel under the stand.  I was so careful!  I get out of the car with the cake…the latches come undone, the cake completely inverts onto the lawn.  I flip it back over and try to inspect the damage in the dark.  It looked OK.  The light of the house soon brought about the truth and let us see the true damage that had been done.  Little pieces of grass all over, my fingers prints on the side where I’d picked it up and bugs, yes, little tiny grass bugs.  Carrie helped me pick off most of the creatures and grass pieces.  We cut a piece and my friends were kind enough to try the cake and let me know their opinions despite the unexpected addition of plant and animal life.

The verdict was that while being a little dry, the flavor was incredible with just the right about of subtle caramel in the cake.  I really like the frosting flavor and will probably try it on a choclate cake sometime.  I did end up throwing away 80% of the cake, which made me pretty sad.  I did come out of this with a great story, so I guess it was worth it.

Here is the recipe!


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

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)