Caramel Cake: Behind the scenes

My last post was more about the feels inspired by the Back in the Day Bakery’s Caramel Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting than the actual process of making it, which itself was a doozy. An involved and kinda painful but ohhh so fun doozy. Also, attempting to make a cake from scratch, by yourself, and documenting it with a camera and note taking, by yourself, adds a whole new degree of difficulty and danger.

The recipe comes from the Back in the Day Bakery Made with Love cook book by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day. You can order the book here and you can find the recipe here.  But you should just do yourself a favor, and order the book. It’s full of happiness.

And without further ado, here are some behind the scenes shots!

When your butter looks like this, you're going to need a scale.
When your butter looks like this, you’re going to need a scale.
YES
YES
Sifting things! Sifting was my favorite thing to do when I was kid, and surprise, it's my favorite thing to do as an adult. I heart tools.
Sifting things! Sifting was my favorite thing to do when I was kid, and surprise, it’s my favorite thing to do as an adult. I heart tools.

DSCF1614Haha, the caramel. I read the recipe over and over, wondering how I’d get caramel just from melting sugar. After a few minutes on the stove, I was still pushing sugar around. And then, out of nowhere, it started to melt into a clear liquid.

Making caramel!
Making caramel!

And the more sugar I added, the darker the liquid got. By George, it became caramel.

Caramel!
Caramel!

It was a slow, careful process, as I had to stir it constantly, add a little bit more sugar each time, and not take my eyes off of it. I felt like a scientist.

So much f*$%ing patience.
A very serious scientist. Who cooks with sunglasses as a headband.

After all the sugar melted, I followed the recipe and took it off the heat, and immediately, but slowly, added the cream. And I thought the caramel was going to explode! It instantly reared up, all the caramel seized and it smelled like someone had a wet dairy fart in the kitchen. Something tells me that my definition of “room temperature” cream and science’s definition of “room temperature” cream are different.

Ugh, dairy bomb.
Ugh, dairy bomb.

I’d have a picture of the 40 minutes me stirring/whisking/swearing at the caramel, trying to get it to melt back down, but I decided to spare the internet. This where I burned my fingers, made a huge mess, and started to wonder if it was too late to just buy an ice cream cake.

DSCF1633
Also not pictured, an hour later removing all the burners so I can scrape caramel sauce off the stove top. Sweet.
I think I put myself at a disadvantage when I bought a $20 mixer. Apparently "5 speeds" means "2 speeds: off and SUPER EXTRA FAST"
I think I put myself at a disadvantage when I bought a $20 mixer. Apparently “5 speeds” means “2 speeds: off and SUPER EXTRA FAST”
The cake batter was so thick and creamy. I kinda wanted to curl up inside the pan and eat my way out. Instead, I ate about 3 spoons full. /no shame
The cake batter was so thick and creamy. I kinda wanted to curl up inside the pan and eat my way out. Instead, I ate about 3 spoons full. /no shame
I forgot to buy a wire rack. So I had to buy a cheap roasting pan for its rack. Ah well. Now we can roast chicken!
I forgot to buy a wire rack. So my only option was buy a cheap roasting pan for its rack. Ah well. Now we can roast chicken!

Around 9 PM, I realized both cake pans wouldn’t fit into the oven at the same time. I thought,
“I’ll just bake one at a time.”
“but that will take too long.”
“I can bake one on top of the other!”
“But then one layer will bake faster than the other.”
“But they’ll be done! And I can go to bed!”
“Sold.”

So I baked both layers at the same time, and the layer on the bottom rack, as predicted, baked faster. And maybe too much.

Whoops...
Whoops…

But the other layer turned out great!

Better! And you can spot the caramel that didn't fully melt...
Better! And you can spot the caramel that didn’t fully melt…

The funny part is, I ended up talking to my mom for about an hour while the cakes baked. It took about 25 minutes to cook each layer, so I could have just baked them one at a time, and I would have stayed up the same amount of time. Ah well. My entire life is a rush to get to bed.

The next day, I started the frosting.

Brown sugar and butter will soon be frosting!
Brown sugar and butter will soon be frosting!
DSCF1655
Guess what happened immediately after this photo! If you answered, “Powder sugar bomb because Audrey forgot to fold it into the sauce before she turned the mixer on” you are correct. Your prize: come clean my kitchen.
And then we had frosting!
And then we had frosting! It was yum.
yes plz
My first cake stand! A vintage looking aluminum Jamie Oliver stand that I found on sale for $18. Jamie Oliver is Australia’s Racheal Ray. I can’t escape him.
This looks like a sandwich. And I want to eat it as is.
This looks like a sandwich. And I want to eat it as is.
Crumb layer--best advice ever. You put a layer of frosting on to catch all the loose bits, pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, and then frost it again. The second layer of frosting goes on smoother and looks great.
Crumb layer–best advice ever. You put a layer of frosting on to catch all the loose bits, pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, and then frost it again. The second layer of frosting goes on smoother and looks great.
While the crumb layer chilled in the fridge, I made the bunting. I cut out triangles of paper, wrote on it with white out, and taped all the triangles to string, because the string was too thick for the small triangles. But it worked like a charm.
While the crumb layer chilled in the fridge, I made the bunting. I cut out triangles of paper, wrote on it with white out, and taped all the triangles to string, because the string was too thick for the small triangles. But it worked like a charm.
finished!
finished!
yuummmm
yuummmm

I just realized that I forgot to sprinkle the cake with flaky sea salt. Sheeew. At least there was sea salt in the frosting.

So there you have it! Baking fun with the almost competent baker.

Give it a whirl!

Back to Cakes

In March of 2012, I was a mess.

Mess.

Like, moving out of your boyfriend’s apartment and back in with your parents, unemployed, emotional, drunk, extremely fragile mess. I joke now about my tendency to hole up in bed, in sweat pants, watching Teen Mom on repeat, but this is where it started. And I did it for about 30 hours a week, when I wasn’t obsessively rearranging my bedroom or using any opportunity to just get obliterated, in an attempt–I mean, in the worst possible way possible–to get on with my life. Basically, I was trying to dig myself out of the hole that was my life, but I just dug myself in deeper.

It was around this time that my mom and her best friend Sue went to visit Sue’s son Matt and his wife Mandy in Savannah, GA. Mandy took mom and Sue to one of her favorite local eateries, Back in the Day Bakery, and mom brought back some of their Old Fashioned Cupcakes for my dad and me. I have a very distinct memory of that day, as I often do with food that changes my life.

I was unshowered and in my pajamas and had just cancelled all my work plans when mom presented the adorable paper box to me, tied with red and white string and hand stamped with the bakery’s name. The box had a couple greasy spots on it, which immediately intrigued me. After all, grease spots most often forecast a delicious treat. Inside the box was a small cupcake covered in pink icing and white sprinkles. I grew up hating frosting and hating cupcakes because they were mostly frosting. But, I didn’t care. Suddenly I needed to eat this cupcake. I peeled the paper and shoved it frosting first into my face.

Wow.

What a cupcake. Even after a 10+ hour journey in a non-air tight container, this cupcake was perfect. It had the most amazing texture. The best flavor. And it tasted real. Like the first person to have ever created a cupcake had made them in their kitchen from scratch and had delivered it to me. There was no fake sugar taste that accompanies most frosting. It was real butter cream–and all you could taste was butter and sugar. And the cake was moist and had the perfect crumble. Even the sprinkles were tasty. You could taste the attention to detail. It was incredible.

I remember when I was done eating it, I was sad. I was sad all the time back then, but this was a new, different kind of sad. I had a Lester Burnham moment and thought, “This will be the highlight of my day.” And I took a picture of the empty wrapper.

IMG_3531That cupcake, and the three more I ate immediately after, lifted my spirits in a beautifully weird way. Like, the fact that I could love something that I had so long hated made me feel like change within myself wasn’t impossible. Like I had been judging things too quickly. It was cupcake empowerment. Or it was a massive sugar high. But either way, I felt better than I had in a long time.

As with most sugar highs, the feeling was short lived. Most unfortunately. However, a few weeks later, Mandy sent my mom Back in the Day Bakery’s first cookbook that had just been released, signed by chef and co-owner, Cheryl Day. I leafed through it, hoping to find the recipe for the cupcakes that shone a light for me. And lo and behold, there it was. And that to die for butter cream frosting, too.

I took a few hours and I read the cookbook from cover to cover. I didn’t have much baking experience beyond one cobbler recipe, Toll House cookies, and Betty Crocker box mixes. I had attempted a from scratch cake and icing the summer before, but it was still pretty slip-shod. But the Days presented baking and cooking in such an accessible, and funny way that made me want to roll up my sleeves and try. So that’s what I did.

And I loved it.

That first batch of cupcakes helped in a way I didn’t fully realise at the time. Baking gave me an outlet, something to focus on. Following precise instructions gave my brain a break from worry and grief. And looking at the plate of cupcakes, frosted and sprinkled, knowing they were as delicious as the ones made in Savannah, gave me a shot in the arm. I had created something. And it was damn good. And it made everyone who tried it happy. It was the fulfillment I needed in a dark time.

I baked all summer. Some fails, some awesome successes. It was centering, calming, and exciting, even when it made me want to rip my hair out (see: double boiling). But I was productive. As I baked and cooked, life felt easier. For those moments I was in the kitchen, everything was good. And that’s how it’s been since.

Setting down to make something from scratch never fails to make me feel good and right about the world. And I give all the credit to that first batch of cupcakes, and that first cookbook that brought me some hope–something I got to tell Cheryl Day herself last summer when I finally got to go to see the bakery in Savannah.

I haven’t had many chances to bake since I’ve been in Sydney. Mostly because I didn’t have a mixer or pans, and also because I’m still learning my way around Fahrenheit and Celsius and that whole “metric system” thing. So when Joel and I were looking through Back in the Day Bakery’s new cookbook, Back in the Day Bakery: Made with Love, which my mom so awesomely sent to me, and I noticed how wide his eyes got when he saw the Caramel Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting, I knew I had a baking project ahead of me. Yesssssssss.

First, there was plotting. I went to Victoria’s Basement, a kitchen and homewares store that sells items at deep, deep discount, to buy supplies. Then there were 3 trips to grocery stores to find all the ingredients. With Joel gone for two evenings, I knew I had plenty of time in case I screwed up and had to start all over. I measured out my butter and put it out to warm, and then, it began.

There was a minor catastrophe while making the caramel sauce (hello seizing caramel and 40 minutes of stirring over low heat to smooth things out), and I might have rushed things and burned my fingers and over baked one of the layers a tad, but overall, the cake was delicious. And it brought back all the good feelings that that first round of cupcakes brought.

DSCF1671DSCF1683And I’d say it was pretty damn good.

DSCF1688If you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen.