Daring Bakers

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)

Daring Bakers: Pizza Challenge

This challange, like the last, allowed quite a bit of creativity and freedom on the part of the bakers.  I was excited to try this recipe for a few reasons.  

1. I love pizza and any excuse to make my own.  

2.  I have never tried an overnight rise in the refridgerator before. 

The dough is easy to make and using the stand mixer makes it even easier.  The next day when it came time to toss I knew I was in for trouble!  The dough doesn’t seem like it NEEDS to be tossed.  I picked up one of the dough balls and turned it a few times and it practically prepared itself.  It was thin and circular in no time.  I knew that I had to at least try to toss at least one dough ball for the sake of the Daring Bakers, so I did.

I not only dropped it on the floor but poked a big hole in the dough and argued with my husband while he was trying to take pictures of the whole ordeal.  I may not be tossing dough again.  I like my method of stretching the dough with my hands.  Much safer.  No pizza dough casualties!  The dough that survived the tossing turned into great pizzas.  I like my pizza crust thin and crunchy with just that right amount of chew in the crust so this was perfect.  I’ve had trouble getting a good thin crust with other dough, so I will be using this recipe from now on.  Scroll to the bottom for the recipe!

I usually make margherita pizzas because I completely satisfied with the simplicity of the mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil.  Last summer I ate at Asti with my family to celebrate my sisters graduation from college.  I had their white pizza and thought that I would try to recreate it.  The Asti pizza had mozzarella, fontina and provolone cheeses with fried sage leaves.  I also chose to add slices of proscuitto di Parma which was a great decision.  The crust was thin and crispy.  I didn’t totally recreate this pizza, but this combination of mozzarella, ricotta, goat cheese and parmesean was simple and very tasty.  I fried sage leaves to go with this pizza and it really made the pizza special.

Here are the toppings!

The second pizza was based on a recipe I found in an NPR article called Tapas Pizza.  I used manchego cheese, proscuitto, green olives, roatsed red and yellow peppers, red onion and parsley.  It was also a very delicious pizza and I was pleased with the way it turned out.

Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled 
1 Tsp Instant yeast 
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar 
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter.  Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C). 

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping. 
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter – for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Daring Bakers- Lavash Crackers and Almond Spread

This is my first month with the Daring Bakers and I am a day late in posting…hopefully I will not be kicked out (fingers crossed)!  I have to admit that I wasn’t too thrilled that my inaugural challenge would be vegan crackers.  Anyway, I warmed up to the cracker idea since it would be something I had never done before.  I have never had good luck with bread dough and all the kneading involved, so I was nervous about this part of the cracker.  I chose to be a little lazy and let Kitchen Aid’s dough hook do the kneading for me.  Then I let it rise.  

Rolling out the dough to a paper thin sheet wasn’t easy.  The second half of the dough rolled much easier as it had some time to rest.  Sarah rolled her dough out much better and they really crisped well.

I made the mistake of not reading the part about spraying the dough with a little water before sprinkling salt and spices.  As a result all the fennel and caraway seeds came tumbling onto the baking sheet instead of sticking to the cracker.  Sad day.



The Tahitian Almond dipping sauce sounded really interesting so I decided to give it a try.  Almond butter, pine nuts, garlic, cilantro, orange juice and honey.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find almond butter at my small town grocery, AND I forgot to get orange juice.  Carrie the problem solver to the rescue!!  Well, kind of.  I figured that almond butter was nothing more than ground almonds, so I decided to make my own almond butter in the food processor…not so easy.

It kinda came to a butter-ish consistency so I continued on using water instead of orange juice…hmmm.  Maybe I should have been better prepared and used a little more common sense.  Lesson learned.



After all was said and done my sister Sarah and my husband Ben said they thought it was a success.  I may not make my own crackers again.  I am just fine to go to the store and settle for a box of water crackers.  I am glad that I was, in a way, forced to try them.  I will probably try to make the spread again with the ingredients the recipe calls for.  Maybe then it won’t look quite so much like green sludge.