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daring bakers: caramel cake with caramel, caramel, and caramel

Recipe: caramel cake with caramelized butter frosting

“…and try not to chew caramel.”

That is what the dental assistant told me after she cemented my temporary crown onto my molar. I smiled while my eyes darted about the room nervously – how did she know that caramel was front and center in this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge?

daring bakers: we knead to bake!

After all of the cooking and baking for this holiday, here we are slapped into sugar coma with the latest Daring Baker cake: Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting by Shuna Fish Lydon, as published on Bay Area Bites. A huge thanks to our wonderful hosts this month: Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, ably assisted by Alex of Blondie and Brownie, Jenny of Foray into Food, and the always amazing Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go for the alternative bakers. I also want to thank our lovable Daring Baker founders: Lis and Ivonne, who continue to inspire and keep us in line!

adding water to the caramelized sugar

stirring the syrup down

While I love to caramelize sugar, I adjusted the recipes to include a little cream of tartar to stabilize the sugar. At my elevation, it seems to consistently brick without some acid in the mix. Adding the water was probably the most dangerous part of the challenge, but it simmered down in due time and before I knew it, I had a most delightful syrup.


The recipe for the caramel syrup makes more than you need for the cake, but I was thrilled to incorporate it in some other dishes like making the unagi sauce for our Thanksgiving tora no maki. It was my favorite part of the challenge!

mixing the browned butter and some sugar for the frosting

sweet, buttery, fluffy

I started the frosting with some browned butter and confectioner’s sugar. I wound up adding about 5 tablespoons of cream and 4 tablespoons of the syrup. Since I made the frosting a day ahead, I probably could have used that 6th tablespoon of cream to smooth it up some more. Ah well…

some caramel syrup in the cake mix

batter in my new 9×3 pan

The cake took no time at all to whip up. I baked mine for a full 50 minutes and probably could have used another 5-10 as the center was somewhat soggier than I like, making it a little messy to slice layers.

i spun some sugar while the cake was baking

cooling the cake (with onlooker)

I had originally planned on a 3 layer cake, but decided on 2 layers because I suspected (rightly so) that I might not have enough frosting. Then I went all monkey with the spun sugar because I didn’t really have a plan for how to go about decorating the cake.

just enough frosting for 2 layers

the fortress of sugar

Caramel is one of my favorite flavors (paired with custard and we are in serious business). The first bite of cake was shockingly sweet, but pleasantly *caramel*. The second bite of cake was too sweet. I think the cake itself is nice, but the frosting was overly sugary for my liking. I probably won’t make this cake again, but I will most certainly keep that caramel syrup recipe around. I love it for other cooking. Be sure to check out the other Daring Baker Challenges.

some serious sweetness

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting
[print recipe]
by Shuna Fish Lydon, as published on Bay Area Bites

caramel cake
10 tbsps unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup caramel syrup (see below)
2 eggs, room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter one tall (2–2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar, 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. 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 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.} 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 tbsps unsalted butter
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tbsps heavy cream
2 tsps vanilla extract
2-4 tbsps 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.

68 nibbles at “daring bakers: caramel cake with caramel, caramel, and caramel”

  1. Judy (Judy's Gross Eats) says:

    Dentists must be psychic. I love the spun sugar fortress.

  2. Foodie Froggy says:

    My caramel syrup was as beautiful as yours, maybe this explains why I put the whole syrup in my cake batter instead of just 1/3 cup !Lol ! !!

  3. Ronine says:

    Love the expression of the ‘onlooker’ :D

  4. marion says:

    lovely way to decorate your cake :)
    You might tell your dentist that there are different sorts of caramel, and this one was safe for your teeth ;)

  5. Rosa says:

    A pretty cake! I love the decoration! Beautiful!



  6. Aran says:

    It looks so good jen. All those photos of the cake in the making really made me hungry and it’s 6am! I would have a serious sugar high if I ate some of the cake again but your photos are to good. Great job on the spun sugar!!

  7. Marija says:

    I tried to make some spun sugar too, but I burned the caramel and the threads were too fragile and all cracked to pieces. I ended up wit just some colored sprinkles on my cake :D

  8. Julie says:

    How can you take such beautiful pictures while baking and end up with a spectacular result??? I guess your are just very talented! Bravo!

  9. Caitlin says:

    The caramel syrup was fantastic, wasn’t it? Someday I’ll get around to trying to make spun sugar, because it just pretties things up so nicely.

  10. jennywenny says:

    As always you did an amazing cake with great decorations, despite the altitude. I think I’ll always keep a bottle of that caramel on hand too….

  11. Michelle says:

    Love the spun sugar! Beautifully done!

  12. ashley says:

    stunningly beautiful!!

  13. emily says:

    Thank you for this! Perfect way to wake up this morning! And such inspiration!!
    I want to make it right now!!

  14. Elina says:

    Wow!! (That’s all I got :D )

  15. Jude says:

    I love how flat the top of your cake turned out. Mine always mounds for some reason… Looks great topped with more sugar.

  16. jillian says:

    I love the spun sugar on the cake- gorgeous!

  17. Cynthia says:

    Why have you not sold your photography to “Labrador Magazine; lick me or kiss me”
    or “Caramel, you aint’ my bitch” magazine. Girl, you got skills. Awesome.

    We loved this cake over at my home.

  18. Jackie says:

    Your caramel and “spun sugar fortress” look incredible. Sorry to hear that the cake turned out much sweeter than you prefer, but it sounds like there’s definitely going to be some unagi sauce made in the near future. Hooray!

  19. Lisa says:

    I am most impressed with your spun sugar!! Amazing looking cake. Nice job!

  20. Holly says:

    That was how I felt about this challenge too. I love my sugar, but it was just a bit too over the top for me. Separately though I think they might be made in my kitchen again. I love your spun sugar fortress!

  21. Lisa says:

    Ugh – wish I could have participated this month but things just kept getting in the way! Looks like your Thanksgiving was just the way you like it…as was mine (spent with family).

    Have a fantastic December! Not sure if you regularly read my blog – but I’ll be heading in Africa on Friday until just before Christmas. Hopefully I’ll get to keep up on blogs and blogging on downtime.

    Happy Belated Thanksgiving Jen!

  22. Tartelette says:

    Spun that sugar Babe!! I love the fortress of sugar! The cake turned out perfect!! K has the same look as the pupps here “drop that cake…drop that cake….cake! Drop it! Now!!”
    I hear you on the caramels and the crown issues. Bill just about popped a filling!!

  23. Aparna says:

    Your spun sugar decorations look awesome.
    What your dentist doesn’t know isn’t going to hurt him/ her. I just hope it doesn’t hurt you.:)

  24. Stacie says:

    Love how you did the top of the cake with the spun syrup.

  25. Cyn says:

    heh i love your spun sugar! it must add a nice textural crunch to your cake! :)

  26. Beryl says:

    The spun sugar is gorgeous. I agree with you on this- overwhelmingly sweet together, but tasty in parts. The caramel was really wonderful.

  27. Hannah says:

    What a gorgeous nest of sugar! I had planned on making some sugar decorations too, but naturally it had to rain when I finally got around to making the cake.

  28. CookiePie says:

    What a beautiful cake! And your spun sugar is so impressive. Lovely!!

  29. Andrea says:

    That photo of the syrup dripping off the spatula is beautiful, just like you said. You never fail to impress.

  30. Vibi says:

    Those have to be the best step-by-step pictures I’ve ever seen! …and the results just as amazing!
    Spun sugar has to be the technique I find the most magical looking!

  31. Nate says:

    The pic of the caramel dripping from the spatula is amazing. Did you do this in a light box?

  32. clumbsycookie says:

    Maybe your dental assistente is a fellow Daring Baker! Your cake is gorgeous with that spoon sugar!

  33. AlpineberryMary says:

    Your cake looks absolutely gorgeous. The spun sugar really adds a nice touch.

  34. Irene says:

    I’m always so impressed by your photography (in addition to your delectable creations). They are beautiful and dynamic, always a pleasure to view.

  35. Susan/Wild Yeast says:

    Someday maybe I too will be able to say offhandedly “I spun some sugar while the cake was baking.” Not likely though. Really beautiful!

  36. Laura Rebecca says:

    Not only did you make a beautiful cake (with spun sugar, no less!) your photography is impeccable. A feast for the eyes AND the palate!

  37. Shari says:

    I love the photo of your spatula in the syrup! And I have the same thought when I’m chewing my caramels: please don’t make this cause a trip to the dentist!

  38. Deeba says:

    What pretty pictures Jen..& full justice done to the challenge this month. The cake’s come out beautifully with the spun sugar. I contempated 3 layers too, but the frosting didnt look like it was enough. BTW, I love the doleful eyes of the onlooker…adoreable!

  39. Margie says:

    Just this past week I was re-living my past. My mother made a spice cake, iced with caramel icing that was to die-for. Seeing this cake sent me into nostalgia overload!

    Jen, your spun sugar is magnificent, but the eyes of Miss K. trump all. Precious!

  40. Kitt says:

    I haven’t a clue how you spun that sugar but now I want to learn. A little cage of it over ice cream would be a pretty dessert, and easier than making a that cake.

  41. nina says:

    I marvel at your talent! This is so amazingly beautiful! I have tried a couple of times, but the inspiration only hits me on humid days…not a good idea, I suspect!!!

  42. Manggy says:

    Sorry about the super-saccharine… second bite :P Well, the cake looks like a dream.
    Maybe your dentist is a daring baker? Just a thought, hahahaha!!! :)
    I am so f****** mesmerized by that spun sugar close-up. That needs to be my desktop wallpaper, like, right now.

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  44. Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy says:

    What a beautiful cake! I love the “spun sugar fortress”! I’ve got to learn how to do that. (I hope that Kaweah got to have a taste!) I agree that the best part of this was the caramel syrup. You just can’t have enough sticky, gooey caramel in your life, can you? ;)

  45. Maja says:

    Hey, Jen, great looking cake! :) I have two questions for you: 1. does the syrup stay liquid, could you store it for later use and then pour it over some icecream? 2. How do you spoon sugar, it looks sooooo pretty. :)) I wish i had a kaweah lurking when i do desserts, there was always someone waiting to lick the bowl and have a bite when i was living with my parents and sister, my dearest has no such tendencies and i quite miss them. :)

  46. abby says:

    lovely cake jen. i cut the suagr in both the cake and frosting which made it much more edible.

  47. Meeta says:

    i think our group has been infiltrated by your dentist!! lovely lovely cake jen. love the supn sugar!

  48. White On Rice Couple says:

    Beautiful spun sugar Jen! Thanks for the tip of the cream of tarter for high elevation. I’ll keep that in mind when I FINALLY move to elevation and SNOW one day!

  49. Mollie says:

    Love the spun sugar and your carmel is beautiful! You really are magic, aren’t you? :)

  50. Courtney says:

    Your caramel is perfection. I love the spun sugar cage. Just beautiful

  51. Gretchen Noelle says:

    Lovely job with this. Pictures, stunning. And that spun sugar, impressive!!

  52. Mrs Ergül says:

    i love how arty your caramel cake looks! Jen, you make it sound so easy but I failed in making mine… I’m gonna try it again!

  53. Olga says:

    omg, your photos are gorgeous! seriously! I sat this challenge out…can’t wait to see what awaits us in december.

  54. peabody says:

    So just suck on caramel, don’t chew it. ;)
    The photo with the spatula is awesome.

  55. Sonya says:

    Just Perfect!!


  56. ingrid says:

    Wow, your photos are outstanding! I’m sure you’ve been told before but really. I especially love the close up of the spun/pulled sugar, WOW! Did I say that already?

  57. Regina says:

    Beautiful spun sugar! Did the onlooker get to try a bite?

  58. linda says:

    Love your fortress of sugar! I agree that it was too sweet.

  59. Cheryl says:

    Wow! I love your spun sugar! Your cake looks so moist and like it actually rose, did you alter that recipe? Bravo, you cake looks wonderfully sweet, and your photos are amazing!

  60. Eileen says:

    Great photos. Beautiful cake. Especially like the inclusion of your dog.

  61. sandra says:

    how could I missed that one???? i love your spun sugar fortress, it’s awesome! I thought of decorating my cake with Rose Levy Beranbaum’s golden cage but I couldn’t find time to do it.. and I had some leftover chocolate ganache in the fridge so..

  62. jenyu says:

    thanks all, for your comments!

  63. Margaret says:

    WOW!! How elegant is that.

  64. Dani says:

    i was a little more envious with every pic i scrolled to… great job!

  65. Jaime says:

    beautiful cake! esp w/the spun sugar!

  66. Dolores says:

    Caramel and custard. A woman after my own heart. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get here, but thanks for baking with us!

    Oh, and the photo of the caramel cascading off the spatula is fantastic!

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