If you’re like me and about 80 gajillion other people, you’ve just read The Help (or saw the movie) and loved it. I thought it was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, but frankly, what stuck with me most from the book was Minny’s famous caramel cakes mentioned so often. I’m a sucker for a good Southern recipe (duh) and this famous caramel cake the author mentions so many times definitely had me intrigued. I come from a peach cobbler-buttermilk pie type family, so cakes didn’t play a huge roll in our family get-togethers; but good old fashioned Southern cakes like this one are very much a part of my heritage. As soon as I finished this book (like, 3 days ago), I set out to make myself a caramel cake. Where did I turn? Why, Baba’s American Woman’s Cookbook, of course. If you want a good old fashioned recipe, be it buttermilk biscuits, a Lady Baltimore cake, or perfect-every-time pie crust, this book will never let you down! Sure enough, I found exactly what I was looking for!
I’m not going to lie and say this was a simple cake to make; in fact, I’ll go ahead and fess up to having to make more batches of caramel than I’d like to admit. There are 3 different caramel-y aspects to this cake: the caramel syrup that goes into the batter, the caramel filling (more like a glaze) and the caramel buttercream, which I did not get from the cookbook, but here instead, since it was more along the lines of what I was looking for. Other than lots of caramel making, this recipe is extremely easy (it’s just like any other cake you’ve ever made…except WAY more delicious!), so don’t let all that caramel scare you- if I can do it, YOU can do it!
Now, the verdict: holycowhallelujahwowomigoshjeezlouise! After just one bite, every sense in my body told me this was the best cake I’ve ever made. Even Joel, who isn’t a big fan of caramel couldn’t shut up about this cake! All it took was that one bite and I knew, “this is Minny’s caramel cake. I’ve nailed it.” As I read about Minny cooking her caramel and bringing the finished cakes to people’s houses, this was exactly how I pictured it. And heck, it may not be anywhere close to what the author was talking about, but in my mind it’s perfect and I’ll never make a caramel cake any other way. It’s incredibly moist, absolutely bursting with sweet, caramel flavor and the gooey caramel center….pure heaven. Making all that caramel may be a bit of a pain, but do your friends, your loved ones and yourself a favor and make this cake ASAP- then take a bite and experience the South.
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup hot water
3 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare the caramel syrup: place 1/2 cup of the sugar in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar melts. When it becomes a dark amber color (about 5 minutes- watch it closely!), remove from heat and whisk in the hot water VERY slowly until dissolved. You’ll be left with a syrup about the consistency of simple syrup. Cool completely. *The first time I tried this I added my hot water too fast and ended up with a rock-hard lump of caramel, so be sure to add the water VERY slowly while whisking!
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and the remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and the cooled caramel syrup; blend. Add dry ingredients and milk alternately, beating until smooth. Pour into 2 greased 9-inch cake pans lined with wax paper and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Cook the sugar, butter, cornstarch and milk together in a double boiler until thick (mine never got too thick and I cooked it for at least 15 minutes). Remove from the heat and add vanilla. Let cool for about 5 minutes then pour over the warm cakes still in their pans (I poked holes all over my cakes with a toothpick so it would soak up the liquid better). Let the cakes sit out at room temperature in their pans until completely cooled.
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
Briefly stir together granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture turns dark amber in color, about 6 to 7 minutes.
Remove from heat and very slowly add in cream and vanilla, stirring with a wooden spoon until completely smooth (be careful, as the mixture will definitely bubble up and possibly splatter a bit as you add in the cream). Set aside until cool to the touch, about 25 minutes.
Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, gradually add powdered sugar, and mix until completely incorporated. Turn off the mixer, and then add caramel. Beat frosting on low to combine, and then increase to medium-high and beat until airy and thoroughly mixed, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate if not using immediately (or to harden the frosting a bit).
To assemble the cake:
*This part was a little tricky since I had to somehow figure out how to get the wax paper off the bottoms of the cakes while they were gooey with caramel! Slide a dull knife all the way around the edges of the cakes to loosen the sides from the pan and (using a spatula or possibly your hands- however you deem fit, really), lift the cake from the pan, peel the wax paper off the bottom and place, caramel side up on a cake platter.
The second layer is easier- just line the cake up evenly with the bottom layer and gently overturn the pan, setting it upside down (caramel side down; so you’ll have caramel-to-caramel), then peel off the wax paper.
Using a cake spatula, gently and evenly spread the caramel buttercream over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate until about 1 hour before serving. Makes one 2 layer, 9-inch cake. Phew!
Recipe sources: cake recipe adapted from American Woman’s Cookbook; caramel frosting from Gimme Some Oven