Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting and Golden Butter Caramels

November 2008 Daring Bakers Challenge recipe is brought to us by Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, Alex a/k/a Brownie, of the Blondie and Brownie duo, and Jenny of Foray into Food.

To download the recipe in .pdf format, click HERE

Recipe sources:
Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon, as published on Bay Area Bites.
Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, Copyright 2007, ISBN: 978-1579652111


This is one of those cakes that is truly about baking. It may sound strange because aren’t all cakes about baking? What I mean is that getting this cake to bake is about balancing fat with acid and protein JUST RIGHT. Gluten free flours are going to have a hard time getting this cake to work. Not impossible, for nothing is impossible these days with all the chemical (natural and icky) at our fingertips, but very very tricky. One hint for the gluten free baker– liquid Lecithen is your friend.

It would be very easy to get various other flavours in the caramel cake but what’s tricky is making sure the flavour does not screw up the liquid-fat-flour ratio too much.

Ideas/flavours: Browned Butter, vanilla bean, rosemary, burnt orange, warm spices, etc. Just remember: various flavouring ingredients and agents carry with them their own acidity and moisture contents…

Flavour imparting ingredients can be poached in the caramel once it’s done. Even a cold steep would be good with some highly aromatic ingredients, like coffee beans or rosemary. One could make scented sugar and use that in tandem with the sugar in the recipe.

But I will say this about flavours: you will hide and lose the subtlety of the caramel flavour in the cake and that’s what this cake is about.

Yield: 1 x 9″ / 23cm cake
Preparation time: 2 hours (not including caramels)
Baking time: 50 minutes

Caramel cake

10 Tbsp / 5 oz / 140g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups / 250g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup / 80ml caramel syrup (see recipe below)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup / 240ml milk, room temperature

Notes for gluten-free:
2 cups / 250g gluten free flour blend (w/xanthan gum) or 2 cups / 250g of gf flour blend + 1 1/2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
1/2 – 1 tsp baking powder


Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C / Gas mark 4. Spray or butter a 2 – 2.5″ / 5 – 6cm deep, 9″ / 23cm diameter cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using a hand-held electric mixer, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & 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.

Caramel syrup

2 cups / 400g granulated sugar
1/2 cup / 120ml water
1 cup / 240ml water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)


In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix1/2 cup / 120ml 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 1 cup / 240ml 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.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

Caramelized butter frosting

12 Tbsp / 6 oz / 170g unsalted butter
3 2/3 cups / 1 pound / 450g confectioner’s sugar, sifted after measuring
4 – 6 Tbsp / 60 – 90ml heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 – 4 Tbsp / 30 – 60ml caramel syrup
pinch salt


Cook butter over medium-low heat in a small, heavy-based saucepan, whisking constantly 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

Golden vanilla bean caramels

Yield: 81 x 1″ / 2 1/2cm caramels
Preparation time: approx. 30 minutes
Setting time: 4 – 5 hours or overnight

1 cup / 240ml golden syrup
2 cups / 400g granulated sugar
3/8 tsp fine sea salt
2 cups / 480ml heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 Tbsp / 1 1/2 oz / 42g unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened


A 9″ / 23cm square baking pan
Candy thermometer


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 / 3 litre 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 to use 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 / 150°C. 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 / 150°C, 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 caramel at the bottom of the pan has melted back in and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F / 118°C. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°F / 127°C for soft, chewy caramels, or 265°F / 130°C 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.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F / 107°C or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F / 109°C. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.

Signature Caramel Cake
Shuna Fish Lydon