Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Liquid Gold

This month the daring bakers return to the sweet side of baking after several months of being on the savory side.

And the bakers were champing at the bit: once you join the ranks of the daring bakers, you eagerly await the posting of the challenge on the first of each month. I checked the daring bakers website early in the day. Nothing. Nothing except lots of posts from other daring bakers wondering when the heck the challenge would be posted. I checked off and on throughout the day.

Our fellow bakers in countries outside the U.S. were especially antsy given the time difference.

Finally, late in the day California time, the challenge was posted. And after all that waiting, it wasn’t a let down.
This would truly be a challenge for me:

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

A challenge because making caramel is just not my thing. My past attempts at making caramel always ended up a burnt smoky mess. And my saucepan from my last attempt never did fully recover.

I have spent all day on creating a challenging cake and without batting an eye, buy a beautiful gourmet caramel sauce to top it.

But not this time. That would be cheating – big time.

But wait, there’s more – the optional second challenge this month is to make:

Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels

Oh no.

Actually, it was a bit of a coincidence that caramel was the star of this month’s challenge. I had just finished reading a tutorial on making classic caramel from the November issue of Fine Cooking.

So I guess the desire was there – now for action!

The cake recipe is from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater and it is a signature cake of hers. According to Shuna, “This is one of those cakes that is truly about baking”. She goes on to explain, “What I mean is that getting this cake to bake is about balancing fat with acid and protein just right”.

Shuna offered to take questions from the daring bakers via email even though she was leaving for London within the next few days. Well, her comments and the offer of assistance all served to make me a bit nervous so I decided to check out her blog for further instructions from her. Turns out LOTS of bakers have failed miserably in trying to make this cake. So Shuna devotes several pages on her blog to answering questions on how to get this recipe to work.

Of course I printed them out.

As I scanned the notes, I realized that most bakers didn’t have a problem making the caramel syrup or the caramelized butter cream frosting which to me would be the tough part. The most common problem seemed to be that bakers had a hard time getting the cake to rise. Having just taken a baking class at Tante Marie Cooking School in San Francisco with Meg Ray of Miette Pâtisseri fame, I knew that the secret was the mixer speed and getting the creaming of the butter and sugar just right. It was also important to add the ingredients to the butter and sugar mixture in the right order : dry, wet, dry, wet and dry because of the high proportion of liquid in the batter.

The cake calls for 1/3 cup of caramel syrup and the frosting needs four tablespoons of the syrup. Armed with my knowledge from the Fine Cooking Magazine article and Shuna’s web site notes, I started boiling the sugar and water. The finished caramel was a beautiful liquid gold color. And no burnt saucepan.

The cake rose beautifully. The caramelized butter cream frosting was a bit too sweet for my taste but that can be easily fixed when I make this cake again -- because I will be!

Flushed with success I turned to the recipe for the Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels. This recipe is from “Pure Dessert” by Alice Medrich. This recipe uses that very British of products, golden syrup, instead of the usual corn syrup.

The recipe came together easily, especially since I used my new Raytek laser thermometer instead of a candy thermometer!

The flavor of the finished caramels was just amazing – buttery and rich. Not overly sweet or grainy as some of the best purchased caramels can be. I sprinkled a bit of fleur de sel on the caramels but I think I preferred the plains ones best.

These would make a beautiful holiday gift or a nice addition to a dessert buffet

Many thanks to our hosts this month:
Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary History

Her cohosts are:
Alex of Blondie and Brownie , Jenny of Foray into Food and Natalie of Gluten-A-Go-Go for our alternative bakers.


  1. How wonderful that you could put all your new knowledge to great use! Everything looks great!

  2. hey, well done you for cracking caramel! fabulous looking sweets too.

  3. Pat, Wow-great job. Also good photos. I think I know someone with initials for their name that would like those caramels for a Christmas present. Glad to see the thermometer helped in the process. Shirley