I haven't posted a cake recipe for a while and, well, that just makes me feel like a failure what with this whole "Cake and Edith" business. I think this one will make up for the deficit however. It's lovely.
Let's talk about cake for a minute. When I was baking this, I stepped out of the house to run an errand (fire hazard! don't try this at home, kids!). When I returned, my home smelled warm, delicious, festive and sweet, and I felt that anyone who came over within a couple of days would experience the same sensory treat and would feel v. welcomed into my home. And hungry. What is special about cake as opposed to bread or cookies or something savory and aromatic is that a cake brings with it a lovely sense of occasion. It's reminiscent of parties and children and holidays and the people you love.
I really should make cake more often.
The cake part of this recipe is rather simple. It smells and tastes exactly like what a made-from-scratch yellow cake should do. The batter tastes frighteningly similar to the Cold Stone Creamery's yellow cake batter ice cream, only a little better, plus you know what's going into it (i.e., no "natural flavor" in this golden dreamcake). It would be nice frosted with chocolate ganache or a white buttercream. But that's not to say that the caramel is not wonderful, plus it requires using a candy thermometer (my first time and v. exciting!) and it soaks into the cake while the cake cools and, well, not that many things sound better than a perfect homemade yellow cake soaked in warm, homemade caramel, really, so maybe my ganache and buttercream ideas are useless.
The one thing I did not do but will do next time is this: I'd poke some holes into the cake with a fork before pouring the hot caramel on top. This would have taken the aforementioned "soaking" to a whole different level of decadent. A level where Colin Firth is about to take a swim behind an historic estate in the English countryside.
From Gourmet (R.I.P.), January 2008 and available at Epicurious.com
Yield: one 8" square cake; 16 small pieces
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)*
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes (or placed in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes - my little trick)
1 cup buttermilk
For caramel glaze
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Equipment: a candy thermometer
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8" 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. Add vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled - actually, mine looked curdled right when I added the eggs, I think because I had let the half-finished mixture sit around for a while to comfort my baby, who was a bit moody while I was trying to make this). Add flour mixture in three 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 (loud noises!). Bake until golden (a wooden pick inserted in center of cake should come out clean), about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.
Now it's time to make the caramel glaze.
Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a medium to large heavy saucepan (I used a 2-quart) 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. If you have the willpower, cool until glaze is set, about 30 minutes.
* I experimented with the following substitution for cake flour when I made this: whisked together 1/4 cup cornstarch + 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, then sifted the mixture into a bowl and measured out the 2 cups + 2 tablespoons called for in the recipe. I recommend this substitution with reservations, i.e. only if you are really in a pinch. By which I mean, the cake turned out fine - the flavor was delicious and it had a nice crumb - but it lacked that silky, posh cake shop texture that results from using cake flour. I'm not sure the "homemade cake flour" I concocted did anything that straight-up all-purpose flour would not have done. Someday, when I have the time to do it and the company to taste-test, I would like to do a little Cake and Edith Test Kitchen experiment which would involve making three versions of this cake - one with cake flour, one with the cornstarch-flour mixture, and one with just regular all-purpose flour. Then I'd really know how significant the "reservations" in my "recommended with reservations" actually are. En fin.