02 July 2010

Burnt Caramel Cake with Coffee Cream

Do you like caramel?

I ADORE caramel, in any manner, shape or form.  Hot caramel sauce, sticky toffee puddings, butterscotch candies ... I haven't yet met a caramel I haven't liked. And don't even get me started on Garrett's phenomenal Caramel Popcorn, otherwise known as Heart-Attack in a Bag.  Have you tried it? You should. Just have a defibrillator ready. Because I assure you, you will finish the whole bag yourself. 

I guess it is no surprise then, that I was smitten the moment I saw Rose Levy Beranbaum's Karmel Cake recipe.  I mean, it's made from a WHOLE CUP of caramel.  It had me at "Hello".

When making caramel, I like to take it to the limit  - from honey to amber to dark amber-brown - the the point where it is almost burnt, or you could say, scorched.  I find that makes the best, full-bodied and complex-flavoured caramel.  Undercooked caramel is just sweet in a one-toned, supermarket-confection, kids' candy sort of way.  And nowhere as exciting on the palate as scorched caramel.  Of course accidents can happen when you try to make burnt caramel.  It's important to note that when chefs say burnt caramel, they really mean almost-burnt caramel, not burnt-black-as-coal burnt caramel.  The latter is what happens when you play Angry Birds on your iPhone while waiting for your caramel to darken.  And is good for nothing except giving your arms a good workout when you scour the pot.  

Beranbaum's Karmel Cake recipe is really quite perfect on its own.  But of course, being the meddler that I am, I had to tinker with it. And so, instead of using light caramel (softball stage), I used burnt caramel.  This produced a beautifully fragrant cake, but also a cake with a darker brown crust, which admittedly did not look as pretty as Beranbaum's unadorned honey golden Karmel cake.  Not that it really mattered, because I had already decided that it would become a layer cake.  The result? Two layers of coffee-moistened burnt caramel cake, filled with Kahlua-flavoured coffee whipped cream and whipped chocolate frosting.  The burnt caramel cake is good enough to eat on its own, but the coffee cream complements it so beautifully you would probably not want to leave that out.

Recipe for Burnt Caramel Cake with Coffee Cream

Burnt Caramel Cake 
(adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Karmel Cake recipe)

1 cup light brown sugar, preferrably Muscovado
1 1/4 cups milk, divided
2 tablesoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour or bleached all-purpose flour, sifted into measuring cup
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Set oven rack in lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 175C.

Butter and flour the inside of a 9 by 2-inch round cake pan. You also could line the bottom with parchment paper that also has been coated with baking spray and flour.

To make the caramel,  have ready a 2-cup or larger heatproof glass measure, coated with nonstick cooking spray.  In a medium heavy saucepan, with a silicone spatula, stir together the brown sugar, 3/4 cup of milk and the butter. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Stop stirring and boil until an instant-read thermometer registers 238 degrees, the soft ball stage. Tilt the pan to get enough depth for an accurate reading. It will take about 10 minutes or more to reach this stage, and the mixture will look slightly curdled. (To make burnt caramel, continue past this stage, till mixture looks dark brown.  When dropped into a glass of cold water, the caramel should become a hard bead).  When the sugar reaches temperature, immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture into a prepared glass measure to stop the cooking. You should have 1 cup. If less, add hot cream or boiling water to equal 1 cup. Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl and gently whisk in the remaining milk. Don't worry if some of the liquid crystalizes on the bottom, it will dissolve during baking.

Place the bowl on a wire  rack and allow the mixture to cool until is is no longer warm to the touch. It will take about an hour, but to speed cooling, it's fine to set the glass measure in a bowl of ice water. If desired, stir the mixture a few times while cooling in order to equalize the temperature. 
To make the batter: In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and vanilla until just lightly combined. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix the flour, baking powder and salt on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and cooled caramel. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Starting on medium-low speed, gradually add the egg mixture in two parts, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the batter ito the prepared pan,  and smoothe surface evenly with a small offset spatula.
Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until a wire cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.

Let the cake cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake, pressing firmly against the pan, and invert the cake onto a wire rack that has been coated lightly with nonstick cooking spray. To prevent splitting, reinvert the cake so the top side is up. Cool completely. 

Coffee Syrup
120 grams water
120 grams sugar
2 tablespoons Kahlua
2 tablespoons instant coffee granules

Combine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Let liquid simmer until it thickens (into a consistency similar to corn syrup).  Let cool.

Coffee Cream
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream

4 tablespoons icing sugar

3 tablespoons coffee syrup (must be room temperature)

Chill metal bowl and whisk in fridge beforehand. Make sure the whipping cream is well-chilled.
Start whipping cream, adding powdered sugar slowly into the cream when it thickens.  When cream reaches soft peaks, add coffee syrup slowly, one tablespoon at at time. Stop when stiff peaks form. 


Split Burnt Caramel Cake into 2 layers.  Place one layer at the bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Brush cake layer with coffee syrup.  Spread half the Coffee Cream on top of cake layer evenly.  Repeat with the second cake layer. Dust the top (which should be the Coffee Cream) with cocoa powder.  Chill for 2 hours.  Before serving, let thaw for 5 - 10 minutes. 

Note: The version shown in the picture contains, in addition to Coffee Cream, also a whipped chocolate frosting in its middle layer. However, as chocolate frosting can detract from the flavour of the caramel cake, I have left this out in the improved recipe above (which only contains Coffee Cream).


  1. This sounds and looks so good!! I've tried burnt caramel before and it does have a more intense "Caramel" flavor. This cake looks great and simple!!

  2. this looks amazing. i am going to have to make this for our next special event!



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