Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Caramel cake

Caramel is one of my favourite sweet flavours. I had been thinking about how to make a caramel cake for quite a while. Research on the interweb shows that they are quite popular in America but it seems to be more about a plain cake with icing: not particularly interesting or inspiring.

I had also recently learnt the rules about substituting oil for butter in cakes to allow different flavour profiles and I thought a caramel cake would be the perfect way to try out my own oil cake recipe.

To make my "ultimate" caramel cake, I baked two different cakes, one vanilla and one caramel (using muscovado sugar). These were then split into three and layered with three different types of icing. The combination of icings was determined by a taste test at work a few days ago. A lunch time activity which my work pals were more than happy to participate in. I even had some of the cake trimmings with me to help out.

The final cake looked like this (unfortunately I don't have a cross-section).

The cake was amazing. I would go so far as to say it was possibly the best cake I have ever made. The caramel cake had a really rich deep flavour. The slight bitterness from one of the icings worked really well as a foil to the sweetness. The plain sponge cake also provided contrast for the other flavours to work against. Overall the cake tasted of a rich caramel providing a long, rounded and satisfying mouthful with each bite and crucially it wasn't too sweet. The decorative sugar shards provided a textural contrast although they didn't last long in the warmth of the office.

Anyway, on to the recipe. Be warned there are six different components in this cake: two cakes, three types of icing and the sugar shards. It's a lengthy undertaking but one which, I think, is well worth it.

Caramel cake recipe

For the vanilla sponge:
2 eggs
4oz butter
4oz plain flour
4oz caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla extract
For the caramel sponge:
2 eggs
90.4g flavourless oil e.g. sunflower
22.8g milk
4oz dark muscovado sugar
1tsp baking powder
4oz plain flour
Pinch of salt
Filling icing 1 (taken from Bay Area Bites recipe):
2 cups caster sugar
1/2 cup water
2oz butter
30ml double cream
5oz icing sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
pinch salt
Filling icing 2 (taken from Scrumpdillyicious's recipe):
1/4cup light brown sugar
10tbsp butter
1/3cup double cream
8oz cream cheese
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup icing sugar
External frosting (taken from My Recipes):
1oz butter, melted
1 3/4oz dark brown sugar
2-4tbsp milk
1dsp vanilla extract
135g icing sugar
Caramel shards, to decorate (taken from Ricardo Cuisine):
60 ml water
20og sugar
1.5oz  butter
1/2tsp salt
1/2tsp baking soda

1. Start be making the vanilla sponge. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
2. Beat in the eggs one by one, alternating with a little flour, and then beat in the vanilla extract.
3. Sieve the flour and baking powder into the mix and fold in.
4. Split the batter between three 8" lined cake tins and bake at 180°C for about 10mins until cooked through. You'll need to keep a watchful eye to check that the edges don't go crisp before the middle is cooked.
5. To make the caramel sponge whisk together the wet ingredients: eggs, oil and milk.
6. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl and mix with the muscovado sugar.
7. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, whisking only just enough to combine them.
8. Split the batter between three 8" lined cake tins and bake at 180°C for about 10mins until cooked through. You'll need to keep a watchful eye to check that the edges don't go crisp before the middle is cooked.
9. For filling icing 1, a caramel syrup is required. In a large heavy-bottomed pan mix the water and sugar until the mixture feels like wet sand.
10. Heat the pan on maximum until the syrup is smoking slightly and has a dark amber colour. (this may be as high as 190°C).
NB The aim is to create a slightly bitter syrup. This is crucial to offset the sweetness of the cake.
11. Carefully pour in one cup of water and whisk over medium heat until the syrup has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. (Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it!)
12. To make the icing make a beurre noisette by cooking the butter until it is brown. Sieve into a bowl and aside to cool.
13. Beat the brown butter with until smooth and then ad in the icing sugar gradually alternating with the cream or caramel syrup. Repeat until all the sugar, syrup and cream has been incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Add salt to taste.
14. For filling icing 2, gently warm the brown sugar and 4 tbsp butter together until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil over medium heat and remove from the heat.
15. Whisk in the cream until well combined. Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl and allow to cool, stirring occasionally.
16. Beat the remaining butter until soft and smooth. Beat in the cream cheese, vanilla and salt until smooth.
17. Slowly beat in the cooled brown sugar mixture (an electric whisk helps here) until smooth. Add the icing sugar gradually, beating well after each addition until completely smooth. Chill slightly for a firmer texture, stirring occasionally.
18. For the external icing, melt the butter over a medium heat.
19. Add the brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of milk. Cook for 1 minute or until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; cool slightly.
20. Combine the butter mixture and 2 vanilla in a large bowl. Gradually beat in the icing sugar; beat with a until smooth. Add additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, as required until spreading consistency.
21. To make the decorative caramel shards, bring the water, sugar, butter, and salt to a boil. Cook until the mixture caramelises and take on a golden brown colour.
22. Remove from the heat immediately and stir in the baking soda with a whisk. Quickly pour on to a baking sheet lined with silicon sheet. Spread the caramel in a thin layer and cool completely. Once cold, break the caramel into long pieces.
23. To assemble, put one of the caramel sponges on the bottom of the serving board. Spread one third of filling icing 1 over the cake. Place one of the vanilla cakes on top and spread half of filling icing 2 over the top. Repeat these layers, alternating cakes and icings until all six cakes have been used and five layers or icing have been spread (see diagram below).
24. Slather the cake with a thin layer of the external frosting (a crumb layer) and refrigerate until solid. Use the rest of the frosting to cover the cake liberally. Decorate with shards of caramel.

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