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More Southern Food
March 1, 2009
Caramel cake is a Southern favorite, one of those cakes that if you notice one on a church buffet table, you might have to strong-arm your way past the preacher and head deacon to get a piece before it gets gone.
The cake dates at least to the last quarter of the nineteenth century; the earliest published recipe I hace been able to find is in The Dixie Cook- Book by Estelle Woods Wilcox, published in Atlanta in 1883.
This recipe is typical; it comes from Eudora Garrison’s Favorite Carolina Recipes. Mrs Garrison was a longtime food editor of The Charlotte Observer.
Yield: 1 9-inch Layer Cake
1/3 cup plus 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided use
1/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup butter or margarine
3 cups sifted cake flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Caramel Frosting (recipe below)
Melt the one-third cup sugar in a heavy skillet, stirring constantly until deep-brown syrup is formed – a process called caramelization. Remove from heat and slowly stir in boiling water, being careful that steam does not burn your hand. Set syrup aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two 9-inch cake pans, place parchment paper in the bottoms, then grease and flour the bottoms and sides.
Cream butter in bowl of electric mixer. Add 11/4 cups sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until each is well-incorporated. Stir in 4 tablespoons of the reserved syrup.
Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Combine milk and vanilla. Add flour mixture to the batter alternately with the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until smooth. Divide batter evenly among the two prepared pans and bake 25 minutes, or until wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove pans from oven and let stand about 10 minutes, then turn out cakes onto wire rack, peel off paper and cool completely.
Frost cooled cake, stacking layers.
3 cups (light) brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons half and half
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix sugar and half and half in a heavy saucepan and cook, stirring over low heat until syrup reaches the soft-ball stage, 235 degrees on a candy thermometer. If lacking a thermometer, check doneness by dropping a tiny bit of syrup into a cup of cold water. When the syrup can be gathered up in fingers and will almost hold its shape, it has reached the soft-ball stage.
Remove pan from heat. Stir in butter, then let syrup cool. Add vanilla and beat until frosting reaches spreading consistency. A little cream (or half-and-half) may be added is mixture is too thick.