This is not a cake; it’s an adventure.
I’m fascinated by old-fashioned recipes, and Burnt Sugar Cake has been on my must-try list for awhile. If you don’t recognize the name of the cake, you would most likely recognize the flavor. It’s a cake you had sometime in your childhood, while visiting older family members or at a church supper somewhere. Burnt Sugar Cake has a unique taste that just spells home and country roads and a day when people spent more time in the kitchen. But there’s a reason Burnt Sugar Cake isn’t so popular anymore–it does take time. There is no cake mix that will give you the flavor of burnt sugar. You have to “burn” the sugar yourself, and make the cake from scratch.
But let me tell you–it’s worth it.
I started out with a recipe from an elderly church lady who has since passed away. The recipe included the list of ingredients, with some measurements (but not all), and directions that were incredibly lacking. (In which she instructs about ingredients that aren’t even mentioned in the list of ingredients and measurements.) You know, it’s one of those recipes–the type where they all knew what they were doing and only halfway wrote it down because you were supposed to know, too. It gave absolutely no instructions about burning the sugar.
Lost, I turned to the internet and studied burnt sugar cake recipes I found online. I chose one and made it…. It was quite different from the “authentic” recipe I had from the elderly lady, but hey, at least it had directions. Unfortunately, the cake was terrible. It baked up dry and dense and just utterly unacceptable.
Not to be deterred, I took what I’d learned from the online recipe and went back to the “authentic” one. Armed with at least a sense of how burnt sugar is created and the process of this cake, I tackled the old-time recipe again, filling in the gaps with my own experience. You know, the experience the incomplete recipe assumed I had to begin with. The two recipes were different in several ways, and by and large my second attempt was based on the old-time recipe. However, where measurements were incomplete in the old-time recipe, I filled in with my own guesses from my baking background, and what I ended up with was a delicious, moist, light cake that fulfilled all my Burnt Sugar Cake dreams.
How to make Old-Time Burnt Sugar Cake:
Making Burnt Sugar Syrup–
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups water
Dump the sugar in a skillet on the stove. Turn the heat to medium-low.
You don’t actually “burn” the sugar–you melt it. The sugar will just…melt. Seriously. Who knew? (Stop laughing. I’m from the suburbs.)
Stir only occasionally. The less you stir, the better. If you can’t restrain yourself, walk away for five to ten minutes and come back. It will look like this.
Now add the hot water, continuing with your heat on medium-low. (The online recipe instructed me to boil the water before adding it. This was not in sync with the old-time recipe and it’s not necessary. (Old church ladies know this stuff!) I made the burnt sugar twice, with each recipe, and I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to boil the water. Just use it hot right out of your tap. That’s good enough.
The melted sugar gets all excited when you add the water and it will bubble up.
Then it will calm down and after another five to ten minutes (again, it doesn’t like to be stirred too much), it will look like this.
Turn off the heat and set it aside to cool to room temperature while you start preparing the cake. The syrup is thin while it’s hot, but as it cools, it thickens. By the way, if you’re ever snowed in and have to have pancakes, this makes a pancake syrup in a pinch. Add a bit of maple flavoring if you have some on hand and it’s make-do maple syrup. Just remember, however much you want to make, use equal parts sugar and water. You know, if you’re snowed in and have to have pancakes. I wouldn’t want anyone to go without pancakes ever again. It’s an unnecessary tragedy. (Never run out of pancake mix again, either–try my Quick Mix.)
Note: Using 1 1/3 cups sugar and 1 1/3 cups water, you’re going to end up with approximately 1 1/4 cups Burnt Sugar Syrup after it cooks down in the process. Your exact mileage may vary.
Making Burnt Sugar Cake–
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs (yolks/whites divided)
1/2 cup Burnt Sugar Syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup water (minus one teaspoon)
3/4 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In another bowl, combine room temperature butter and the sugar. Cream. Add two egg yolks and beat again.
In a small bowl, beat egg whites till fluffy.
Pour or spoon 1/2 cup of the Burnt Sugar Syrup in a one-cup measuring cup. Add the teaspoon of vanilla then add enough water (cool to lukewarm) to add up to a cup combined with the Burnt Sugar Syrup and the vanilla. To the bowl with flour, add the creamed butter/sugar/egg yolks, the Burnt Sugar Syrup mixture, and the milk. Beat well. Gently fold in the egg whites. (Do not beat again.) The online recipe didn’t call for the eggs to be separated with the whites beaten then folded in. This is an extra step, but it makes a difference. Trust me.
Divide into two round, greased cake pans.
Bake at 350-degrees for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. (Don’t overbake!)
Cool and frost with Burnt Sugar Icing.
Making Burnt Sugar Icing–
16 ounces powdered sugar
2/3 cup to 3/4 cup Burnt Sugar Syrup (however much you have left in the skillet! as noted above, your mileage will vary after your syrup cooks down)
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine and beat till smooth and spreadable. If your icing is too stiff because you found yourself on the low side with your remaining Burnt Sugar Syrup, add a bit of milk or water. Frost cake and decorate with pecan halves. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Excuse me while I inhale this cake….
P.S. I don’t use cake flour. Ever. If a cake recipe can’t be made with regular flour, it’s just a bad recipe in my book. When I post a cake recipe, I’m using regular flour and it’s a recipe that works.
P.P.S. I don’t use bread flour, either. Ever. If a bread recipe can’t be made with regular flour, it’s just a bad recipe in my book. When I post a bread recipe, I’m using regular flour and it’s a recipe that works.
P.P.P.S. I’m too frugal for that special cake and bread flour nonsense.
P.P.P.P.S. I just wanted to use another P. The extra P’s are free!