Saturday, November 29, 2008

November Daring Bakers: Would You Like Some Sugar With Your Sugar?

After dabbling with some savory stuff last month, the Daring Bakers returned to their sweet roots in November, the evidence of which is manifest in the hundreds of caramel cakes currently sweetening the blogosphere.

I'll admit I was pleased to be making something sweet; while I love all kinds of baking, the Daring Bakers is always a good excuse to make some outrageously rich and decadent treat. This month's challenge was Shuna Fish Lydon's recipe for caramel cake with a browned butter caramel frosting. Fittingly, the recipe is not from a book, but from a blog, and can be found here. Thanks to this month's hosts: Dolores, Alex, and Jenny for choosing the recipe!

So, the cake. Well I'll go right ahead and say it: no photos. OK, I have some photos, but they are unappetizingly terrible. As I'm sure many other Daring Bakers did, I served this cake for dessert on turkey day, and between the poor lighting, the sun setting at about 2pm, and the fact that I was more concerned with getting other things on the table than on taking a stellar picture, the resulting images really don't do the cake justice. It was tasty, but you'll have to take my word for it.

Caramel being the star player in this recipe, it goes without saying that this challenge was all about the sugar. Sweet cake, ridiculously sweet frosting, and to top it all off, a good soak of caramel syrup. Although the recipe only called for the cake and the frosting, I couldn't imagine serving it without something to balance out the sweetness, so I covered the whole thing with a thick layer of bittersweet ganache and laced it with a good dose of brandy. More specifically, I cut the cake into two layers, brushed each layer with brandy-caramel syrup, filled them with the frosting, frosted the outside with frosting, and glazed it all with ganache. Brushing cut cake layers with soaking syrup - be it caramel, liqueur, or both, is the best way I know of to make a deliciously moist and flavorful cake.

Everybody raved about the cake - Jonathan even declared it the Best Daring Bakers Cake Yet - but as far as challenges go, it wasn't my favorite. The caramel flavor of the cake comes from a homemade caramel syrup, which is also used to flavor the frosting. As with any caramel, the key is taking it off the heat at just the right time. Too early, and you end up with simple syrup, but too late, and you end up with acrid, burnt sugar.

I tried to take my caramel off the heat just as it was turning amber and beginning to smell a bit burnt. Still, it was hard to detect a true caramel flavor in the cake. The same goes for the frosting. Had I not added a splash of brandy, I think it would have been overwhelmingly sweet, even with the caramel and browned butter.

However, my main gripe wasn't the product (as I mentioned before, the cake really was delicious), but rather the recipe itself. The recipe was very vague at times, and could have benefited from more specific directions. There was no time suggested for cooking the caramel sugar, for example, and the directions for preparing the frosting were rather terse. Although I'm a blogger through and through, I have to admit that I've never seen a recipe that brief or ambiguous in a good cookbook. I love cooking and baking by the seat of my pants, but there were lots of unanswered questions that came up during the making of this cake.

That said, I could see myself making this cake again, particularly for a crowd. It's a classy, elegant cake that has simple enough flavors that everyone can enjoy it. For my next Daring Bakers challenge, though, I'm hoping for something a little more exciting than cake with frosting. Now that we've done this cake, the opera cake, and the gateau, I'm hoping I'm not the only one who thinks it might be time to take a break from buttercream and see what else is out there in the wide world of sweet, baked treats.


Gretchen Noelle said...

Glad your cake was enjoyed by all, the nut decoration was a nice way to finish it off!

abby said...

have to say i liked then fact that the recipe was vague - i quite like having to rely on my senses which is a bit more unusual when it comes to baking than savoury. i'm glad it was a success for you though.

Christina said...

Sun sets here around 1725 (I have to schedule my baking/cooking around it as much as I can so I can!).

Nice job! I like the ganache over the frosting, it probably helped cut the sweetness some. Cute design.

TeaLady said...

Wowie! Great looking cake, even tho' you said you didn't have good pics. Yours looks very elegant with the ganache and pecan.s

artepicure said...

I didn't know about Daring Bakers until the other day when I read a piece on caramel cake on the Ideas in Food blog. So I will try their challenge for Dec. when it is listed. Like you, I find that the frosting looks too sweet. I'm going to make the caramel cake Sunday for a potluck but use my own frosting recipe:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
cook water and sugar until it caramelizes. add cream to stop the cooking process. bring to a boil and cook 1 minute to melt the caramel. refrigerate to cool then make this:
1/2 cup liquid glucose
3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1 lb. butter
beat yolks in stand mixer until pale
cook glucose and sugar to softball stage 240f and pour into yolks with mixer running. leave running until yolks cool to room temp.
cook butter until browned then place in a bowl in an ice bath and whisk until cool and creamy. add piece by piece to the egg syrup mixture until it is all incorporated. add the caramel to this and mix well. you now have a really good brown butter caramel frosting that isn't to sweet.