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Author Notes: This cake doesn't care whether you're a buoyant baker or a ham-handed one. Despite its gilt, it's democratic. The recipe calls for cake flour, but you can use a combination of all-purpose flour and cornstarch to substitute. Improvise the buttermilk by combining milk and vinegar (or lemon juice). And as for the caramel Goliath, there's more wiggle room than you think. If you let it get a bit too hot, that just means it will drape over your cake in fat ribbons (and harden into more of a candy the next day).
This recipe is lightly adapted from Deb Perelman at The Smitten Kitchen (http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2007/12/caramel-cake/) and, in turn, from Gourmet magazine. —Sarah Jampel
Makes one 8-inch square cake
For the cake:
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, brought to room temperature for 30 minutes
- 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
For the caramel glaze:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Equipment: a candy thermometer
- Preheat the oven to 350° F and place a rack in the middle. Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line it with a square of parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper. (I know you do not want to do this, but do take these precautions: These extra steps are worth it in the end.)
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. (You can also get away with whisking these dry ingredients together in a bowl, make sure to thoroughly aerate and incorporate them.)
- Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Turn the mixer to low speed and beat in the buttermilk until just combined (don't worry if your mixture looks curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 additions, mixing until each is just incorporated.
- Spread the batter evenly into your prepared pan, then knock it on the counter several times to get rid of any air bubbles.
- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden. A toothpick or thin knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean, but be careful not to overbake the cake. It should feel moist on top and be springy to touch.
- Cool the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges, invert the pan onto the rack, and cool completely, at least 1 hour. If you want to eat the cake tomorrow, you can store it in an airtight container (or wrapped in a layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of aluminum foil) at room temperature until the next day.
- Once the cake is cool, make the caramel glaze: Attach a candy thermometer to a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan and pour in the cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring, until the glaze reaches 210 to 212° F on thermometer, about 12 to 14 minutes, then stir in vanilla. If you want a thicker caramel topping -- more like a coating of candy rather than a thin glaze -- boil the caramel so that it's hotter. But be careful so that it doesn't burn! And know that the caramel topping will be much harder the next day.
- Put the rack with the cake in or over a shallow baking pan and pour the hot glaze over top, allowing it to run down the sides. Do not worry if it puddles in the bottom of the pan -- you can eat this leftover caramel with a spoon later on. Cool until the glaze is set, about 30 minutes.
- This recipe is a Community Pick!