I received a tip from a reader in October (thanks, gardenax!) about an online group called the Daring Bakers. Basically, it’s this fabulous community where the founders present a monthly challenge and then everyone bakes the same thing. They have private message boards where you can discuss the challenge and share your results, and then everyone posts their results on their own blogs on the same day (today!).
I thought it sounded really cool, so I signed up. This month’s challenge – my very first! – is Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting, courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon (http://eggbeater.typepad.com/) as published on Bay Area Bites (http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/). Each challenge is hosted by several community members; this month’s hostesses are Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, Jenny of Foray into Food, and Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.
Speaking of challenges, that’s what high-altitude baking has been for me the past couple of weeks. I think I made at least five different practice cakes as I prepared to make my dear friend Christopher’s birthday cake for a party last Friday. I had to adapt for altitude to make that work, so I was a bit worried about using a recipe that originated in San Francisco (just about as close to sea level as you can get) here in Denver (about 5500 feet at my house).
My worry was justified, unfortunately.
I followed the recipe to a “T” with the first batch. Just as I expected, they rose rapidly and then deflated as they cooled. What sad, sunken-in little cupcakes. The cake itself was absolutely delicious and moist, but it pretty much fell apart as soon as I removed the cupcake wrapper. Bummer.
I decided to try again the next morning, but this time I used a few of the tricks I had learned as I practiced for Christopher’s cake. I decreased the sugar by 1 tablespoon, increased the flour by 2 tablespoons, and used buttermilk instead of regular milk (for acidity). I also increased the oven temperature from 350F to 375F, baking the cupcakes for 24 minutes. This time, my cupcakes had a steady rise and I even ended up with slightly lifted crowns.
(The first attempt is on the left and the more successful attempt is on the right.)
There *was* a slight difference in cake flavor; I picked up a bit of tanginess from the buttermilk in the second batch. Next time, I’m going to use a full teaspoon of vanilla in the cake recipe to cut through that a bit instead of the 1/2 teaspoon I used. The cake was slightly dense and incredibly moist, though. Plus, the separation from the cupcake liner was extremely clean – no sticking or crumbling. Yay!
I used a 1/2-inch tip and a piping bag to ice my cupcakes with the caramelized butter frosting, and then I tasted my creation. There is truly only one word to describe this cake-frosting combination, and it’s “heaven.” (It’s actually probably more like “HEAVEN!!!”) Oh. My. Gosh. Using homemade caramel syrup and browning the icing butter adds so much depth of flavor. It’s seriously amazing.
Here are a few notes about my general experience with this recipe, if any of you would like to give it a try:
- Making the caramel syrup took *way* longer than I expected. (Perhaps it’s just my inexperience, though some of it might be altitude.) If I had known how long it would take, I would have watched the clock more closely; I’ll estimate that I had to let my sugar cook for about 25 minutes before it turned a deep amber color, though.
- I read a tip in the Daring Bakers message boards about putting a piece of foil with a hole in it over the caramel syrup pot before adding the final cup of water. (The recipe warns about sputtering and potential burns!) I used the foil trick, pushing the center down just a bit so my water would still flow in the hole even if I didn’t pour spot on. I am SO GLAD I found this tip, because based on the way the foil moved when I poured the water through the hole, I would have had a HUGE mess to clean up (and hot, hot caramel on my arms, on my clothes, in my hair, etc.)
- Browning the butter for the icing also took longer than I expected, maybe 15 minutes.
- I poured my butter through a sieve (as the recipe states) to filter out the solids, but I still ended up with some tiny, tiny brown bits in my icing. I thought it looked fine, though; it was almost like the look of vanilla bean.
I can’t wait for the December challenge!