Day 334: Baked Penne and Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

(Sorry for the crappy photo, but it was almost midnight…)

I completely forgot that I joined the Daring Bakers earlier this year, which required me to complete one baking challenge per month. Previous months were fun, but with all those birthdays and Halloween, I completely forgot October. I remembered my membership obligations last night at around midnight – just in time to check in and learn that post day is today. Phew. (Besides not wanting to miss another month – having baked last nights penne tonight, I wouldn’t otherwise have had much interesting to tell you about.)

In a nutshell – the Daring Bakers is a conglomerate of over a thousand bakers (worldwide) who take turns choosing a recipe for the lot of us to bake, which we all post on our blogs on the same day in order to compare notes. It’s actually quite fascinating to see what other people come up with using the exact same recipe. Sometimes we are given freedom of expression, sometimes we must adhere exactly to the recipe as written. It reminds me of an article in Gourmet magazine years ago, in which they gave 20 chefs, food writers and other professionals the same recipe for an angel food cake, and then took photos of the final results. Each one looked different.

The recipes we are challenged to bake typically require separate recipes to be made first in order to complete the mother recipe, and this is no exception. You have to make a dark amber caramel syrup to add to the cake and frosting, but let me tell you, it’s something tasty. It has the intense flavour of almost-burnt sugar, and I imagine it would go swimmingly on waffles. (Not that I have anything against maple syrup, you know, but just for a change. And how much does 2 cups of sugar cost compared to 2 cups of maple syrup? If youre looking to save money, don’t go for the cheap Aunt Jemima…) My fingers are still sticky from dipping them in my Pyrex measuring cupful of syrup all night.

As usual, my two cents:

– When making the caramel, make sure you dissolve the sugar completely before bringing it to a boil – if it’s sandy (that is, undissolved) it will be more prone to crystallization. Also, I wouldn’t cook it quite to the point where it’s smoking – at this point it burns almost instantly, and you don’t want your caramel burnt. Cook it until it’s the colour of teak. Dark amber. Unless you like things burnt.

– The batter will break (look curdled) when you add the milk – this is OK. It works itself out with the last addition of flour.

– My cake needed an extra 20 minutes of oven time, so over an hour total. And it was still very dense and just ever so almost underbaked (but deliciously so). I imagine this quantity of batter would bake up just fine in two 8″ or 9″ round cake pans. There is certainly enough icing for two layers.

– I daresay this is the best icing I’ve had. (I may change my mind with the next cupcake, but for now, I have decided that is my stand.) My concern is that adding vanilla might interfere – or at least compete – with the browned butter and burnt sugar (caramel) flavour. Also, I didn’t bother with the cream, but added syrup until it was the texture I was after. Very sweet, but very good.

– This is a crumby cake (not at all crumbly, but the sides will give you plenty of flies in your ointment). You might want to try a crumb coat – spread a thin layer of frosting over the surface of the entire cake, caring not at all about crumbs. Freeze until the frosting at least is solid (it doesn’t have to freeze all the way through) and then spread with another layer of frosting, the crumbs having been effectively trapped like Han Solo in carbonite.

Re: Caramels: I don’t recall ever seeing a recipe call for precisely 3/8 teaspoon of salt. But who am I to argue with Alice?


courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon, as published on Bay Area Bites

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F and butter one tall 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt and 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.)


12 tablespoons unsalted butter (thats 3/4 cup)
1 pound confectioner’s 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 confectioner’s 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.

There was an optional recipe, which I opted out of because 1) I didn’t have any cream, and B) it was enough to make the cake and frosting while deflecting dogs and boys, unpacking from my afternoon event and packing for Vancouver tomorrow – the cake was cooling and I was making frosting at almost 10pm. But as Chandler would say, I am so making these very soon. In fact, I think they would make a lovely Christmas gift. The fleur de sel version to be sure, but the nutmeg and vanilla bean caramels are really calling my name. Screaming it, actually.


from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

– makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels –

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.


Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.



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13 comments on “Day 334: Baked Penne and Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

  1. Buddiegirl
    November 30, 2008 at 12:08 am

    The cake sounds wonderful, but the Fleur de Sel Caramels are calling my name. Caramel is one of my favourite flavours and I really like the dark and almost burnt sugar taste best.

    What do you use for golden syrup in the caramels? It is the Roger’s syrup or something else?

    I enjoy reading your blog everyday and admire the fact that you are able to do so many things so well.

  2. Erica Bell
    November 30, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Wow I love caramel! I think I just might break my own rules and make my own birthday cake so I can try this one!

    The fleur de sel caramels have been calling ever since I picked up Pure Desserts awhile ago. I just can’t seem to find the kid-free time required to make candy. I agree they’d make great Christmas presents…something I have to get working on soon

    Enjoy Vancouver! :)

  3. Nichole
    November 30, 2008 at 11:43 am

    I loved the frosting, too. It’ll definitely be making another appearance around here. I tried to make the caramels, but I got distracted and ended up with something more like Werther’s Originals.

  4. Dana mccauley
    December 1, 2008 at 4:09 am

    Save the caramels for another time J. THey are delish and well worth the effort when you have a quiet afternoon to fill.

  5. Barb
    December 1, 2008 at 7:40 am

    Wow. (Can I ask a dumb blog question? I don’t know a lot about them. How long will yours be here after you stop posting? Do you close it and it disappears or does it just hang around for people to access and refer to whenever? Thank-you)

  6. A
    December 1, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    You give me caramels for Christmas, and I’ll give you caramels for Christmas.

  7. molly
    December 2, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    by baking pan (in the vanilla caramel recipe), do you mean an 8 inch or a 13×9? Or a different size?

  8. JulieVR
    December 3, 2008 at 7:34 am

    Good question. I haven’t made them yet – I’ll let you know! It’s just the recipe they gave us as an optional part of our challenge.

  9. JulieVR
    December 3, 2008 at 7:34 am

    And it won’t disappear! (The blog, that is.)

  10. Mary
    December 3, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Aha! I should have added more caramel syrup to my icing. thanks for helping me to figure that out. Good show.

  11. hanne
    December 4, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    My cake came out the same way– I thought I’d made a hash of it until I saw hundreds of cakes that had the exact same texture as mine. That’s why I love the daring bakers. I adored the frosting too. My husband suggested it would be good on carrot cake, and I think I agree.

  12. thepinkpeppercorn
    December 10, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    I just tried baking this cake as cupcakes (which normally annoy me… except they are perfect for kids when there are no plates involved!), and it worked out very well! This recipe is definitely not for anyone who does not like super sweet. I ended up with 18, but I should have filled the liners a little more.

    Thanks for posting Julie, or I wouldn’t have been interested in this one! A nice moist cake with a twist!

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