Burnt once, burnt twice

Burnt Sugar Bundt Cake

Inevitably, with this blog and Baked Sunday Mornings, I will be required to remake Baked recipes I already made with great success.  While I obviously delight in making my favorite Baked recipes all the time, there will come a few times where I will may end up cursing myself for not taking pictures of the finished product the very first, and more successful, time.  This brings us to this week’s endeavor.

Like Matt Lewis, I’m a huge fan of bundt cakes.  They’re simple, they’re yummy, relatively easy to mix together, and a little less fussy than layer cakes at times.  The most difficult thing you may need to worry about with bundts is getting them out of the pan all in one piece, retaining the beautiful design of the pan on your cake in the bargain.  I, myself, confess to many a bundt cake disaster – crumbly chunks of cake falling out of the pan, pieces of crust sticking stubbornly along the sides. It truly makes one want to weep!  However, if you’ve greased and floured your pan well, you shouldn’t have too much trouble.

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of making the recipe for this week’s assignment, Burnt Sugar Bundt Cake with Caramel Rum Frosting from Baked Explorations, for my family at Christmas.  This divine, deep caramel-flavored cake was quite a hit – and with the snazzy caramel shards sprinkled across the top, it has the potential to be the showpiece of even the most humble get-together or potluck.

First of all, if you’re curious about the name of this recipe – burnt sugar? – wonder no more.  If you have had caramel, you’ve had burnt sugar!  There’s a magical alchemy to making the burnt sugar/caramel in this recipe, and that involves basically taking dry sugar, putting it in a saucepan and then heating it to the point when it turns into a thick, sticky liquid.  Cook it a little longer and it starts to smell slightly burnt and turns brown.  Carefully pour in heavy cream, stir it rapidly as it sputters, and voila!  Delicious caramel – and the delectable base for this cake.  If there is one thing those Baked guys do well, it’s caramel – and I’ve learned from them the best ways to make it – while making this recipe, their Sweet and Salty Cake, Sweet and Salty Brownies…the list goes on.

I would suggest being very, very careful when making caramel and dealing with hot sugar on your first few tries.  When sugar reaches a boiling point, it is incredibly, INCREDIBLY HOT.  Matter of fact, silly me – the first time I made this cake, I lifted the wooden spoon out of the boiling sugar and attempted to dislodge a chunk of it from the spoon.  OUCH!!!  I soon had an extremely painful, large burn/welt on my index finger.  No fun!  So, please, don’t be like me.  Be very careful to avoid hurting yourself, and do everything you can to prevent the boiling sugar from splashing onto your skin.

Now… back to this cake.  Well, you have only my word to take that my first endeavor with this cake was the BEST.  This time around, I wasn’t as fortunate.  I’ll be darned if I can figure out what went wrong.

Hey – what happened to the darker color?

I’m not sure if any of the other BSM bakers had this issue – it could be my crummy apartment oven again – but I had to bake my bundt cake approximately 15 minutes more than the 45 minutes the recipe called for.  At 45 minutes, it was still jiggly in the center.  Also, when I made this cake previously, it turned out a nice, deep golden brown like Baked’s – this time around, it had more of a blonde tint.  My suspicion is that the first time I made it, I followed the recipe more specifically and let the sugar cook to a deep brown caramel color, and this time, I may have let it cook to a lighter shade of deep amber instead.  Hence, a lighter-tinted cake.

My main issue – this time and the first time, if I remember correct – was the caramel rum frosting.  It isn’t so much a frosting as a glaze.  I wish I had a made a note in the book the first time to remind myself not to use all of the remaining burnt sugar liquid, or maybe scale back on the rum by 1 tablespoon (though I love the punch the 2 tablespoons packs). Baked’s photo in the book shows a nice, thick, creamy frosting that is nicely spread and ‘perched’ on top of the bundt, whereas I came up with a glaze that drizzles more down the sides and pools in the center.  Much as I am not a proponent of adding more powdered sugar to make a thicker frosting consistency (it makes the frosting way too sweet), I ended up adding a total of 4 cups powdered sugar, believe it or not (the recipe calls for 2-1/3 cups), to thicken and bring it even remotely close to spreading consistency.  The end result?  Possibly an overly-sweet frosting, but with the kick of the rum balancing it out, it was passable. It kept this nice consistency – until I spread it on the completely cooled cake, whereupon it suddenly got thin again, curdled slightly, and started running steadily down the sides.  Strange!

Pretty, but sharp – be careful! – shards of dark, caramelized, and candied sugar adorn this cake. It’s easy to make them, and will give you extra practice! Try it!

Regardless of how different my burnt sugar bundt cake was this time around, I cannot argue that it was still delicious.  The ever stolid perfectionist in me tried to get past the devastating, sad appearance of the weepy cake to try a slice. The coconut milk ensures a nice, dense, moist crumb and the frosting, though troublesome, is wonderfully boozy with the rum – complimenting the cake well.   While I far preferred the toasty taste and texture of my first venture, this cake was not altogether a complete failure.  It was still edible, though with only a slight taste of caramel/burnt sugar.  Also – be very careful with your caramel candy shards on top – some can be quite sharp.  You may want to carefully pick them off with your fork before taking a big bite of cake.  I would hate to imagine anyone cutting the roof of their mouth on one, or cracking a tooth!

Feeling a little experimental with your bundt cake baking?  I will never discourage you from trying a Baked recipe – give this recipe a try… and if you have terrific luck with it the first time, savor it, enjoy it, and be sure to take a photo!  I hope you will continue to have success with it, unlike me!  If there is a ‘next time’ I attempt this, I think I will scratch the frosting – frosted bundts seem like a little ‘much’ to me anyhow, and this cake can stand on its own pretty well, perhaps dusted with some powdered sugar.

The recipe:  http://bakedsundaymornings.com/2012/10/02/in-the-oven-burnt-sugar-bundt-cake-with-caramel-rum-frosting

The second attempt – runny frosting and all!
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22 thoughts on “Burnt once, burnt twice

  1. Great post Mark – really fun to read, and I’m a bake-outta-the-box kinda girl :) Though I did think of you one year long ago when I tried a Hummingbird Cake from scratch – and my, it was delish!!

    1. Thanks, Steph! I hope my blog inspires you! Hummingbird Cake is YUMMY! We made Hummingbird Cupcakes at the place I used to bake at… always enjoyed those! Thanks for reading my blog and good to hear from you!

  2. Mark, I made this cake three times in one week, and only had the frosting turn out correctly once. The one time it worked, it might have been just been the grace of God, or maybe I happened to have the butter at the precise correct temperature. I agree that it’s very frustrating not to get the fluffy frosting pictured in the book! But so long as it tastes good, that’s all that matters, right? Still, you made a great looking cake!

    1. I actually almost invested in more ingredients to try this cake again, but decided against it, as I didn’t exactly have an occasion for which to make it (if I did, yes, that would be a different story!). I loved reading your blog and the thought processes that went into it. I think in the end I decided that if I do make this cake and the frosting again, I will decrease the rum to 1 tablespoon and just gradually add a little bit at a time of the burnt sugar mixture. I think adding it all was ‘too much’. My sister suggested it could have been the powdered sugar too. Not all powdered sugars are alike. I prefer the good old Domino in the box, which I did NOT use with this cake. Domino seems to have more substance to it. You’re right – the butter temp may have something to do with it too. Mine was still relatively cool.

  3. I tink your cake looks lovely! My cake was blonder than the one in the book as well and I had too cook it longer, but I often find the cooking times in the Bakes books to be a bit off.

    I mentioned that I felt a bit like a mad scientist making the burnt sugar liquid and love your phrasing ‘magical alchemy.’

  4. may not have turned out perfectly, but it looks great! i was thinking of you guys and your frosting woes when i saw matt post a picture of a perfectly frosted caramel bundt on their facebook account! their frosting recipes are always so delicious, but often very finicky!

    1. Agreed! Though I will say most of their buttercreams have turned out wonderfully for me. I swear by them. I did notice the photo on Facebook of the burnt sugar bundt, and it had a ‘runnier’ consistency, so maybe that’s how it SHOULD be? Hmmmm… Thanks for the thoughts!

  5. Mark – I forgot to mention that I had to bake the cake longer, too. My cake turned out great, but the frosting was a disaster which I wouldn’t have minded nearly as much if we were just eating it at home…that’s why they’re the pros! I’m sure I’ll make the cake again, but not the icing.
    Have a great week!

    1. Thank you, Susan – I take immense comfort in knowing I was not alone with my dilemmas with this cake! I do think this cake would be just as tasty unfrosted. I’m not a huge fan of frosting bundts, because you lose the lovely design of the cake itself from the bundt pan.

  6. Another great post! And once again, we had some of the same frustrations. I haven’t read any posts where the baker was able to get that gorgeous dark color on the inside. Any further insight? I wonder if you ARE supposed to truly *burn* the sugar to the point of being scorched– although I can’t imagine that this would taste good in the cake. Another baker mentioned using brown sugar, which might work too, but it sounds like it’s possible without that, based on your first successful attempt. At any rate, your cake still looks great, and it’s hard to argue with the taste! :)

    1. Thanks for the comments, as usual – I’m beginning to think you and I are baking kindred spirits. :-)

      I honestly don’t know how I got that wonderful brown tint to the cake when I first made it, and as I mentioned, sadly, I do not have any photos to recall it, though I do remember it being darker. I think it does mean taking the boiling sugar almost to the totally burnt point. I think combined with the other ingredients and the coconut milk, lemon juice, etc. the bitterness of the burnt sugar could be tamed down enough to not make it too obnoxiously noticeable… and you DO want that slightly burnt, caramelly taste. It’s tricky, though. You gotta let your eyes and nose be the ultimate judges when boiling that sugar!

      Now I’m off to read YOUR blog! ;-) Keep up the good work!

      1. Hmm, I’m getting the same feeling! :)

        I’m sure that must be really baffling. It reminds me of when I learned to make French Macarons– I made them at home PERFECTLY the first time, and every time afterwards, they were cracked/deformed/etc., and I could never figure out what I had done differently the first time– it was absolutely maddening!! A couple of people commented on my post that brown sugar might work for a darker cake, so I may try that next time. I think I *did* take my burnt sugar to the very edge, so I may try actually scorching it, and it would be interesting to see if you’re right about the other flavors mellowing out the burnt bitterness… I suppose many of these baking adventures won’t have a clean “ending”…

  7. I enjoyed reading the details of the experience you had with the cake. I had my caramel mixture in the refrigerator overnight, so that may have helped my frosting not get so thin. An extra two cups of sugar (especially in this cake, which had tons to begin with) is a lot extra for the frosting. Mine took a full hour to bake too.

    1. Margot – I, too, refrigerated my frosting. It was a great, thick consistency when I took it out of the fridge, but when I iced the cake, it quickly dissolved and turned to mush (and the cake was room temp, not warm). Very strange. Ah well. These things happen. Better luck next time, right?

      And yes, the extra couple of cups powdered sugar? Blech… way too sweet! At that point, though, I was hell bent and desperate on getting that consistency right! Ha!

  8. I enjoy your detailed posts, Mark! Your cake is lovely. And since you’ve made it once successfully, I’m determined to make it again sometime.

  9. I had to add extra powdered sugar, too, but I gave up somewhere between 2/3-1 cup. I’m with you–the Baked frostings are phenomenal when they turn out well (the frosting on that root beer bundt from the 1st book is knock-your-socks-off good), but they can often be finicky. I’m not so big on precision, so they often flop for me.

  10. I’m glad to hear your first attempt was so good! I agree with Sheri and Sarah, It’s great to know that this cake can turn out really well. Mine was also a lot lighter in color like yours, and I had to bake it for an extra ten minutes or so too.

  11. Looks like we pretty much all had the same issues with this cake! I think yours looks great. I also had to bake mine longer and thanks to you and your early post, I decided to boil the frosting down to a syrup consistency before making it and I think that’s the only reason my frosting worked out okay. Thank you for that! I also refrigerated it before as well. I didn’t care much for the taste and only used 1T of rum.

  12. Hey Mark! Thanks for commenting on my blog post, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to yours sooner. In some twisted way I’m comforted knowing that others experienced some issues with this recipe but I bet my disaster “took the cake” — sorry, couldn’t resist :) I actually think I might go with your suggestion of scaling back on the rum and/or burnt sugar liquid for the frosting, and probably refrigerating all of it before frosting the cake. I took a macaron class in which we were shown how to take the sugar all the way so I think I felt more confident with that step — my cake seemed to get that dark color similar to the pic in the book. It was bitter even with the addition of coconut and lemon juice but once in the cake, it was delicious. Anyway, just rambling… I think your cake turned out beautifully, and I look forward to your next post — enjoy your detailed and engaging writing!

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