A worthy heirloom of a cake

IMG_1852BSMbanner_baked-150It’s simple and unassuming.  It makes no claims to be magnificent.  It’s not impressively towering and colossal, with three decadent layers sandwiching a thick, buttery buttercream.  The recipe is quietly tucked among the other fantastic recipes in the “caramel” chapter of Baked Elements.  It’s quiet, smooth, and sleek… and of decidedly Southern gentility.  It’s Antique Caramel Cake, this week’s selection for Baked Sunday Mornings.  Despite all of these humble disclaimers, it just might knock your socks off.  I know it did mine.

Last week I celebrated my birthday (on November 19th, to be exact), and I had no shortage of sweets and baked goods, whipped up by yours truly, with which to bust my calorie counter wide open!  When this weekend rolled around and I was faced with making yet another yummy dessert such as this, I confess that I groaned a little inwardly.  If it were a nut-laden dessert, I would have gladly passed.  Unfortunately, it was caramel.  I simply cannot resist caramel.  My defenses were down, my resistance weak.  I forged ahead!

IMG_1846One of the things I adore about the guys at Baked is that they relish taking traditional, old-fashioned – sometimes, family-cherished – recipes and dialing them up a notch, or putting a unique new spin on them.  For this recipe, Matt Lewis borrowed a recipe from a college friend’s mother who hails from Mississippi.  He claims that, for the most part, they kept the cake recipe as is, and toned down the caramel sweetness of the frosting with the addition of cream cheese.  My overall verdict is that they made some pretty smart choices.

The cake itself is a sturdy yellow cake with a tinge of molasses flavor, thanks to the inclusion of brown sugar.  The crumb is dense and moist from buttermilk.  It clings to your fork – just the way I like it!  There is a somewhat ‘fun’ step in the final process of beating together the batter for this cake, in which white vinegar dissolves baking soda.  It foams and fizzes up gloriously, reminding you that baking is, after all, a bit of a science and you are the gifted kitchen alchemist who brings all of this deliciousness together.  I wish I knew IMG_1858a bit more about baking science to explain how all-important this fusion of vinegar and baking soda is to the process and result of making this cake – but alas, I come up short.  Perhaps one of my fellow Baked Sunday Mornings bakers can enlighten you (yes, be sure to read their blogs and support them as well!).

Unlike most of Baked’s stupendous cake recipes, this one is definitely more simple, yielding only two layers instead of three.  These two layers are cloaked in a smooth caramel cream cheese frosting.  I know what you’re thinking as you read this.  Caramel cream cheese frosting?  Really???!!!  Trust me.  It’s tremendously good.  Butter and brown sugar is first cooked together in a saucepan, then heavy cream is added to make a sort of brown sugar caramel.  This mixture is set aside to cool.  Additional butter and room temperature cream cheese are whipped together in a mixing bowl.  The cooled brown sugar mixture is then added, along with a bit of salt and confectioners’ sugar.  From this point on, do your best to beat the frosting together gently in your mixer, as cream cheese frosting, when over-beaten, can become a touch elastic.  The frosting is then carefully and luxuriously slathered over the cake layers.  I’ve made Baked’s Caramel Apple Cake from Baked Explorations before, and while I adored the Caramel Buttercream on that cake, I preferred this frosting – I think it’s because of the cream cheese, which keeps the frosting from being too overly sweet.  Typically, I appreciate cakes for the cake and not the frosting, as I find most frostings too sweet.  This particular frosting complements and enhances the buttery cake perfectly.

IMG_1856 IMG_1855To crown this scrumptious cake further, I made a half-recipe of Baked’s Sweet and Salty Caramel – also in Baked Elements, and a recipe I could probably make in my sleep by now! I poured the caramel into a small squeeze bottle and decorated the top of the cake with a spiral, ‘spider-web’ pattern.  To do this, begin drizzling a thin line of caramel from the center of your cake all the way to the outside in a circular pattern.  When you have finished this large spiral, take a toothpick and gently run it from the center of your spiral out to the edge in a straight line.  Alternate these lines with another line from the edge to the center to create contrasting lines.  Pretty easy – and a beautiful finishing touch sure to impress your friends!

One of my good friends, Jenny Kosek of Sensible Spoonful suggested that, while she adored every part of this cake, a bit of textural contrast would have been a welcome addition; perhaps a bit of toasted walnuts or pecans, maybe some crumbled Heath bar/toffee pieces.  I agree.  It would be fun to experiment with this, using ingredients with a bit of crunch that would compliment the caramel flavors nicely.  I’m not certain if doing so would make the recipe a touch more newfangled (Neufangled?  See what I did there?) and less vintage/antique – regardless, it’s worth trying!

Honestly – this cake may be one of my favorite recipes from Baked Elements.  It’s so divinely good and dangerous to keep around, as I want to keep devouring slice after slice.

Pass along the caramel cake tradition and make your own Antique Caramel Cake today by following this link:

Antique Caramel Cake

…and most of all, have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving with your family and friends!  What are you baking for the holiday?  Pumpkin pie?  Apple pie?  Pecan pie?  Perhaps all 3?  Might I suggest you try One Girl Cookies’ Fresh Pumpkin Pie with Salty Roasted Pepitas?  (It’s fabulous.)  Whatever you choose – HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  It’s the holiday to end all holidays for us food lovers!

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Mourning mornings

IMG_1809BSMbanner_baked-150I’ll just say this upfront: I’ve never been a morning person.

I admire those folks who are up and at ’em in the early hours of the morning, and I can certainly see the appeal.  Nothing like getting a good sunrise run or walk in, a load of laundry done, a few chapters of your book read, or a stack of bills paid… and all before hitting the office for the day.  That feeling of early-rise accomplishment is pretty special.  Try as I might, however, I’d much rather hit that snooze button about 20 times instead of hopping out of bed with a spring in my step.  I’m not always in the most pleasant of moods before noon either.  Sure, I can muster up a smile and do what’s required of me, but you best ply me with coffee (ironically, for health purposes, I drink decaf – black, mind you) and maybe some chocolate to get me through.  The expression, “Good Morning!” is wasted on me.

In other words, you won’t see me taking a tip from Mickey and Judy…

All of which is why I had to chuckle at this week’s recipe selected by Baked Sunday Mornings – Good Morning Sunshine Bars from Baked Elements.  While the conceit is set forth in the recipe’s intro that these peanutty, sweet and salty snack cereal bars are a welcome morning treat, they can also be made for pretty near any fun occasion – or anytime you want a quick dessert without too much fuss.

IMG_1812Indeed, these are remarkably easy to make and put together.  Simply cook brown sugar and corn syrup (a walloping 1 cup) together, then stir in peanut butter, vanilla, and salt.  Stir this almost candy/caramel-like mixture into Rice Chex cereal and coarsely chopped peanuts, and press it all into a greased pan.  Melt some milk chocolate, drizzling it in thin bands across the top (Baked advises not to overdo on the chocolate to allow the peanuts and peanut butter flavors to really shine through as the stars of this recipe). Truly, these bars are almost the essence of your standard Rice Krispy treat – they satisfy your craving for a sweet, chewy treat without too much elbow grease in the making.

I opted to make two pans myself, as – while I can tolerate peanut butter – I’m not a huge fan of peanuts.  I made a half batch with peanuts (to give away) and half without (so I could have a taste).  Unfortunately, by anticipating this would not be a favorite recipe of mine – I confess a small prejudice and snobbery against recipes which seem this easy to toss IMG_1803together – I rushed the preparation of these and didn’t consider my ingredients too carefully. Make sure you use peanut butter with some salt to it, and also salted peanuts.  I used Trader Joe’s 50% less salted, roasted peanuts, and Trader Joe’s unsalted, natural peanut butter – resulting in a rather bland-tasting bar.  I did sprinkle a bit of kosher salt across the top of the bars before drizzling them with chocolate, which helped a touch with achieving more of that saltiness juxtaposed against the sweet.

These didn’t “wow” me too much, and I found this to be a curious recipe to begin the first chapter (on peanut butter) of Baked Elements.  They may have their appeal to some, but I found them lacking.  Perhaps this was my use of bland peanuts and peanut butter – who knows.  I’ve also never found Chex to be an interesting cereal base for any recipe, even Chex Mix!  Honestly, I probably won’t make them again.  Personally, I think I’ll stick to Baked’s fabulous Peanut Butter Crispy Bars recipe from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking – which I have made many, many times – to satiate my craving for a peanut butter/chocolate/crisp cereal treat.

If Good Morning Sunshine Bars sound amazing enough to rouse you from your morning slumber and give you an early head-start on your day, follow this link to make your own:

Good Morning Sunshine Bars

And be sure to see what my fellow bakers thought on the Baked Sunday Mornings website!

Just don’t ask me to do anything for you in the morning… If you’ll pardon me, I have a snooze button to roll over and slap!  Until next time, my friends!

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