BABY CAKE #7: SEVEN LAYER CARAMEL CAKE WITH MISS GERTRUDE'S CARAMEL ICING
We've been making Miss Gertrude's Caramel Icing for birthday cakes in my family for as long as I can remember, and seeing how Lucy James's seven-month milestone coincided with her eldest aunt's birthday, an extra special family recipe in the form of a seven-layer caramel cake seemed fitting for the latest in my project baby cake series.
Interestingly, thanks to mama brain, I forgot two things about Miss Gertrude's Caramel Icing:
- how insanely addictive it is
- how very unrefined it always turns out to be
What I remembered was how hard it is to get just right. Made up of only four ingredients, this recipe looks deceivingly simple, but the truth is, this caramel icing is really more like fudge than frosting and can be quickly ruined in the blink of an eye.
If watched carefully and done correctly, though, the result has a rich, browned butter caramel flavor and lightly golden color. You don't really spread it like the original recipe calls for; instead, you pour, scooped and pat it down as quickly as you can, and hope that it takes a reasonably even shape and covers all of your cake cake crumbs. (This is why I've never added this Miss Gertrude's Caramel Cake to my wedding clientele. It's just too unrefined, even for my rustic style wedding cakes.)
For this month's baby cake project, I almost threw it in the garbage can. Just after assembly, it looked like the sorriest stack of two-toned, crumbly pancakes I'd ever seen (and no way to celebrate seven months of Miss Lucy James!).
Yes, it's been a while since I made Miss Gertrude's Caramel Icing, so I forgot about the potential downfalls. And then, as my niece and I were making it, sneaking tastes here and there, I was instantly reminded of that addictive flavor and how flavor-wise alone, it's a thing of beauty.
In case you didn't guess already, Miss Gertrude's Caramel Icing is a southern recipe from an old church cookbook I brought west from Tennessee. While I never knew Miss Gertrude, I do know two things about her:
- this was her most acclaimed recipe
- she lived to be 101 years old!
Perhaps this caramel icing was one of her secrets to longevity?
(Another reason to love it!)
Typically made with a simple white cake, I went a little off recipe for this project and used a lemon cake, which seemed to complement the caramel icing just as well, if not better, cutting the sweet with a slightly acidic note. Any light, fluffy white or lemon cake recipe you love that yields 4 cups of batter (1 cup per 4" round pan) will work.
I recommend baking the cakes a day in advance to give them ample time to cool, for easier slicing. To prep cake layers, slice each baby cake in half with a serrated bread knife to make eight thin discs. I used seven thin cake rounds to match Lucy James's 7-month milestone, with one leftover for snacking.
Once sliced, set each round on a wire rack over a pan of parchment paper to catch icing drips.
Then prep Miss Gertrude's Caramel Icing:
Miss Gertrude's Caramel Icing
adapted from Cooking Up Memories from St Paul's Episcopal Church
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- First, coat a medium-sized, heavy saucepan with butter.
- Next, combine sugar, cream and butter over medium heat, stirring constantly.
- Allow mixture to reach a full boil and continue cooking over low heat approximately 15-20 minutes until you reach a soft ball stage. (That is the point where a small drop of icing dropped into cold water stays gummy and soft.)
- At that point, watch very carefully until the icing begins to stick on bottom of pan and brown flecks appear on spoon...that is key.
- Once you see flecks (and not before!), remove the pan from heat.
- Add vanilla and stir quickly, until combined.
- Working quickly, scoop warm icing over each of the seven cake layers, smoothing and patting down with an offset spatula.
- Once cooled, stack iced layers and style.
In an attempt to beautify my seven layers, I made a quick blackberry-raspberry compote.
- Combining 1/2 cup fresh berries with 2 tablespoons sugar and the juice of one lemon in a small saucepan.
- Cook over medium heat, until fruit breaks down and your reach desired consistency, about 5-10 minutes.
- Let cool and drizzle syrupy cooked berries over cake.
To style the cake, I harvested blackberry cuttings and delicate little blackberry blooms from our backyard.
To clean berries, immerse full cuttings in a large bowl of water and move around gently to remove critters, dirt and other unsavory bits. Be sure to snip thorns from berry sprigs before garnishing cake.
I'd love to see your creations (and how you style them!) with this special icing recipe, so please tag me (@cakebloom) on instagram!