Salted Caramel Cake
Alex’s twist on an old-fashioned favorite results in a delicious—and amazing looking!—treat that’s perfect for any occasion.
Trends are trends and traditions are traditions, and rarely do the two mix, but this cake is a hybrid. It's my favorite kind of thing — a classic with a twist. These days, I'm sure you've seen salted caramel everywhere. And caramel cakes are a beloved staple across the South, from mansions to trailers — few birthdays, deaths, or holidays are celebrated without them.
This month, I have a new yet timeless flavor explosion just for you: my six-layer Salted Caramel Cake. Fair warning, the tastes are powerful, so don't be surprised when the scrumptious combination is both sweet and salty.
The cake itself is easy. Although there are lots of small steps, they are all described in the recipe. The crumb of it is superrich, fine, and delicate, a direct result of how the ingredients are combined. So be careful not to overmix the batter, or your cake will be tough. The key to success with the icing is letting the boiled sugar cool long enough to get it down to room temperature. Be patient: This takes a while, but it's worth it. Trust me, this icing recipe is way easier than the traditional one, which requires a candy thermometer and a prayer. It's foolproof, as long as you let that sugar cool, just like I said. I like to do some thing else in the kitchen while it's cooling, so I'm not sitting there staring at it, waiting…. Know what I mean?
A lesson: When you cut the cake layers in half, unless you have ninja precision — which I do not — don't expect to cut them 100 percent perfectly! Who cares? You can make sure that the layers are level as you go by adjusting the thickness of the icing between them. Otherwise, your finished cake will look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The silver lining of this problem is that there's often extra icing between the layers— something nobody in his or her right mind will complain about.
When it comes to cake decorating, I'm frankly out of my league, so I love a simple approach best: rose petals, shaved chocolate, or chopped pecans. Couldn't be easier!
Keep me posted — tell me about your baking adventures.
Happy baking! Love, Alex.
SALTED CARAMEL CAKE
For the Cake
Yield: One 9-inch cake, approximately 16 servings
9 tablespoons salted butter, cold, plus more for the pans
3¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons plus ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
12 tablespoons salted butter, melted
8 egg yolks
3¾ cups cake flour, plus more for the pans
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour three 9-inch cake pans, put a parchment round in the bottom of each pan, and butter and flour the rounds.
2. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on medium-high speed, beat the cold butter until very light, about 5 minutes. Scrape the bowl down several times while beating, and gradually add the sugar.
3. Add the vanilla and continue beating for 5 more minutes, scraping the bowl down again. The mixture will be very coarse and grainy.
4. Turn the speed to low and add the melted butter, egg yolks, and eggs, beating until they are fully combined. Turn off the mixer.
5. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
6. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and cream, and then turn on the mixer again to the lowest speed. Add half the flour mixture, and then half the buttermilk mixture, and then the remaining flour, and then the remaining buttermilk. Scrape down the bowl as necessary, but make sure not to overmix the batter, or the cake will be tough.
7. Pour the batter into the 3 prepared pans, dividing it equally, and bang each pan on a sturdy surface to release the air bubbles. Put the pans in the oven and bake them for 25 to 30 minutes, until they are brown on top and a toothpick or knife comes out clean.
8. Cool the cakes for 10 minutes, then run the dull edge of a knife around the perimeter of the pans and invert them onto a cold baking sheet or rack. Note: These cakes may be frozen for up to 3 months at this point.
9. When you are ready to ice and assemble the main cake, slice each individual one horizontally in half for a total of 6 layers. Make sure all the layers are cold before you ice them.
For the Caramel Icing
4½ sticks (36 tablespoons) salted butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons half-and-half
4½ cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
2¼ cups powdered sugar, firmly packed
4 tablespoons vanilla extract
2¼ teaspoons salt
1. In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When the butter is fully melted, stir in the half-and-half and then the brown sugar.
2. Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 8 minutes, until the sugar is melted and the caramel mixture is smooth.
3. Remove from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. I actually stick it in the freezer to cool for about 30 to 40 minutes, because otherwise it could take all day.
4. When it's cool, transfer the caramel mixture to the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and, on medium speed, beat in the powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt.
5. Ice the cake layers with about 1 cup of icing each, stacking them as you go. Any leftover icing can easily be added to the top and the sides of the assembled cake.
Photography by VICTORIA PEARSON