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Simple and Sweet Caramel Cake

[Caramel cake, July 2011.]

Monday. I am marooned at work without a slice of the delicious cherry pie I baked yesterday (the flaky crust! The not-too-sweet fruit!) and consequently counting the hours until I can return home to devour a slice for afternoon snack. Or dinner? Either one.

This is just a quick post today because life! it is rushing. But I couldn’t let it rush past too quickly to mention this caramel cake.

I dreamed this cake before I baked it. You don’t dream about food? I certainly do. I’ve dreamed dinner party menus and woken up with them fresh in my mind, but all too often in that sleepy, still-slumbery state let them slip away (there’s never a dearth of ideas, however). At some point I absolutely must make this caramelized shallot-shiitake mushroom-tossed-with-roasted-carrots dish I dreamed one night last fall; I know it will be delicious. And in regards to that un-fancy yet tasty cake up there, I went to sleep early on July 3 with plans to attempt an Independence Day pie and dreamed all night of cool rivers and sunshine and something called a ‘caramel cake,’ though I’d never tasted one before. No matter. Whatever it was, I had to make it. So after I threw together dough and put it to rest in the fridge, I dug around on the Internet to find a recipe.

And … here ’tis. It’s simple and unfussy and light with buttermilk and smoothed over on top with a fudgy, caramel-y glaze that rescues the cake part from being just the tiniest bit humdrum. It’s simple and unfussy, yes, but I like it for that. Sometimes you just need a solid, basic cake, you know? And if you use brown sugar in the topping, as I did, along with good vanilla, the word boring will never cross your lips.

I like this with tea, I like it with milk, I like it with a cold glass of lemonade. I like it with vanilla ice cream, I like it with strawberries. It’s really a perfect summer dessert — when you’re not baking pie, that is.

I hope you like it, too.

[print_this]Caramel Cake, adapted from Bon Appetit

For cake

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For caramel glaze

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* candy thermometer note: I didn’t have one and eye-balled it, but I would recommend

Make cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Make glaze:
Bring cream, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil until glaze registers 210 to 212°F on thermometer, 12 to 14 minutes, then stir in vanilla.

Put rack with cake in a shallow baking pan and pour hot glaze over top of cake, allowing it to run down sides. Cool until glaze is set, about 30 minutes.


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