In the great and varied universe of classic Southern desserts, caramel cake is possibly the North Star. A soft, white cake covered in thick, thick caramel frosting. The center layer of frosting bleeds a little into the cake and the frosting on the top and sides takes on a slight crispiness – bite into the cake, and the frosting crackles a little, melts in your mouth, then blends into the pillow-y cake.
Alas, I cannot make caramel cake. I lack the patience. Believe me, I have tried. It’s the frosting. A true, delicious, classic caramel frosting takes patience and timing. Cooking the caramel to the perfect color, then quickly but methodically beating the frosting until it is just the right consistency, then spreading the frosting quickly but precisely over the delicate layers before it hardens up and all hope is lost. Caramel Cake is favorite childhood memory of mine, and I think it is my brother’s all-time favorite treat. It is for him (okay, for me too) that I have attempted to create a caramel cake. I came close once, but it was so durn ugly, only its family could love it, and I’m not really sure they did. There is a bakery in the area that makes a truly classic Southern caramel cake, and I actually considered passing one of theirs off as my own effort for my brother’s birthday one year. I didn’t. I would have been caught out. My failed attempts have made it quite clear that caramel cake is not in my skill set.
I have not yet abandoned my quest. I periodically gear myself up for another attempt. Hopefully, you may see my triumphant success someday. But in the meantime, I have created a perfectly reasonable stand-in for caramel cake. Rich cake with a simple, fool-proof glaze (and I am the fool who proves that it works).
I give you this recipe now, admitting my own baking failure, because in addition to being extremely tasty on its own, this cake is the perfect accompaniment to all sorts of summer treats. A slice of this cake with some fresh berries – on their own or juiced by a sprinkle of sugar is a delight. Fresh sliced peaches partnered with the tangy cake and caramel glaze are a revelation. And this is the perfect vehicle for homemade ice cream of any type.
Buttermilk Cake with Caramel Glaze
For the Cake:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, well shaken
For the Glaze:
¼ cup butter
½ cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
For the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt pan.
Sift the flour and baking soda together into a small bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour and the buttermilk alternately, beating well after each addition, until thoroughly incorporated. The batter will be thick, but spread it in the prepared pan and bake for 40 – 50 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, and then turn out on a wire rack to cool completely.
For the Glaze:
The cake must be completely cool, or the glaze will slide right off. Place a piece of foil or paper under the cooling rack to catch any drips and make clean-up easier.
Cut the butter into cubes and place in a saucepan with the brown sugar, cream and salt. After everything melts together, bring to a full, rolling boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. When it reaches that boil, count to 60 Mississippi, then pull it off the heat. Leave the pan to cool for about 5 minutes, then vigorously beat in the powdered sugar until smooth.
Immediately pour the glaze over the cake, but do so slowly and evenly to cover as much surface as possible. Leave the glaze to set, then slice and enjoy. Covered tightly, this cake will last a few days.
Serves 10 if you are lucky