“The Help” Southern Caramel Cake

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To celebrate the release of the film, “The Help,” we went about making every caramel cake recipe we could get our hands on, in order to find the best one.

In the course of our sugar hunt, we came across a recipe entitled “Revolutionary Caramel Cake,” from The Southern Foodways Alliance (The University of Georgia Press, 2010), submitted by Ann Cashion, that purports to be from Demetrie McLorn, the Stockett family cook of Jackson, Mississippi.

Could this be THE (author of The Help) Kathryn Stockett’s family? It very well could be. Of course we had to modify it slightly – we are big “make it your own” advocates when it comes to home baking.

This white cake is light and fluffy (brief angel food thoughts crossed my mind as the cake bounced down my throat) with a full-bodied frosting yet not too heavy like caramel sludge (we tried one of those and passed). You were spared. This cake is spot on. Everything you would want and expect from a Southern Caramel charmer!

Sugar Mommas Note: You will need a candy thermometer for the icing recipe.

Ingredients:

4 egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk, divided (1/4 cup and 3/4 cup)
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (cut into small pieces), at room temperature

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour three eight-inch cake pans (or use nonstick spray) and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the egg whites, ¼ cup milk, and the vanilla extract and set aside.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and combine on low speed. Scatter the butter pieces on top of the flour mixture and add the remaining milk. Blend on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Add the egg white mixture a little at a time and beat on medium speed until just combined. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The cakes will appear slightly golden on top, not browned. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and cool completely. While the cake is cooling, make your icing.

Caramel Icing:

3 cups granulated sugar, divided (2 1/2 cups + 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions:

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 1/2 cups sugar, corn syrup, and milk. Stir continuously until the sugar dissolves and no longer has a granular feeling. Keep warm over low heat.

In a separate deep, heavy saucepan, add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and spread evenly over the bottom. Cook over medium heat without stirring until the sugar dissolves and begins to turn an amber color. You may “swirl” your pan if necessary to re-distribute sugar while cooking.

As soon as the sugar turns colors, carefully add the warm milk mixture into the heavy saucepan. It will bubble up vigorously and sizzle and the caramel on the bottom will harden.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the caramel dissolves and the liquid turns caramel color. Then cook without stirring until the mixture reaches soft-ball stage (235°F) on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat. Stir in the butter, vanilla, and salt.

Set aside to cool for 15 minutes. Mix until the icing is thick and the consistency appropriate to spread, about 15 minutes. A hand held electric mixer on medium speed works well for this purpose.

Cake Assembly:

Place one cooled cake layer upside down on a serving platter and pour about one-quarter of the icing over the top, spreading evenly with a knife or angled spatula. Place the middle layer upside down on top of the bottom layer and spread another one-quarter of the icing over it. Place the third cake layer right side up on top of the second layer and complete the icing of the top and sides. Set aside for two hours to allow the icing to set.

Sugar Mommas Note: You may use all-purpose flour, but we recommend Swans Down cake flour.

Tip - The icing cools and thickens quickly. You may want to frost one layer, then put the saucepan back on low heat and give it a whirl with the handheld electric mixer to soften it enough to apply another layer of frosting. Or you can transfer the frosting to a glass or other microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high power in 25-second intervals, stirring in between, until it has a spreadable consistency.

ModernVariation -  To update this cake and make an impression on your movie-going comrades, don’t frost the sides of the cake. Instead, frost the top of the bottom layer with a very thick layer of icing. Add the second layer of cake and repeat. Add the third layer and ice the top completely, allowing the icing to drip down the sides of the cake and pool onto the serving dish or cake plate (see photo). Your cake will appear drenched in a caramel bath of deliciousness.

Sass It Up -  We like to sass up our cakes. Consider sprinkling some crushed Heath bar bits on top of the caramel icing for some crunch.

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