Caramel in all its iterations that steals my heart every time. Whether it's a crackling coating on a cream puff, a soft-flowing sauce drizzled or a chewy morsel slipped out of a square of waxed paper, that simple act of heating sugar to the point that it changes from brilliant white to slightly golden to coppery brown is my weakness.
Special equipment: Cake turntable, pastry bag, medium-small plain round pastry tip, large star pastry tip, small offset spatula, frosting scraper, pastry brush and candy thermometer.
- Unsalted butter or nonstick cooking spray, for pans
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
- 1¼ cups whole-fat buttermilk
- 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly cooler than room temperature, divided
- 1/2 cup caramel sauce, store-bought or homemade
Firm caramel coating
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg white, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 pinch salt
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
For the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (or 325°F for a convection oven). Butter or spray the bottom of two 8-inch round cake pans and line with parchment. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt for 30 seconds. Set aside.
2. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on high speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and make sure to scrape down the paddle as well. Mix again for about 30 seconds.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition and scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl every few eggs. Add the vanilla bean paste and mix just to combine.
4. With the mixer running on low speed, add a third of the flour, then half of the buttermilk, then a third of the flour and the remaining buttermilk, finishing with the remaining flour. Mix until just combined. Don't overmix. Take the bowl from the mixing stand and, using a large rubber spatula, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and fold the batter a few times to ensure everything is well incorporated.
5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the cake just springs back when gently poked.
6. Once cooled, cut the cakes in half horizontally to make 4 layers of cake.
For the caramel buttercream:
1. Combine the egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
2. Combine 1/2 cup of water and the lemon juice in a saucepan and add the sugar. Stir gently over low heat until the sugar is melted. Using a damp pastry brush, knock any sugar crystals on the side of the pan back into the melting sugar. Heat the sugar syrup until it reads 245°F on a candy thermometer. When the syrup first reaches 235°F, start your mixer and begin whisking the egg white mixture. Once the syrup reaches final temperature, take it from the heat and carefully pour it into the egg white mixture while the mixer is still running, being careful not to hit the whisk while it's moving. Continue to whisk until the meringue holds stiff, shiny peaks and the bowl is completely cool to the touch, about 5 minutes.
3. Add 1½ cups (3 sticks) of the butter, a few tablespoons at a time. Count to 10 between each addition. After the last tablespoon of the third stick is added, the mixture should thicken and become a shiny, smooth spreadable frosting. If, after 1 minute of whisking after the last bit of the third stick is added, the buttercream is still loose, start adding a tablespoon at a time of the reserve stick of butter. Add caramel sauce and whisk to combine.
For the firm caramel coating:
1. Line a half sheet pan with parchment and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
2. On a second sheet pan, set the cake that will be covered with the caramel.
3. Combine the maple syrup, brown sugar, cream, condensed milk, corn syrup and salt in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the mixture reaches 240°F. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Immediately pour into the lined sheet pan and allow to cool and set, about 1 hour.
For the feuilletine:
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Set aside. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and then add the egg white, vanilla, and salt. Mix to combine (it will look curdled and broken, that's okay). Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl again, add the flour, and mix until smooth.
2. Transfer the batter to the prepared parchment and smooth it into a very thin layer. Paper thin, in fact. Bake for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the sheet pan, then break the thin "cookie" into small shards.
3. Store the flakes in a re-sealable plastic bag for weeks on end. You can also freeze for several months.
1. Place a layer of cake on a cardboard round and transfer to a cake turntable. Set aside 1-2 cups of caramel buttercream for décor. Fit a pastry bag with a medium-small plain round tip, fill with the remaining caramel buttercream, and pipe an even layer of buttercream over the layer. Top with a second cake layer, pressing gently to adhere. Pipe another even coating of buttercream over the second cake layer. Top with the third layer of cake and pipe an even layer of buttercream over it. Top with the fourth and last cake layer. Refrigerate the cake for 10-15 minutes to firm the buttercream.
2. Smooth the remaining buttercream over the top and sides of the cake, using a small offset spatula and a bench or frosting scraper. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.
3. Cover the cake with the firm caramel topping, gently centering the caramel along the top of the cake and gently smoothing the caramel layer down the sides of the cake, pulling gently so that the caramel coating covers the sides of the cake. Trim away any excess caramel along the bottom of the cake. 4. Fit a pastry bag with a star tip, fill with the reserved buttercream, and pipe décor along the perimeter at the top of the cake. Fill in the space at the top of the cake with some of the feuilletine. Decorate the bottom of the cake with the remaining feuilletine by gently pressing it with your palm along the perimeter.