Stiff Peaks

An indulgent journey into baking

Sticky Salted Caramel Layer Cake

This is a special cake for me, a celebration cake no less. Mainly because I generally abhor fruit in my desserts and cake and try to avoid it where possible. Dates are my only exception, and sticky toffee pudding is up there in my top 5 desserts. There are lots of varieties of sticky toffee cake, but today’s will have a salted caramel twist and a rich cream cheese frosting.

This recipe was rather inspired by the fantastic Victoria Glass, and her sticky toffee cake:

Ingredients

  • 375g coarsely chopped and pitted dates
  • 375ml water
  • 200g light brown muscovado sugar
  • 50g dark brown muscovado sugar
  • 2tbsp golden syrup
  • 4 large eggs
  • 200g unsalted butter (softened)
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 350g self raising flour
  • 2tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4tsp salt

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 120g unsalted butter
  • 720g icing sugar
  • 300g philadelphia cream cheese

Salted Caramel

  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 90g butter
  • 120ml double cream
  • 1tsp salt

Equipment

  • 23cm cake tin x2 (greased and lined with baking parchment)
  • baking parchment
  • saucepan
  • oven preheated to 170ยบ celsius

Method

I’ll start by saying I made the salted caramel well in advance. The weekend before no less. This is because it’s very easy to keep it in the fridge for a week or two before you’re ready to use it. Start by putting 200g of granulated sugar in a wide saucepan. It’s preferable to use a silver, stainless steel pan as you’ll be able to better see the caramel change to a dark amber colour, but it’s not a deal breaker. Heat the sugar on a low/medium heat, swirling the pan every so often. The sugar will not melt evenly, and stirring it will give you more headaches than it will solve, so swirling allows the sugar to be redistributed ensuring everything melts evenly. By the time your caramel has reached a rich copper colour, like a 1p coin, it all should have melted with no pockets of sugar left.

At this point add the butter and stir carefully with a heat resistant plastic spatula. The mixture will bubble violently as the water in the butter boils. Once it settles down, pour in the double cream and add the salt. Continue stirring until all elements are combined and smooth, then take off the heat. It’s not the end of the world if there are small crystallised lumps. Allow the caramel to cool a little (it will be very hot) before pouring it into a glass jar or heat resistant plastic squeezy bottle. When it’s cool to hold the jar, place it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

Before we start on the cake, you should prepare your dates. This is because they need boiling, and you’ll want them to have cooled down a little by the time you’re ready to add them to your cake batter. Place your chopped dates into a saucepan and add an equal weight of cold water. Under a high heat, stir your dates until the mixture begins to boil and the water turns a brown colour (this is the dates breaking down). When you’ve got a thick consistency, take it off the heat and blend your dates to taste. You can leave them coarse if you like, but there’s a risk they’ll sink to the bottom of the cake when you cook it. I prefer to use a hand blender to finely chop the dates into a paste. Set aside and allow to cool for a few minutes before you start making the cake.

To make your cake, mix together the two sugars, eggs and golden syrup in a mixer or with a whisk at a high speed until it turns light and frothy. Gently whisk in the softened butter. At this point the mixture will look like it’s split, but don’t worry it’ll all come together once the dry ingredients are added. Once there’s an even distribution of butter, stop whisking and fold in the date mixture with a spatula. At this point we’re trying to retain as much air in the mixture as possible, so go gently. Add in a dash of vanilla extract before sifting all the dry ingredients over the wet mixture. Continue folding to combine into a batter. You might be left with a few lumps of flour, but don’t be disheartened. It’s not such a big deal, and if you try to work them out, you’ll end up over-mixing the cake.

Divide the cake batter evenly between your two greased and lined cake tins. Smooth the mixture to evenly fill the tin and then place in your oven for around 40 minutes. If you’ve needed to put them on separate shelves (23cm tins are tricky to fit on a single shelf), then swap the tins around mid-way, and expect to need an extra ~5 minutes before they’re cooked. Once a skewer comes out clean, the cakes are done and can be left, in the tin, to cool on a wire rack.

While your cakes are cooling, take your caramel from the fridge and submerge it in some hot water to warm it up and make it easier to apply to your cake…

While that’s warming you can start on the cream cheese frosting. The messy bit. In a large mixing bowl with patience and a whisk, or a free-standing mixer and paddle attachment, add your softened butter and icing and mix on a low speed. If your mixer does not have a guard, you may wish to wrap a slightly damp towel around it to catch any projectile icing sugar. Once it has combined, and resembles a crumble with no large lumps of butter left, gradually add the cream cheese and increase the speed when it starts to come together. You’ll want to stop and scrape the icing down the sides of the bowl every so often, and then crank the speed to maximum until well combined and fluffy.

With your cakes now cooled, you’ve got a choice. You can either go ahead and sandwich the two cakes as-is, or you can cut the cakes in two, and have a four layer cake. If you do the latter, the cake structure should be strong enough to withstand you using a serrated knife or fine thread. If you’ve chosen to cut your cake, always place the cut surface face down when building up the cake, as it will be too difficult to spread icing on.

Place the first layer of cake down on your cake board or plate, and spread over a generous layer of icing to cover up to the edges. Squeeze or drizzle a covering of salted caramel over the top of the icing and then place the next layer down on top and repeat (if necessary) until you’ve added all but the final layer.

Place the final layer on top and smooth on a thin layer of icing. This is your protective layer of icing, which can happily contain any crumbs from the cake. Do the same around the side of the cake, spreading a thin layer that just covers the whole cake. Once done you can apply a more generous layer that you’ll want to be more careful about around the sides and on top. This way there shouldn’t be any crumbs showing through. Finally decorate with a healthy drizzle of salted caramel to taste…

… Or, if you’re like me and you have a terrible terrible accident, decorate with a hastily bought cake from Bea’s. See, like I said, this cake was destined to be for a celebration. I’d made it all the way into Holborn, and on my way off the bus with my cake in a trusty cake carrier. Only, this cake carrier wasn’t mine, and it had an unusual clasp design that, as it turns out, is very sensitive to inspection just before you get off the bus. Yes, it happened, just before I got off the bus, my cake carrier gave way and my cake spilled out. It landed perfectly top side down, as it happened. And because it’d been in the fridge all night after baking it, it was firm enough not to spread all over the floor. In fact, it transpired that only the top layer had been ruined.

I panicked for a second, and then carefully levered the cake off the floor of the bus and threw it back into my cake carrier. Once I arrived at my office, the surgery began. I inspected the sides and there was no debris or any contaminant, so I delicately removed the top layer of the four layer cake and threw it in the bin. Tragically this was the glorious salted caramel layer. I was left with 3 layers and lots of crumbs left on the new top layer. The only way to recover this was to find a new cake. We rang around and Bea’s had a spare 6 inch cake that we immediately bought and began to put our plan into action. This cake would be the new centrepiece. Only, the main cake was 9 inch, and this left quite a noticeable border, and still missing enough icing to make it innocuous. Further caramel themed decorations were furnished onto the cake, and the result was something not entirely disastrous.

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