Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: Caramel Cake

I've been a bad blogger! I honestly didn't mean to take a one-month hiatus from my beloved blog. It's like I blinked and a whole month passed! Please, dear readers, accept my humblest apologies and stick with me because there are posts a-plenty in the works!

And now on with the show ...

The hosts for this month's challenge are Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie and Jenny of Foray into Food. Also pitching in to assist the alternative bakers is Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.

This month's Daring Baker's challenge was an exciting (read: dangerous) one with a sweet reward at the end. I'm talking about caramel - the sweet, sticky substance that I love so much.

The recipes chosen for this month are both from Shuna Fish Lydon. The rules for the challenge were to make both the caramel cake and caramelized-butter frosting.

Since I had never made caramel before, I decided to just keep it simple and follow the recipe as written, even though we had some freedom to customize our final cakes. In the end, I'm glad I did!

The first step to making the cake and the frosting is to make a caramel syrup. This is a bit tricky so be sure to carefully read and follow the directions before attempting to make this!

Step 1: Caramel Syrup
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a stainless steel saucepan with tall sides (when in doubt, go large!), 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 and dark amber in color. Note: the change from clear to light amber to dark amber happens very quickly! Do not take your eyes off the syrup for any amount of time!

When color is achieved, VERY CAREFULLY and VERY SLOWLY, 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. For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

I mean it - be careful! If you aren't, this is what happens!

Which sets off your smoke detectors and then leaves you with this mess to clean up:

Or worse, you could seriously burn yourself! So pay attention and put down the camera for this part! Be a better baker than me on this one! (No, I didn't burn myself. Thankfully, I took the long sleeves tip seriously!)

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.) My syrup was getting too dark so I turned the heat off and whisked every few minutes until it was cooled. My syrup was a tad burnt. There is no fixing this, you just have to start over ... or use it anyway, like I did. Let the syrup cool to room temperature before moving it to the fridge.

Step 2: Caramel Cake
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/3 cup Caramel Syrup (from recipe above)
2 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 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan. I used two short 8-inch cake pans.

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

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs and 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.

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. For the two short 8-inch cake pans, bake for 20 to 30 minutes. 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.

Step 3: Caramelized Butter Frosting
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. I added a pinch of sea salt at the end of this process and found it to be a crunchy and unappetizing addition. I think next time, I would prefer to add it to the hot butter after straining it.

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.

All in all, this was a fun challenge! I will definitely make caramel syrup again - and next time I'll do a better job!

There was an optional challenge this month as well, but I didn't have the time to complete it. I do plan to try it in the near future though, so stay tuned!

Be sure to check out the blogroll to see how the other Daring Bakers made out this month!