Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Caramel Cake

Last year, I made the CH an Elvis cake for his birthday. It was good, but a little weird, so I asked him what special cake he wanted this year. He told me he wanted a caramel cake. I believe I only made one twice in the last 6-8 years, and the original recipe came from a Penzey's spices catalog which has long since been tossed. I searched Penzey's site, but they didn't have this recipe listed so I had to try and recover the recipe (or one like it) somehow.

I have very few cookbooks these days because the whole world of cooking is open to me with a search on the web. Most of the time, that works out pretty well, but not when it comes to certain recipes. Finding a caramel cake recipe, for instance, is very hard because there are many variations and few simple recipes. Those that are simple go too far and have ingredients like "cake mix" and instructions like "make cake as instructed by mix." Also, I didn't want chocolate caramel, cinnamon caramel, apple caramel, banana caramel, or tres leches. I wanted something straightforward with two flavors - cake and caramel.

I don't make cakes from mixes, and even if I wanted to, I couldn't find a good one in Japan without sifting through import shops. Finding a good, plain yellow cake recipe for a cake from scratch is very hard. It's as if everyone figures a plain cake is best produced from a mix or homemade ones are indistinguishable from those made from Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines. I can tell you for a fact that this is not true. Fortunately, some years ago and after some trial and error-based failures with cakes that disappointed (too sweet, too sticky, too flat), I found a good plain cake recipe and had the foresight to print it out and put it in my personal recipe file so I still had the basic cake recipe on hand.

Unfortunately, the caramel part of my old caramel cake recipe was long gone, but I turned up a recipe that seemed to fit the bill. The yellow cake in this recipe is like a pound cake, though not quite so heavy. It's moist, light, and sweet and the best homemade yellow cake I've run across. The caramel is easy to make and requires no exotic ingredients. The cake looks a little funky because you have to poke holes in it to allow the caramel to creep into the cake, but it's very good. I don't even like caramel, but I enjoyed this.

Yellow cake:
  • 2 C. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 C. sugar
  • 1/2 C. shortening (I used "cake margarine/keiki magarin", but you can use Crisco)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 C. milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
Cream the sugar and shortening together. Add eggs, salt, milk and vanilla and beat until thoroughly combined. Sift in the flour and baking powder and beat until the batter is smooth. (Note: my sugar and shortening were lumpy so I took a Braun multi-quick hand mixer to it and it didn't have any bad effect on the result)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F./175 degrees C. Grease and flour a 9 x 9 baking dish (I used glass) and pour in the batter. Tap the edges to even it out. Bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Note that your cooking time may vary depending on the type of pan you use. Metal pans will require a shorter cooking time than glass.

Allow the cake to rest in the pan for 15 minutes. Gently loosen the edges and turn it out on a rack for cooling. Allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes before the next stage.

Caramel sauce:

  • 1 1/2 C. brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 C. boiling water
  • dash salt
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Add the sugar, salt and flour to a heavy bottomed saucepan and mix together well. Add the boiling water and heat over medium heat until it starts to bubble. Turn the heat down a bit and cook for about 5 minutes until thickened. Stir it very often and monitor the heat carefully to make sure it doesn't burn. You want the final result to be slightly thicker than you'd like for the cake because it'll be thinned out a little by the butter, cream and vanilla.

Remove the cooked sauce from the heat and stir in the butter. Once the butter has been completely melted into the sauce, stir in the vanilla and finally the cream. You want the sauce to have cooled a little before adding in the cream, but it shouldn't be cold.


Take the cooled cake and poke holes into it with a straw or chopsticks. I usually poke the holes closer together at the edges, but you can choose any pattern or number of holes you like.

Carefully pour the sauce over the cake filling in the holes as you go. You'll notice dimples forming as the sauce penetrates the cake. Once you have covered the whole cake once, go back over it and pour more sauce into the dimpled areas. There is plenty of sauce so you shouldn't have any problems totally filling in the holes even if you make quite a few (which I did). Any remaining sauce can be poured onto the center. If you run low on sauce, you can always spoon up the spillover and fill in any dimples.

This cake keeps very well for 2-3 days because it's moist and the sauce keeps it moister than usual. In fact, it is actually better the second day as more of the sauce penetrates into the cake as time goes by.

I think we were fortunate this time around to have both U.S. butter and New Zealand dark brown sugar to use for this. I've made it before with Japanese ingredients and it's good, but Japanese brown sugar isn't as deeply flavored. Also, and I hadn't noticed this until very recently as I haven't had American butter in about 2 decades, American butter is sweeter than Japanese butter. It's not that sugar is added, but rather that they use a different type of cream in U.S. butter. The U.S. butter, incidentally, was imported and sold for a hugely inflated price (about $17 for 2 cups) because of the butter shortage in Japan.

My husband and I didn't buy it. He was given it by a student who picked it up for 100 yen (about a dollar) because it was set to expire too soon. The butter we were given was equivalent to 2 cups of butter and doesn't expire until the end of this month. I'll be sad to finish it off. It's so good.


Sharon said...

The cake looks really good. Hope the two of you enjoyed it, and your CH's birthday.

1tess said...

I like caramel! About 20 + years ago I used to make a cake like that for special occasions, except it was made in a bundt pan. Poke holes in the cake (while it was still hot in the pan) and pour in the caramel sauce. Let it sit for a while for the cake to absorb the caramel, then tip the cake out of the pan. It did not have the shiny glaze your cake has, but I think it was served with a fruit sauce or with ice cream? mmmm
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