Baked Sunday Mornings: Burnt Sugar Bundt Cake with Caramel Rum Frosting

I cannot remember the last time I made a Bundt cake. I have nothing in particular against them, but I tend to prefer more decadent cakes slathered in creamy frosting, rather than those sporting the meager dusting of confectioners’ sugar typical of Bundt cakes. I guess I would generally place them in the category of ‘yawn-inducing’, as far as cakes go. Now, this viewpoint may be naive and woefully short-sighted; I apologize to Bundt lovers everywhere if I have offended your cake sensibilities. I suppose my perspective comes from having tasted too many dry, bland, or spongy Bundt cakes over the years. I’ve been betrayed, forgive me. *hangs head in shame*

However, this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings challenge piqued my interest– a Bundt cake with a thick layer of frosting?? Sign me up. I was intrigued by this cake for a number of reasons:

  • I’ve never tried a Bundt cake from BAKED, and frankly, that has the potential to change my entire outlook on Bundts (as well as a number of other world views, for that matter)
  • I am fascinated by sugar work, and this particular cake has two interesting elements that are new to me: burnt sugar liquid and decorative caramel shards
  • I had heard about “Burnt Sugar Cake” from a book of Southern cakes, but had never gotten around to making it
  • Quite simply… I love me some caramel!!

So I figured it was a good time to get reacquainted with the Bundt.

Sugar and I have a complicated and sometimes stormy relationship; I have had multiple confounding sugar mishaps over the years that occasionally haunt me in my dreams. Caramel is a naughty trickster whose secrets I long to unravel, but every time I think I understand her wily ways, I am rebuffed by new and uncharted crystalline whims. This recipe calls for making a burnt sugar liquid, which is made by cooking sugar alone in a saucepan until it melts and turns a dark caramel color, and then adding heavy cream, coconut milk, and lemon juice. Imagine my surprise when my burnt sugar liquid turned out… perfect. (Or so I thought, at the time.) This was highly unexpected because I’ve struggled with caramel in other BAKED recipes, having to make it twice or three times to get the right color or consistency. I wanted to take the caramel to the darkest possible color without crossing the point of no return; in other words, literally burnt sugar. I have burned sugar before (it turns almost black), and it does not smell or taste like something I would want to put in a cake, so I was trying to avoid that! My liquid still smelled like caramel, but with a slight bitterness, so I thought that sounded about right. I decided that this was a good omen for the cake, and the batter was pretty simple to assemble. I pulled out my swanky “Heritage” Bundt from Williams-Sonoma, whose pinwheel-like design looks a little more contemporary than the traditional Bundt. My batter was pleasantly thick when I transferred it from the mixer to the Bundt pan, and I felt confident sending it off to the oven. I might have hummed a little.

The cake rose beautifully and turned a lovely shade of honey-brown; its golden ridges puffed up in the pan, steadily climbing up the sides and center tube. All signs pointed to success! I did start to get a little worried when, after 45 minutes, the cake was surprisingly jiggly in the middle; still jiggly after another five minutes, and another five after that. I left it in for about an hour before my testing knife finally came out with no wet batter clinging to it.

While I felt pretty positive about the prognosis of the cake, the frosting was another story. To call it a “frosting” is a stretch; it’s more of a glaze. I was instructed to place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth and shiny, which it was, but it did not thicken to a spreadable consistency at all. I added an extra cup of confectioners’ sugar to firm it up, but that didn’t help much. The glaze tasted overly boozy, even though I had slightly reduced the amount of rum. Despite the thin consistency, it was smooth and attractive enough to use.

Once the cake had cooled, I eagerly unmolded it and admired its handsome, dark exterior– so far, it looked quite similar to the gorgeous photo in the cookbook. I sliced off a tiny piece for tasting, hoping to glimpse the beautiful dark interior color from the picture; while the cake smelled very caramelicious, the color was more like a dark yellow than a warm brown. This was a little disappointing, but I wouldn’t call it a failed cake. I was quite pleased with the prominent caramel flavor, which was rich but not cloyingly sweet. I also realized that the design of the Heritage Bundt was not ideal for this recipe, even though the swirled shape was very pretty. By the time the middle had cooked through (10-15 minutes longer than the recipe indicated), the outer part of the cake was a little dry.

Some who know me *might* identify some OCD tendencies in my personality… particularly when it comes to baking. (Though I simply contend that practice makes perfect… and more cakes to eat. ;-)) I considered whether it was worthwhile to bake the cake a second time; it bothered me that I hadn’t gotten it quite right, since BAKED is one of the biggest influences on my baking. I wasn’t sure what could make it darker, except perhaps a darker burnt sugar liquid, so… I made the cake again.

I intended to do two things differently: cook the burnt sugar liquid longer and use a classic Bundt pan. I hypothesized that the former would yield a darker liquid, and thus a darker cake; the latter would hopefully help the cake bake more evenly/quickly and retain moistness. I set about making the liquid anew, but it still looked about the same as the first batch. And because I am just that crazy… I tried a third, and final time. I let the liquid cook until it was so dark that it looked like it would die a black, caramel death at any moment. It bubbled up a little, which I took as a warning sign, so I removed it from the heat and added the cream. I cooked it again, as indicated, though a little longer than the first two times; I was very hopeful that this time my liquid would surely be darker. When I poured it into another measuring cup, side by side with the last batch, they were… identical. Yep. At this point, I decided that the sugar experimentation portion of the evening had come to a close, and it was time to move on. *sigh*

I made the cake batter again, slipped it into the oven, and waited not-so-patiently. Meanwhile, I made the caramel shards. It was my first time decorating with sugar like this, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it seemed simple enough: melt the sugar with a bit of water and cook until it turns amber, then pour the caramel onto a Silpat-lined sheet pan. The caramel hardens as it cools, and it literally looked like an orange pane of glass. It also acts like glass– I gave it a light thwack (karate chop-style!) to break it into pieces and ended up with tiny, shattered fragments skidding across the kitchen countertop and floor! A word of caution: be careful eating the shards because they are extremely sharp. Needless to say, I would not recommend decorating a child’s birthday cake with these! They are ridiculously easy and make a unique topping– I’m thinking of using them atop cupcakes. But then, I’m always thinking about what to put on cupcakes. 🙂

In the classic Bundt pan, the cake took 53 minutes. While waiting for it to cool, I figured I would give the frosting another go, since I still had half a batch of burnt sugar liquid. I decided to try making it in the stand mixer this time– maybe this would create the whipped consistency I was trying to achieve? Alas, the result was even worse. By the time the confectioners’ sugar chunks had disappeared into the wet ingredients, the mixture had “broken”, a very tragic condition in which a whipped mixture crosses the threshold from smooth and creamy to curdled and clumpy. A very sad state for frosting, indeed.

I went back to my first batch of glaze, which, although a little boozy, was perfectly fine to use. (Next time I may omit the rum and replace it with vanilla extract, and perhaps reducing the amount of burnt sugar liquid would yield a thicker frosting.) I drizzled the cake with a moderate layer of glaze and scattered the caramel shards on top.

I was anxious to cut into the second cake to see if the inside was any different than the first one. Despite my obsessive diligent efforts, the color was the same; however, I am very pleased to report that the cake was quite moist and delicious. The caramel flavor was rich, warm, and comforting– a lovely autumn cake! Even the rum-heavy glaze worked better than expected when eaten with the cake, so I was pretty happy with my little caramel Bundt in the end. Short of using bitter, overly burnt sugar liquid, I’m still not sure how to achieve the darker color, but I would definitely make it again as-is. This cake has revived my interest in Bundt cakes, and I look forward to making more of them!

You can find the recipe for Burnt Sugar Cake with Caramel Rum Frosting at Baked Sunday Mornings. Check out how the other bakers fared with this one too!

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23 Responses

  1. What, you baked another cake??? I may or may not be doing the same thing right now….and that may or may not be the timer going off. Okay, I did it too!! Thank you for sharing that. I don’t feel so “diligent” now. ;o) But it was bothering me that my cake seemed a little too overdone. I will share how it turned out later. Your cake looks lovely. I like how you poured the frosting over it!

    1. LOL– that’s why I like this group, I know there are other people out there who understand why I would bake twice! I definitely contemplated whether or not it was worth it, considering that ingredients are not exactly cheap! But I look at it as a learning opportunity to get better, so… now I have two cakes. And so do you!! 🙂 I hope your second one came out the way you were hoping!

  2. Okay, now I KNOW you and I are a LOT alike with our baking – I almost made a second cake myself! LOL… GREAT post. I loved your thought processes and how you worked it all out. I’ve reached the point where I’m getting more and more ‘okay’ with posting that a recipe just ‘did not work’… it’s fine! I like re-working things though, to see if I can come up with something better, and you did such an excellent job with this one. It reminds me of my determination with the Brookstersa while back. Kudos, my baking friend… you’re not the only OCD Baked fanatic in the room, trust me. LOL! Love your writing style too!

    1. LOL! I considered whether or not it was worth rebaking, but I take BAKED recipes *very* seriously, so it didn’t take much thought. Thank you for all your kind words– I’m glad you liked the post! Being really new at this, I’m trying to find my “voice” as a blogger, so I appreciate all your feedback! 🙂 Yeah, I’m on the fence about posting “failed” recipes; I’m not sure I would post one that was a complete disaster, unless I had reworked it. It would bother me to leave it “unfinished”. I am not, however, opposed to posting about mistakes, because I believe that’s how we all learn.

      Ah yes, the Brooksters. It took me THREE tries with those, but that recipe had such great potential that I was not going to give up! I found light-colored mini pie pans, and that made all the difference. They could still use a tiny bit of tweaking, but I was very happy with them.

      It’s good to know that I’m not the only OCD baker around these parts– that’s why I dig this group!! You people understand why it’s important to rebake a Bundt cake! 🙂

  3. … I will say, however, that we have different cake tastes. I love bundts, because I’m not a huge frosting person. I love their simplicity and ‘homeyness’. Typically, I adore pie over cake, because cake is just a little too much for me. And when it comes to frosted cakes, unlike a lot of people, who are frosting lovers, I typically scrape off the frosting and just eat the cake. Good for you for setting your ‘bundt prejudice’ aside and trying this out! 🙂

    1. And yes, I noticed the same thing– LOL! As I read your post, I found myself chuckling about the fact that we have similar baking styles/processes/results, but our taste preferences are SO different. Look at that, BAKED is bringing people together with cake. 🙂

  4. I am so impressed you made it twice! I used the heritage pan and had a feeling it wasn’t the ideal choice, but had made a standard bundt earlier in the week (the lazy baker in me loves bundt cakes). Anyway, yours looks terrific. I thought the caramel shards were awesome; I am going to make ice cream with them.

    1. Thanks, Margot! I really like the look of the Heritage pan (yours looked great!), so I was bummed that it didn’t work well. But hey, it’s nice to have a little Bundt variety, like you said. Oooh, I bet the caramel shards would look awesome and very elegant on top of ice cream! 🙂

  5. I felt like I had written this! I too had the same experience, so sad that the final cake didn’t look like the photo at all. My solution was to use all brown sugar (can’t remember if I used light or dark, it was over 1 year ago) in place of the granulated sugar. The visual results were spot on and the flavor/texture delicious! The original version is of course delicious too … But for those of us who love the photos and expect a similar product – I just don’t think the amount of burnt liquid in the cake is enough to get it that dark against all the butter and white sugar.
    Just my thoughts, from a total non-professional baker. 🙂
    Happy baking!

    1. Hi Nicole, thanks for the suggestion! That would be really interesting to try it with brown sugar– I’ll have to do a little experiment next time! I imagine you would get an even deeper caramel flavor that way too.

  6. Great post and beautiful cake!

    Nicole, I went with light brown sugar and Sugar in the Raw in place of the white sugar, and it definitely made a darker cake, but still not as dark as the photo in the book. Dark brown sugar may be the key!

    1. Thank you! 🙂 This is great to know– If I had thought to try brown sugar, I would have started with light brown myself. Dark brown it is, for next time!

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