Saturday, November 29, 2008

Molten Sugar Time


I have to admit that when hosts Dolores of Culinary Curiosity,
Alex of Blondie and Brownie and Jenny of Foray into Food announced that November's Daring Bakers' challenge recipe was caramel cake with caramel frosting I was not thrilled. I don’t like caramel and I will begrudgingly eat it only if it's combined with chocolate. But I always try the recipes for the DB challenges and I wasn't going to skip this month just because I don't like caramel.


Since I was hosting Thanksgiving at my house this year, I was pretty busy in the days leading up to Thanksgiving Thursday. Between working full time, getting the house ready, grocery shopping and making everything for dinner from scratch, I wasn't sure if I could find the time for the challenge. I was also providing some desserts for another Thanksgiving dinner at my parents' house on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I also had to turn down an order for miniature pecan pies since I was worried about over extending myself. Unfortunately I didn’t make the caramel cake earlier in the month so I had no choice but to squeeze it in with all the other turkey day preparations I was doing.

I pretty much stuck to the recipe like we are supposed to do each month. But I decided to turn the cake into cupcakes so that it would be easier to share at the office. I expected the cake to be a bit heavy and dense, but it ended up being surprisingly light and tender.


I'm always a bit nervous when working with molten sugar, but it gets easier every time I caramelize sugar. I didn't take the caramel too dark because I wanted a subtle caramel flavor.


I also made only half the recipe for the frosting. I felt the frosting was a bit too sweet so I also used a hefty amount of sea salt to cut some of the sweetness. The salted caramel frosting ended up being quite nice. It was silky and the salted caramel flavor went really well with the cupcakes. Overall I was quite surprised that I enjoyed this month's recipe. That's the beauty of the Daring Bakers. Try something I wouldn’t normally choose to bake and then end up liking it.

I've included the original recipe. But here are the changes I made for my cupcakes:
* I made 18 standard sized cupcakes instead of one tall 9-inch round cake. I baked the cupcakes until the tops were light golden and the cupcake springed back when lightly pressed, about 20 minutes.
* I felt the 1/2 tsp baking powder in the original recipe was too little so I increased the amount of baking powder to give the cake a bit more lift. I used 3/4 tsp baking powder.
* I replaced some all purpose flour with pastry flour to make the cake a bit more tender. I used 1 1/4 cup all purpose + 3/4 cup pastry flour.
* I made half the frosting recipe and it was enough to frost all 18 cupcakes. I used a hefty amount of sea salt to really cut some of the sweetness. Of course, you should salt to taste.
* I forgot to brown the butter for the frosting. I think it would've been nice to use browned butter since it would enhance the caramel flavor and add some depth to the frosting.
* I made half the caramel syrup recipe so that I wouldn’t have too much syrup left over. Half was enough for both the frosting and the cake. I still had some syrup left over so I drizzled it over some frosted cupcakes.


- Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon as published on Bay Area Bites, the KQED food blog.
- For additional guidance on the cake, Shuna’s got some information posted on her blog and on the KQED site too.

(makes one tall 9-inch single layer cake)

10 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, softened at room temp
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup caramel syrup (see recipe below)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup whole milk, at room temp

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 (6 ounces) unsalted butter
1 pound confectioners' 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 confectioners' 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)


Katerina said...

I did almost exactly the same thing, halved the icing, lots of salt and cupcakes. And man were they good!

The Cherub's Craft Blog said...

They look gorgeous and I agree the salt really does make the icing.

Dolores said...

I'm so glad you ended up liking this one better than you feared. Thanks for baking with us this month.

Anonymous said...

Oh lady, I highly recommend trying browned butter in icing, whatever your favorite butter-based icing might be. It's incredible. Your cupcakes, though, do look divine. Quite.

Mary said...

very nice the cupcake with the icing coming down on one side ...makes you want to grab one !

Jo said...

Lovely cupcakes. I loved this recipe as well but had to reduce on the sugar after what I had read in the DB forum.

Baking Soda said...

Definitely added some nice salt, it did a lot for the frosting flavour. Love the way yr cupcakes came out, fluffy indeed!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

What pretty cupcakes! Very well done!



Rox said...

his looks wonderful. I never tried caramelizing sugar, because everyone said it was difficult, and everyone used only sugar for doing it, no water. I might try doing it during my testing for Christmas recipes :)

Sherry Trifle - Lovely Cats said...

I would just love to try one of these caramel cupcakes. Really delicious looking and very pretty.

Engineer Baker said...

I'm glad you ended up liking this - good tips on what you changed, I think mine would have ended up lighter if I had done those things too. Love the caramel drizzle on top.

VeggieGirl said...

Divine cupcakes!!

BC said...

I was expecting a denser texture too but mine was light. Extra kudos to you for making this on top of all the Thanksgiving juggling.

Shaheen @ Ambrosia said...

It's admirable how you never miss a challenge. Your cake looks great.

Anonymous said...

I was pleased with this recipe as well! Yours look beautiful!

Aparna said...

Your cupcakes look deliciously light and moist. I think the extra baking powder helped.
I also upped that salt and it made all the difference to the taste.

Renee said...

Your cupcakes look wonderful. They look so pretty. I love the idea of the cupcakes. Thanks for including your variations.

Angela said...

Your cupcakes look wonderful. I'm so glad to hear that you liked the recipe a lot more than you thought you would.

kat said...

Cute cupcakes, its wonderful you ended up liking them

Anonymous said...

Your cupcakes looks delish! I had a lot of extra icing too - next time I will half it as you did - great job :)

Tartelette said...

Perfect frosting swirl Mary!! I can't tell you how happy I am to have my DB Mary back!! Gorgeous!

Candice said...

So I guess now you can say that you like some caramel! I agree that the caramel flavour was not overpowering in the recipe. I was afraid it was going to be really, really sweet, but it wasn't.

Lauren said...

Ooo, your cupcakes look amazing. The caramel on top looks absolutely perfect!

Diana said...

You cupcakes are so beautiful! I too was afraid to make it thinking we wouldn't like it, and very pleasantly surprised.

Joeli said...

I love that photo with the caramel dripping down. Nice job!

Eat4Fun said...

Delicious looking cupcakes! Wonderful job!

kimberleyblue said...

Your syrup looks especially amazing! Great job!

linda said...

Pretty cupcakes! Love the picture with the extra caramel sauce on top.
I love caramel but wasn't convinced with this combo though.

Amy said...

I like how you modified the recipes to make them more appealing to your tastes. It inspires me to be more creative when I fin a challenge that is not quite up my alley. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

gorgeous job on the cupcakes, Mary! And i´m glad you ended up liking them even when you normally dislike caramel. And that caramel drizzle on top is killing me, i need a caramel cupcake right, now.

Fit Chick said...

I like your changes in the recipe, the added baking powder seemed to help make it more tender. Beautiful cupcakes!

Faery said...

They look gorgeous and delicious

Elle said...

Cupcakes are a great idea for this challenge. I suspect the added leavening made the cake lighter and more tender. Your cupcakes look lovely. Hope your Thanksgiving was full of earned it!

Audax said...

Your blog is such a delight love the title 'molten sugar time'. As always great photos. Happy holidays to you and your kin.

Gretchen Noelle said...

The cupcakes are gorgeous Mary. Great job, glad you were able to make them!

Rebecca said...

As always, you did a beautiful job with the challenge, Mary. I love the frosting swirls on your cupcakes!

Kelly said...

Love the simple beauty of the icing swirl on your cupcake. I hadn't realized you were back blogging until I ran into your site listed on the blogroll. Welcome back!!

maybelle's mom said...

i wished i had halved the frosting--I have so much left.

Claire said...

Looks great! It's always fun when you like something you thought you wouldn't!

Peabody said...

Oh no. I am sad. You don't like caramel. :( Well, more for me. The cupcakes turned out great looking.

Fuji Mama said...

YOur cupcakes turned out GORGEOUS!

Jude said...

Molten sugar is scary stuff for sure... I'll try it with a lighter caramel next time :)

lisa from dandysugar said...

Your cupcakes look delicious. The salt really does add a nice flavor to the frosting. Lovely cupcakes.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Oh, Mary I love that last photo with the syrup poured over!!!
I really loved this cake and looking at yours must try it again to see if I can't get it fluffier.
The browned butter makes all the difference in this frosting. I would really recommend you give it a try.
Look the fluffy you got in this.

Jenny said...

Oooh I love the idea of the syrup drizzled over the top. Except the sweetness part, since I found it too sweet to begin with. But still, I love the idea!

Namratha said...

Those cupcakes are perfect! Topping it with the syrup sounds and looks good, but way too sweet for me :)

BlondeBomber said...

These are definitely some of the best cupcakes ever! Caramel is a passion of mine. And, these look sinful!