Daring With Sugar

Lots and LOTS of sugar!

It’s time for the monthly Daring Bakers Challenge. This month’s hostess, Delores of Culinary Curiosity, and co-hosts Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo) and Jenny of Foray into Food selected Shuna Fish Lydon’s (of Eggbeater) Caramel Cake (as posted on Bay Area Bites). It’s helpful to remember that these are baking challenges, not competitions. And if I already knew how to make all the pieces parts, then it wouldn’t be much of a challenge, would it?!

I’ve attempted caramelized sugar a couple of times in the past and have always ended up with a pan of burnt sugar and needed the hood fan on for a few hours to clean the kitchen of the stench. This time I’m happy to report I was far more successful. Still, the first time I worked on the caramel syrup, I thought about stopping and spread some of the syrup out on parchment paper to cool so I could test for ‘stickiness’ (?? It’s sugar syrup, of course it’s sticky!) and decided to let it go a couple of more minutes and that ruined it. Just a short while later if you looked at the globs on the parchment paper, the early part was nice and clear and shiny and the later stuff was cloudy and dull. I still used that in the cake rather than making new, so it was less syrupy and more sludgy.

For the frosting I decided I wanted to try again with the syrup and this time I wanted to try to make some sugar ‘art’ before I stopped the caramelizing process. The first few bits worked well and I think my biggest mistake was in putting my spoon back in the pan — I think it would have turned out better had I used a fresh utensil, but I’m not sure.  Also, I need to figure out how to keep the temp constant without the sugar continuing to darken.  I have a lot to learn about working with sugar but this little bit of success makes me want to try again soon. After all, desserts just cry out for that ‘Look, honey, fishing line on the cake’ look. 😉 Maybe with practice it will look less like a tangled fishing line mess and more like an intended shape!

I followed the recipe for the cake as given with no flavor additions or changes. For the frosting, I added the seeds from a vanilla bean (I like the little black specks!) and a splash of vanilla extract. I’ve never made browned butter frosting before. I can see why people like it on spice cakes, but it probably won’t become a regular feature in my desserts. I added chocolate to the decorating because all the beige was too blah and I like chocolate with caramel.

The cake is dense and moist with a nice caramel flavor.  The nice thing about the cake and frosting is that it could be casual or fancy, depending on how you decorate your final product.  Delores, Alex, and Jenny — thank you for a fun challenge and the inspiration to work with sugar shapes again!

Recipe after the jump


10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water

1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

(I covered my pan with a piece of foil with a hole poked in the middle and slowly poured the water through the opening.)

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)

18 Responses

  1. Your cake looks so inviting in that slice shot!! – I love your decorations, very nicely done 🙂

  2. I love those abstract sugar decorations—the centrepiece reminds me a lot of a Viking longship. Very cool!

    Congratulations on an awesome cake!

  3. Really beautiful! I love your dainty decorations!



  4. i love the sugar art. it looks awesome!

  5. Soooo pretty! You’re right: the chocolate looks (and tastes, I’m sure) lovely with the caramel.

  6. Your cake looks terrific! Love that you challenged yourself!

  7. Great job – that caramel is tricky – but your final product looks beautiful!

  8. Your cake is amazing! I love the chocolate frosting! I’m in awe.

  9. Love the sugar work and decorations. So impressive 🙂

  10. Beautiful BEAUTIFUL cake!!!!

  11. Wow, lovely cake and such beautiful decorations.

  12. Looks beautiful! I love the sugar decorations and the chocolate addition!

  13. Ooo, your cake looks amazing. Beautiful job! I love all of your decorations!

  14. great decorating!!!

  15. I love your fish line decoration! Love your addition of chocolate, I missed something and I think it was chocolate 😀

  16. What a beautiful cake, the sugar decoration is pretty amazing!

  17. Your cake looks gorgeous!

  18. I’m so glad you enjoyed the challenge AND that you learned something from it. I love you sugar art. Thanks for baking with us.

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