Caramel cake and vanilla caramels

When you have over 1,000 Daring Bakers from all over the world, it´s damn hard to chose a challenge that suits everyone´s tastes and seasons. That´s why when I read that November´s challenged involved a caramel cake and caramels I wasn´t particularly excited since caramel cake is something I could crave during the winter, but not in the summer, and it´s been crazy hot here these past few weeks, so I wasn´t too keen on turning on the oven or making a buttercream frosting.


But that´s the magic of the DBs, you are bound to be surprised. And I was! First of all, I didn´t burn myself while making the caramel syrup, mostly thanks to a very clever DB who commented on the forum that a good way to avoid getting burnt by the splattering caramel was covering up the pan with aluminum foil and making a whole in the middle through which to add the water. I worked like a charm! So thank you Linda for the great tip, my arms will be forever grateful.

This month´s hosts are Dolores from Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity , Alex from Blondie and Brownie and Jenny of Foray into Food. And they certainly did a great job picking this recipe.

The caramel cake is very delicate and moist, but in a compact sort of way, which I liked, but some people might not agree with me. It´s not hard to prepare either once you have managed to work through the caramel syrup without making a mess of yourself and your kitchen.

caramel cupcakes and minicakes

As for the brown butter frosting, there was dissent in the DB ranks. Many people claimed it was unbearably sweet, which had me quite worried. Granted, I didn´t add as much sugar as the recipe called for, but enough to get the right consistency. And I LOVED it, which is saying a lot since I normally dislike buttercream frostings. It added a whole new dimension to the cake, and although it was quite sweet, it´s wasn´t too sweet, and it complemented the cake perfectly. Maybe this has to do with getting the caramel syrup dark enough (without burning it, that is), since it is used in both the cake batter and the frosting, and I believe it can lack complexity and just taste sweet if it´s not dark enough.

caramel syrup

caramel cupcake with brown butter caramel frosting

I was about to chicken out on making the vanilla caramels since I rarely eat caramels and I don´t own a candy thermometer, nor intend to, so my chances of messing everything up were quite high. But I tried to reassure myself with the old-school methods of soft and hard ball syrups, and went ahead.

Surprisingly, the came out quite decent! When I took them out of the flame, put them in their molds and let them cool, they turn out a bit too soft (which was fixed putting them in the fridge and eating them half-cold). But I didn´t know that until later, so I put half of the batch back in the pan for a quick reheat hoping to make them a bit harder, and well, in two minutes, they went from too soft to too hard (yes, refrain that chuckle, please). So I ended up with hard caramels, but I could still cut them in small pieces and they are still edible, as long as you warn people not to chew on them if they want to keep their perfect smile.

Overall, I´m going to declare this whole venture a big success, summer or winter, and I´m sure I´ll be making the cake again as soon as the weather makes it bearable to turn on the oven.

If you want to check out tons of variations, and what I´m sure will be some breath-taking decorations, check out what the rest of the Daring Bakers were up to this month.

And if you want to give the recipe a try yourself, you can find it after the jump.

CARAMEL CAKE WITH CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING (from Shuna Fish Lydon’s recipe ( … he-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

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.


(I did half the recipe because I didn´t want to use crazy amounts of frosting, and it was enough, but if you like more frosting, or want to use it for other cupcakes or to frost a cake thoroughly, the full recipe might be better)

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted (add the sugar little by little and taste, 1 pound might be too sweet)
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 –

(from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, Copyright 2007, ISBN: 978-1579652111)

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.


Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.
(recipe from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert)


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18 responses to “Caramel cake and vanilla caramels

  1. Ooooh – I’ll be making some of those caramels, over the holidays (and in a real kitchen). Yum!

    I’m surprised you didn’t just tweak the baking powder to the higher amount anyway – I certainly would have, just for insurance. Of course … I don’t ever take a recipe as an instruction, more of a guide.

  2. Great job on the cake and I adore the caramel shapes. So cute!

  3. Love the caramel cutouts! I don’t think I got my caramel dark enough, but yours looks just perfect to make the cake a bit more complex. I’m glad this one was a winner for you, even if it was a bit out of season!

  4. Wonderful job Marce! I love all the different cake shapes and those caramels cut outs are perfect!!
    Miss our chats!

  5. BC

    I’m glad it was so successful for you.

    Summer? I am frozen with envy!

  6. The caramels are so creative – wonderful job!

  7. Boy, you rocked this challenge! Everything looks perfect: the cake, the frosting, the caramels. Bravo!

  8. Love the shape variations. Which shape was tastiest? 🙂

  9. I love these caramels, they look cute :-)!!!!!

  10. what sweet little cakes!

  11. Your cakes look fantastic. I love how mini they are. Your christmas themed caramels are so cool.

  12. liz2024

    Your mini cupcake looks delish!

    and the shaped caramels are sweet!

    – Elizabeth

  13. The caramels are adorable!!

  14. I hardly know where to start! It seems I’m laughing so often at how I go from “I’m not going to be happy with this” to “Wow is this ever great cake.”
    I so wish I’d used some of my cupcake molds! I love all your shapes with this.
    And you make me want some caramel! Those look wonderful.

  15. beautiful!!! i made regular cupcakes and loved them — this might actually be one of my few repeat-recipes!

  16. I’m so glad the summer weather didn’t scare you away from our challenge; I love what you’ve done with it. Thanks for baking with us in November.

  17. oh wow, this looks amazing.

  18. they looks so yummy and love your recount of how you decided to make them until you finished them… 😉

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