This months winning cake was a burnt sugar cake. The name alone instantly makes me think of bonfire night and sticky toffee apples. Burnt sugar cake encompasses all the scent and flavour of a deep golden caramel (burnt sugar) however, it is not called ‘caramel cake’ as this is often a white cake with caramel frosting, whereas this burnt sugar cake makes use of a golden caramel syrup which is infused into both the frosting and cake batter to give an intense flavour and aroma, the perfect cake for autumn.
I’ll let you in on a secret, I’m not a great fan of caramel. I don’t mind a little paired with other things but caramel on its own is just too sickly sweet for my liking and this cake sounded very very sweet. In order to tone down the caramel element, I decided to add a cinnamon spiced apple filling to my cake as apple and caramel are great flavour pairings. I used a sharp Bramley apple which helped combat the sweetness and made the finished cake taste rather like an apple tart tatin, only in cake form.
For the apple filling I lightly cooked the Bramley apple slices in a little butter until just beginning to soften before scattering over some cinnamon sugar which gave them a lovely bronzed look and made them smell wonderful.
A caramel syrup is required to add into the cake batter and frosting, and although this can sound rather daunting, it was quite simple. The sugar is first melted into a golden sugar goo, before boiling water is added and the goo turns into a glossy caramel syrup. I had never made a caramel where you add boiling water after the sugar has melted, but it worked well and resulted in a lump free syrup. My only advice would be to stand back when you add the boiling water, as the molten sugar is a lot hotter than the water and it foams up a bit as the temperatures collide, but it soon settles down again. It turned out crystal clear and such a deep amber colour that it almost looked red.
I didn’t have the right sized circular cake tins the recipe called for and so I baked my cake in two 8½ inch square tins instead. I was happy about this and everything was going well until I went to check on the cakes about half way through their baking time and that was when I saw DISASTER HAD STRUCK! One of the cake tins had a loose bottomed base and was rather ancient. It seems the base was no longer secure as the batter had gone soft and gooey in the heat of the oven and started to ooze its way out of the base and all over the bottom of the oven! I don’t mean a little bit, I mean over half the mixture was now burning into gloopy mound on the base of the oven. ARGGG! I quickly wrenched open the oven door and scooped the molten mass out onto a baking tray before it could start smoking and wrapped the dripping cake tin in foil, stuck it onto another baking tray and put it back in the oven and hoped for the best. All the door opening meant my other cake layer sank slightly in the middle… it was not going well. I ended up with one very thin cake layer and one cake layer with a dip in the middle.
I decided to make the best of it and assembled my cakes, being thankful of the apple filling which did wonders to hide the dip in one of the cakes. I filled and iced the cake with the caramel frosting and amazingly, considering the disaster that occurred, I don’t think it turned out too badly. As it had such an autumnal feel to it, I gathered some russet autumn leaves from the garden to scatter around the plate. Whew.
The cake itself was very pleasant, light and moist with a subtle caramel flavour which went wonderfully with the spiced apple. It tasted even better the second day once the apple juices had been absorbed into the cake. However, I found the frosting to be far too sweet. I think next time I would use a different one as all I could taste was sugar. I enjoyed making this cake despite its rather eventful baking session, afterall, life would be dull without a little excitement (although I could have done without having to scrub the oven!) Click here to see what my fellow Cake Slice bakers thought.
Burnt Sugar Cake
(Recipe from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott)
For the Cake
360g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
370g caster sugar (I used 300g)
110ml Burnt Sugar Syrup (below)
For the Burnt Sugar Syrup
225g caster sugar
225ml boiling water
For the Burnt Sugar Frosting
375g icing sugar
110ml Burnt Sugar Syrup (above)
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 – 3 tbsp evaporated milk or normal milk
For the Apple Filling (my own addition)
1 Bramley apple
1 tbsp caster sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
Method – Burnt Sugar Syrup
Heat the sugar in a cast iron skillet or another heavy bottomed pan with high sides. Heat over a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts into a clear brown caramel syrup. It should be the colour of tea. Gradually add the boiling water, pouring it down the sides of the pan so that if the syrup foams and bubbles up, you should be protected.
Continue cooking, stirring often, until the water combines with the syrup and turns a handsome brown syrup. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Store the cooled syrup in a sealed jar if not using straight away.
Method - Cake
Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and stir with a fork to mix well. Stir the vanilla into the milk.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and the sugar with an electric mixer at high speed for 2 – 3 minutes, until they are well combined. Stop now and then to scrape the bowl down. Add the eggs, one by one, beating well each time. Pour in 110ml of the burnt sugar syrup and beat well. Add a third of the flour mixture and about half of the milk, beating at a low speed, until just incorporated. Mix in another third of the flour and the rest of the milk. Finally, add the remaining flour.
Divide the batter between the cake pans and bake at 180C for 20 to 25 minutes until the cakes are golden brown, spring back when touched gently in the centre and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for15 minutes. Turn out the cakes into the wire rack to cool completely.
Method – Burnt Sugar Frosting
In a large bowl, combine the icing sugar, the burnt sugar syrup, butter and vanilla. Beat with a mixer at medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl now and then to bring the ingredients together. Add 2 tablespoons of the milk and continue beating until the frosting is thick, soft, smooth and easy to spread. Add a little more sugar if it is thin, and a little more milk if it is too thick.
Method – Spiced Apple Filling
Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Peel, quarter and core the Bramley apple and cut into ½ cm slices. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the apple slices. Cook for 1-2 minutes until just beginning to soften. Carefully turn over onto the uncooked side and scatter over the cinnamon sugar. Cook for 1 minute more before removing from the heat and leaving the apple to cool in the pan before using.
Place one layer, top side down, on a cake stand or serving plate. Scoop a third of the frosting onto the cake and spread to the edges. Gently arrange the cooked apple slices evenly over the top cover with the second cake layer. Frost the sides of the cake, and then the top until it is evenly covered.
Makes one 9 inch round cake