Classic Southern Caramel Cake
Serves: 12 to 16
Hands On Time: 1 hour and 0 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours and 0 minutes
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon salt
To make the cake: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch cake pans with butter, then line the bottom with a parchment paper round. Grease the parchment, then lightly flour the parchment and sides of the pan. Tap out any excess.
In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups of the flour with the baking powder and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on high speed until very light in color and lightly foamy, 3 to 5 minutes. While the egg mixture is beating, combine the milk and butter in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat to melt the butter.
When the egg mixture is fully beaten, remove the whisk attachment and replace it with the paddle attachment. Add the flour mixture, all at once, and mix on low speed until about halfway incorporated, 15 to 20 seconds. Increase the heat under the milk mixture to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer. Immediately remove from the heat.
Turn the mixer to medium-low and slowly pour in the hot milk mixture, followed by the vanilla and the remaining tablespoon flour. Continue to mix just until incorporated, 10 to 15 more seconds. The batter will be fairly runny, but it should have a lush, aerated texture.
Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans and bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cakes cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes. Gently flip the cakes out of the pan, remove the parchment paper, and then flip again so they are right side-up. Let cool completely before beginning the frosting.
To make the frosting: In a tall pot or saucepan, combine 3 cups of the sugar with the milk. Place over medium-high and bring to a simmer, stirring to melt the sugar, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low and keep warm.
In a small saucepan, preferably made from stainless steel or another light color, spread the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in an even layer. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring as needed, until the sugar has melted and turned a deep amber color, 10 to 12 minutes. Immediately pour into the warm milk mixture. The mixture will bubble violently; this is okay.
Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring as needed (and more frequently on an electric burner) to prevent scorching, until the mixture reaches 234 to 240 degrees, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, vanilla and salt. Continue to stir until the butter has melted and fully incorporated into the caramel. Let sit until the caramel has cooled to 110 degrees, 30 minutes to 1 hour. (This step will take more or less time, depending on the dimensions and the weight of the pot.)
Meanwhile, if you haven’t done so, clean the stand mixer bowl and the paddle attachement. Dry very thoroughly. Get your frosting area set up: Place about 1/2 teaspoon of hot caramel in the center a cake stand or other platter. Top with one cake layer, right side-up. Slide pieces of parchment or wax paper under the cake to catch any icing drips. Pull out an offset spatula if you’ve got it.
Transfer the warm caramel to the stand mixer and beat on medium-high speed until the caramel begins to lose its shine and starts to look slightly grainy and lightened in color, 12 to 15 minutes. Immediately pour about one third of the frosting onto the bottom cake layer. Spread evenly and top with the second cake layer, bottom side-up. Pour about half of the remaining frosting on top and spread evenly. Working quickly, frost the sides of the cake with the remaining caramel, adding decorative swirls if desired. Let sit for at least a few minutes to set before removing the parchment paper and serving. The caramel cake will keep for up to 3 days, covered, at room temperature.