Saturday, December 31, 2011

Buttermilk Cake with Caramel French Buttercream



Christmas has come and gone and here we are at the last day of the year!  December brought a bad case of the too-busy-to-blogitis, combined with an extended case of writer's block, days too dark to photograph anything well, two kids with pneumonia, and then a terrible cold the week before Christmas - the week which I had set aside to get everything done.  So I went to the stores and shopped for hours when I should've been home in bed.  I even managed to get some Sticky Buns made - for that is a Christmas morning tradition that cannot be skipped!

Christmas Eve, I was so exhausted, I fell asleep during the first 2 minutes of our family viewing of A Christmas Story, and completely forgot about the annual reading of The Night Before Christmas before bed.  I didn't wake up until 5 am - just in time to see Santa scurrying around, trying to get the gifts under the tree before the kids woke up.  Santa's helper told me that he fell down the steps while trying to navigate the house in the dark and he may have hurt his back.

After all that, I get to hear after Christmas that so-and-so got this expensive gift for Christmas and so-and-so got this expensive gift AND that expensive gift for Christmas.  It's very hard to keep up with Joneses in our neighborhood (I don't even try).  *sigh*

I've decided that next year we're going to Key West for Christmas.  We'll leave all the Christmas hustle and bustle behind (we'll bring the sticky buns with us if necessary!)

December also brought a lot of baking, mostly Christmas cookies such as these.  But this cake is what's been on my mind to tell you about.  The combination was suggested by a friend who asked me to make this cake for her daughter's birthday. It was a fantastic combination! The basic vanilla buttermilk cake is a cake I've made umpteen times before.  This time, I made one recipe and divided the batter among six 6" cake pans to bake.  The bonus is that I could make one cake for my friend, and we could keep the other as a special treat.  Six-inch cakes are adorable and can serve a surprising number of people (you can easily get 10 more-than-big-enough slices.)

The frosting is a new addition to my repetoire and a welcome one.  This French Buttercream differs from Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Italian Meringue Buttercream in that it uses whole eggs and not just egg whites (no leftover egg yolks!).   The caramel is brought to soft ball stage on the stovetop and poured over the whipped eggs, then the butter is added once the mixture has cooled.  It's silky and smooth and rich, but not too dense or sweet.  It was delicious!

Maybe one of these days, I'll post a comprehensive study on the differences in buttercreams (I didn't even mention American Buttercream which has no eggs at all).   A side-by-side comparison would be fun.  Anyone want to toss those dieting New Year's Resolutions out the window and volunteer to be a tester?




Vanilla Buttermilk Cake
from Sky High, Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne
makes one 8-inch triple later cake or two 6-inch triple layer cakes, or about 36 cupcakes

4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans or six 6-inch cake pans with vegetable oil spray such as Pam.  Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and spray the paper.

Put the eggs and yolks in a medium mixing bowl, add the vanilla and 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Whisk to blend well.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl; whisk to blend. Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup buttermilk to these dry ingredients and with the mixer on low, blend together. Raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add the egg mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing only until thoroughly incorporated. Divide the batter among the prepared pans.

Bake the cake layers for 28-32 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes; then carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely.


Caramel Buttercream
Adapted from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle
Makes enough to fill and frost one 8 or 9-inch cake or two 6-inch cakes

1 1/4 cups (300 g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 pound (4 sticks/454 g) unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In medium saucepan, combine the sugar, heavy cream, corn syrup, and salt. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, just until the sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring, and increase the heat to high.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, begin beating the eggs at medium speed while the syrup cooks to the correct temperature. When the sugar syrup reaches 225°F on a candy thermometer, increase the speed of the mixer to high. Continue to cook the sugar syrup until it reaches 238°F on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and with the mixer off, immediately pour about 1/4 cup of the hot syrup over the beaten eggs. Beat at high speed until blended, about 10 seconds. Turn the mixer off and add another 1/4 cup syrup. Beat at high speed for another 10 seconds. Repeat this process until all of the syrup is used. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the side of the bowl and continue to beat at medium-high speed until the egg mixture is completely cool, about 5 minutes.

At medium speed, beat the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, into the egg mixture. Add the vanilla extract, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat the buttercream until it is smooth and shiny, about 4 minutes. (The buttercream must be used at room temperature.)

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