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!