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Praline Caramel Cake

Thursday, March 18, 2010

For our anniversary, Av and I took the boys up to Chattanooga where we went to the Tennessee Aquarium (they loved it), had lunch at a *real* diner (more about that later), visited a gallery (that too), and brought home some Cruze Dairy milk and buttermilk from Greenlife Grocery, their answer to Whole Foods.

Cruze Dairy is a family farm in Knoxville TN where the cows are pastured 365 days a year and never given hormones. The milk isn't homogenized, so you give the jug a good shake first. It's good.

I think buttermilk tastes differently now even from when it was when I was a little girl. Have you noticed, too? Ah, my PawPaw used to eat cornbread in a glass with buttermilk. And dunk Saltines in buttermilk, too. I love buttermilk because he did. Do you have food memories like that? I think of my PawPaw whenever I have buttermilk or banana pudding. I think of my Nanny whenever I have tomatoes and rice. I think of my great-grandmother whenever I serve greens...or cole slaw...or have an entire table loaded down with beautiful dishes to enjoy. You too?

You can still get 'real' buttermilk from places like Cruze and from Wright Dairy in Alexandria.

Well, there isn't a better cake than buttermilk cake. Even if you're not a 'buttermilk person' - you don't taste buttermilk in it, it's just what it adds that's so amazing. It's so good that it's perfect without any icing at all; but when you put caramel on top, ohmystars.

One teensy warning: this is a *real* praline icing, not the whipped consistency of something in a can in the baking aisle of the grocery store. If there's any weather outside - raining, cloudy, just not a nice day, wait until the weather's nice to make it.

If you're thinking of making this mid-week, the recipe is easily halved for just one layer.

Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks butter (1 cup), softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 375*.

Prepare two 8" 0r 9" round cake pans (butter all over, place a round of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan).

In the Kitchenaid, mix together the butter and sugar until pretty and super-light (about five minutes). In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and baking soda.

Add the eggs one at a time into the Kitchaid, spinning slowly, waiting until each is incorporated until adding another.

Take turns adding the flour mixture, then the buttermilk, then again with the flour until all ingredients are used:

Caramel Cake

Pour half into each baking pan, and bake until done (start checking at 18 minutes).

Let the cakes cool a bit, then turn them out onto separate dishes to cool completely.

Now - the icing! If your idea of a caramel cake is something other than a beautiful cake encased in a giant praline, this is not the icing for you. This is a real, old-fashioned praline caramel cake.

If you're like icing the consistency of buttercream or something else more "whipped" - or if you're going to feel disappointed slicing the cake and the icing 'breaking' into so many gorgeous buttery islands - this is the part where you should look away, open a new tab in your browser, and Google for some other recipe. It's okay.

Alright - let's make some pralines! I mean...caramel icing.

Icing Ingredients:
1 pound light brown sugar (it's sold in 1lb. boxes - I think it's just almost 3 cups)
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup evaporated milk

Icing Directions:
Use a bigger pot than you think you need to make this (it bubbles up). Get out the candy thermometer and a wooden spoon. Please don't do this without a candy thermometer unless you are a pro at determining soft ball stage.

In your pot, add together all the ingredients. Slowly bring up to a boil, and continue to boil on medium-high heat until the mixture gets to 238*, stirring gently often but not constantly. What you're doing is having the mixture reach soft ball stage, which begins at 234* and goes up to 240*. I always try to get just almost to the upper limit, because if you don't get the mixture up to 234*, what you'll have in the end is sauce that will never solidify.

Sadly, that's experience speaking.

Just make sure you don't go too high - over 240*, though, because then you're starting to enter the world of making hard candy! Thank goodness for candy thermometers.

While the caramel is getting to 238*, make sure you have the cake layers ready to get the icing.

Caramel Cake
Anyway, at 238*, you have got yourself perfection. Bring the pot off the heat, and with your wooden spoon, beat the mixture for...forever. Okay, not forever, but for several minutes, which might seem like forever. You'll know when to stop. At first, it will seem thin and doubt creeps in (will this ever firm up?) but never fear...just keep stirring.

It will get thicker and thicker and begin to nicely coat the wooden spoon. The icing should be nice and thick but still easily pourable. When the icing gets to be to the point that you can 'draw a line' through it like this pic below, you should be done pouring it over the bottom layer and get to pouring it over the top and over the sides. Really, I let it get a bit too far here, but this shows how well it will set up:

Caramel Cake
If you do wind up letting it set up a little too far, you can put it back on low heat and add a splash or two of evaporated milk until it becomes the perfect consistency for pouring again.

It's so delicious and wonderful and every other delectable adjective you can think of.

Caramel Cake

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