Just writing out the headline to this starts to make me drool a little bit. I feel like every post I write “so this is one of my favorite flavors!”, but honestly… salted caramel? It’s just amazing. Put it into cake form? Even better!
I have to thank the SprinkleBakes website for this – she made a Triple Salted Caramel Cupcake (that, by the way, looks absolutely gorgeous!), and I just converted/adjusted that recipe to make a cake, and oh. my. goodness. It was delicious. I was actually told this was the best cake I’ve made so far. It was gooey and caramely and crumbly and just plain yummy. I would make this again in a heartbeat if I had more people to eat it!
Before I do anything, I have a little product recommendation – I bought this at Sur La Table, and while it seems to be for bundt cakes specifically, it also worked very well in this regular cake. So easy to read, and so simple! Nordic Ware… I love you and your Bundt Baking Thermometer!
I have a few recommendations while making this recipe, some from experience, and others from my own lack of attention while baking.
First – caramelizing sugar. The best thing to do when you have a sugar and water mixture that you are looking to caramelize is leave it alone. I promise. You will start here…
And then after a little bit your sugar will start to color around the edges like this…
And eventually all of your sugar will be start to color – which is when I will finally put a spatula in and stir it slightly, just to make sure it colors evenly.
After so much caramelized sugar in all of my classes, one time last quarter I had about 3 things to do at once, so I couldn’t stir my sugar while it was boiling. End result? The perfect caramelized sugar. I will never use another method again.
Second – actually making the caramel for your frosting. Anyone who has dealt with caramelized sugar knows that the minute you add ANY liquid to it, the sugar immediately seized up and wants to turn into a pretty amber sheet of “glass”. When you add the cream and vanilla, you need to use a spatula (not a whisk) in the sugar and stir and stir and stir. Even if you end up with clumps of sugar on your spatula or in the pan, just keep stirring. You do need to need to go fast, you just need to keep the mixture moving. What I did was take the pot and a trivet, sit on the couch, watch some Cake Boss, and just continuously stir the mixture. All of those clumps will re-dissolve in the residual heat, the movement will help to get a smooth mixture, and it will also help it cool quicker so you can add it to your frosting. You want to get something pretty and liquidy like this:
Last… caramelizing sugar with no liquid. Let me just start by saying I know what I’m about to tell you. I learned it multiple times, and it’s something I will have memorized forever and ever. But, on a Sunday night when I’ve woken up from a nap and am baking in a semi-groggy state, sometimes my brain takes a little bit to get back to full-function mode. Soooo… for the second sugar that you have to cook, just melting sugar in a pan, I was listening again to Cake Boss from the living room and just decided to use the same spatula I had used for the earlier caramel sauce. Bad… bad idea. For those of you who don’t know, when sugar melts and caramelize, it’s hot – very hot. Getting sugar to the soft-ball stage (not colored at all) is around 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Caramelizing sugar… we’re talking around and upward of 300 degrees.
You know when someone tells you not to do something, and you wonder why? Well here you go… when you are doing this you need to use a whisk because your spatula will melt unless you are 100% positive it’s approved for heat – and even then… just don’t do it. In the picture below, there are the tan clumps of sugar that are still melting, but there are some white spots… yup, that is plastic that melted off my spatula. Needless to say, I had to start this over again, using only a whisk.
For the construction of this cake, I really wanted to make sure that the caramel made it into the cake layers, so what I did was cut the cake in half, then take toothpicks and my thermometer and poke holes all over, kind of like making a Jell-O poke cake. This allowed the simple syrup and the caramel to get into the cake, which helped to keep it moist and give the gooey caramel texture.
Then I put a dam of buttercream around the first layer, and poured around half of the caramel sauce into the middle, lightly spreading with the back of a spoon to cover the entire layer of cake. Then I placed the second layer, and did the same thing – poked holes, brushed with syrup and covered in caramel. The lines that formed because of my cooling rack really helped to give that caramel somewhere to go! (you can see the lines and holes in the picture below)
Brown Sugar Cake
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1 stick of unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup + 2 Tbsp packed brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 350. Spray 8″ cake pan with Pam for Baking, or lightly grease and flour the pan. Put the flour, baking powder, and sea salt in a bowl and mix.
- Cream butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes pale and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, one a time, mixing after each addition until the egg is incorporated. Scrape the bowl as necessary to get the mixture to be cohesive.
- Add the vanilla and mix until combined.
- Alternately add the dry ingredients (3 additions) and butter milk (2 additions), starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until incorporated.
- Scrape batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for approximately 40 – 45 minutes, or until a pick can be inserted into the cake and comes out clean. (Or until your awesome Nordic Ware Cake Tester tells you the cake is done!)
- Let cake cool in pan for approximately 5 minutes, then flip out and cool on a rack.
Salted Caramel Filling
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 Tbsp salted butter, cubed
- 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp heavy cream, at room temperature
- Melt sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk the sugar as it melts, and cook until the sugar is all dissolved and the sugar is a deep amber in color.
- While still over heat, add in the butter in pieces, whisking after each addition until the butter is fully incorporated into the sugar.
- Pour in the heavy cream and continuously whisk to get to a creamy sauce. The mixture will likely seize slightly, but continue to whisk over heat until all the lumps have dissolved.
- Take off of heat and let cool before using.
Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 Tbsp water
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 stick salted butter
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1/2 tsp sea salt (taste and add what you need – I think I likely had around 1 tsp in there)
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- Put sugar into a small saucepan. Add water, put over medium high heat. Do not stir. Let cook until it caramelizes (see notes above).
- Once sugar is a deep amber color, add in the heavy cream and vanilla, stirring continuously. Continue to stir mixture until all clumps have dissolved and you have a nice, liquidy, caramel sauce. Let cool to around room temperature.
- In a mixer with a paddle attachment, mix the butter and sea salt until pale and fluffy. Add in the powdered sugar, scrape the bowl, and mix until combined.
- Slowly stream the cooled caramel into the buttercream mixture with the mixer on. Once all caramel is added, mix on medium-high speed until you get a light and fluffy texture. If the buttercream seems too soft, your caramel might not have been cool enough – put the mixture in the refrigerator to set up a bit.