Check out my birthday cake! It may not look very festive, but it definitely brightened the day because it was my first attempt at a true Southern caramel cake.
Caramel cake is a Southern classic, but I’d never even heard of it until I was in my thirties and saw it in The Cake Mix Doctor. That version was made with a doctored cake mix and a quick confectioners’ sugar and brown sugar frosting which hardened up like a praline after you poured it over the cake. I was very proud of myself for mastering the quick version of the frosting, but as the years went by I learned that real Southern caramel cake was made with granulated and/or brown sugar and cooked over the stove using a candy thermometer. The version I’d been making was the “cheat” version, and I knew that one day I’d need to master a more authentic one.
Which brings me back to yesterday. I had all day long to bake, and decided that my birthday cake would be caramel cake. Since I didn’t have a Southern grandma around to tell me how to do it, I just used a Southern Living version found via Food.com. The yellow cake was fantastic. As for the caramel frosting, it was unusual in that it contained granulated sugar and an egg, whereas most of the other versions called for brown sugar and evaporated milk. Maybe the egg is what made it easier to work with, because it didn’t harden as fast as the confectioners’ sugar based icing and didn’t crack quite so much, either. We loved it, but now that I’ve studied up on caramel cake, I want to try some of the other versions made with with brown sugar and/or evaporated milk. As for the cake, I’m sticking with this this one, though I’ve seen another popular version that calls for self-rising flour.
- 2 3/4 cups( 12.4 ounces) aerated and stirred all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 cup room temperature sour cream
- 3 cups sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup whole milk, room temp
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9x2 -inch metal cake pans with flour-added baking spray or grease with butter/shortening and flour.
- Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
- In a stand mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium high speed until light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla. Gradually add the sugar, scraping the sides of the bowl once or twice and beating for about 5 minutes or until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time and continue beating for another minute or two, scraping sides of bowl. Reduce speed to low and add the milk, then add flour and sour cream alternately. When flour is fully incorporated, divide evenly among the pans.
- Bake on center rack for about 35 minutes or until cakes spring back when touched and a pick inserted comes out clean.
- To make the frosting, put 2 1/2 cups of the sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and mash it around until mixture is grainy and moist, then add the egg, milk and salt and stir until relatively smooth. Set aside.
- Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup sugar in 3-4 quart heavy duty saucepan; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar melts and syrup is a light golden brown.
- Remove from heat and stir the butter mixture into hot caramelized sugar, then return to heat and cook over medium, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 235 on a candy thermometer. Note: When you first put the butter mixture into the caramelized sugar, it will start to harden and clump. Just keep cooking and stirring and it will all melt together, but do keep the heat even. This process should take about 10 to 15 minutes.
- When mixture reaches 235, remove from heat and let cool for about 5 minutes.
- Add the vanilla and beat frosting with a wooden spoon to almost spreading consistency or you can cheat a bit. Pour it into a mixing bowl and beat it with a handheld mixer until it starts to thicken. As soon as it's thick enough to pour, but not too runny, spoon some over the first layer of cake. It should fan out a bit, but eventually set. Stack on the second layer of cake and pour some more caramel carefully over the top. Spread it around the sides the best you can.