Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge: Adventures with Caramel Cake

So here, it is, my first challenge with the Daring Bakers! And wow, was this more of an adventure than I ever could have imagined. This months challenge was Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater's Caramel Cake as posted in Bay Area Bites. The hosts for this month's challenge were Dolores of Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie and Jenny of Foray into Food. Gluten-Free help was given by Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.
Before I get into the crazy day I had with this cake, 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

OK, now are you ready hear about my day? A little background here- this is my first DB challenge, and I was feeling a little nervous. I'm not a huge fan of caramel, but I was willing to try, and I thought to jazz things up a little, I would infuse the thing with some lavender. I had just been away for over a week and I was cutting it close to the deadline, so I knew there would just be one chance to get it right.

You can see where this is going, right?

So here we are, the day after thanksgiving, and I'm ready to start this thing. We've got a few friends coming over later to help us eat the cake, and the kids are pretty psyched about the whole situation. So I get up in the morning, and make the caramel syrup right away. To infuse the lavender, I let about 3 T of lavender flowers soak in the 1 cup of cold water used to stop the carmelizing process for about an hour. This totally worked. I'm not sure the rest of it worked so well though. While I did get my caramel syrup to a nice amber color, it was super thin, and not so sticky. This was my first foray into caramel, and I was afraid I would burn the whole thing. But in the end, it tasted great, so I used it anyway. Here's my nice amber color:

The lavender was quite strong, and this syrup was so good that I got a bit sugar dazed sampling it. I let the whole thing cool and started work on the batter. Everything was going fine, until I began to preheat the oven.

Now here is the moment where I can choose to tell you the whole truth, a little bit of it, or none at all. You pick:

No truth: Then everything went great and the the cake came out flawlessly, filling my house with the sweet smell of caramel and lavender.

A little truth: Then a few rough things happened with my oven, but I got through it like a true daring baker, and the cake came out great anyway.

The whole truth: (not for the faint of heart) OK, so immediately my kitchen was filled with maybe the worst smell I have ever smelled. My husband ran into the kitchen and we quickly tried to discern the cause. I remind you here that I had been away for over the week, and under the watch of my husband, the oven had been used, well let's just say, a little less than usual.
So yes, upon further inspection, we began to suspect that the smell was one of (close your ears if you can't handle this) burning rodent. Breathe... I got through it and so will you.
At this point, my husband opened the pots and pans drawer under the oven and a very large living mouse jumped out. Joey and I screamed like small children and ran away from the kitchen. Our kids ran into the living room inquiring as to the cause of our shrieking, and all we could say was "back to your room, now." "What's that smell, Mommy?" "Back to your room, now. Don't your dolls need a tea party?" "Yeah!" And that bought us a good five minutes to deal with the situation.
This whole time, my precious caramel cake batter is in the mixer. And if there is one thing I will not do, it is abandon ship mid-batter.
So Joey starts taking apart our ancient electric stove. And sure enough, in the layer between the oven and the burners, not only is there a crispy mouse, but there is many hidden stores of half-eaten nuts and several nearly chewed through wires. Joey quickly cleans out the corpse and after inspection of the wires, we realize that it is time for the stove to RIP. May I remind you that the mixer is churning away?
OK, I know, this whole thing is super gross. But more importantly, my caramel cake! I'm not going to fail in my first Daring Bakers challenge because of a silly mouse nesting in my stove!
Thank God for neighbors. I called up my neighbor Hannah, who was recovering from just making Thanksgiving for 28 people. She began the preheating and I ran down there. Here's me coming back home with the cakes:
Now, although as I said, I refuse to give up here, I'm starting to worry a little bit about my cakes. It's late November in New England, and running the batter around the block is not going to help matters much, nor is running the hot cakes back up the block. But what am I to do? My cake eating guests are arriving and I must have a cake to give them.
As I had a few people over, I made a double cake, and I decided to put whipped cream flavored with the lavender caramel syrup in the center. I started working on the whipped cream and Browned butter frosting, and then I realized that I had forgotten that I needed a stove to brown the butter! There was no way I was going to turn my stove on for anything, so I looked for another option. Lucky we had a fire going:

After my face got really really red, the butter was finally browned. By this time I was losing my light to photograph the cake and I was also starting to lose my focus. I made the frosting and it was tooth-hurtingly sweet, so in a last minute moment of panic, I folded some of the whipped cream into the frosting. This created a really delicious creamy mess, and no matter how much I worked on it, it looked like my three-year-old had frosted the cake:

I drizzled some extra caramel syrup on the cake and added a sprinkling of Fleur de Sel, and presented it, as Julia Child says, "without apologies".

And in the end, although it wasn't pretty, it was really really good. A hit all around, I think.

I'm hoping next month's challenge will be a little less exciting for me, but I guess we'll just have to wait and find out. Hopefully I'll have a new oven by then. Until then, it's the rice cooker for me....


  1. Oh, my, Alana, what an initiation into the Daring Bakers. You get a badge for being intrepid.

  2. True daring spirit! I hope your new oven remains rodent free ;-)

  3. There should be an award for persistence in the face of all those challenges! An extra gold star for you. Well done.

  4. That is one funny story! Not for you, I'm sure, but for us reading about it. I'm glad your cake turned out well after all of that!

  5. You started the challenge the day after thanksgiving? Glad to see I'm not the only procrastinator in DB :)

  6. Welcome to the DB! Congrats on completing your first event-filled challenge. What a story. Phew! The little girl is adorable!

  7. OH NO! Sorry to hear about the mouse situation. What a saviour of a neighbor you have!

    Moral of the story? Maybe get a cat? :)

  8. You poor thing! But kudos for persevering -- next month will definitely be better! :)

  9. Wow, that's a great initiation story. And your DB experiences can only get better, right?

  10. Way to persevere! Lavender infusion sounds amazing. (also, always exciting to find another Alana)

  11. Whoa! That is some story! You definitely earned your DB stripes! Welcome to the group. Your cake looks lovely, despite all your troubles. :)

  12. What a trooper. Way to stick with it. I don't know if I would have gone that far. Good for you. And welcome to DB. Your cake looks great - no pioneer could have done better.

  13. Oh! My! Gosh! You are a Daring Baker warrior! Incredible job in completing the recipe. Hope the stove gets fixed soon and that the rodents take up residence elsewhere!

  14. I was wondering if you would ever be interested in becoming a featured publisher with If so please conctact me at

  15. The cake was delish! I was lucky enough to be one of the tasters...

    Well recounted, Alana! I had already heard/witnessed the story, and I still laughed out loud at your telling of it!

  16. LOL What a great story - my kids were cracking up as I read it to them...crispy critters and all!

    I'm sorry we weren't able to come taste the famous cake!

  17. That's quite a story, Alana :) The cake turned great afterall!

  18. Huzzah! Caramel Cake and a daring story illustrating the adventure of making it? I wish we could have been there.
    PS~ I agree about the cat, but you knew that already ; )

  19. OMG!!! you truly are a DARING baker :)

  20. Hilarious story! I'm so impressed with your cake run. And I love your matryoshka plates!