I recently had the pleasure of reading the immsensely popular book, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. It’s a wonderful story about three women who cross the lines of what is acceptable in their little Southern town and make change happen. It’s the story of everyday women who are heroines. Really, we all know them, don’t we? We see heroines every day…moms, workers, aunties, teachers, doctors, writers. Women always try to make things better.
One detail that fascinated me about the book was Minnie’s caramel cake. It keeps coming up in the story, at dinner parties, bake sales, funerals. It’s a Southern tradition to have a prized dish or dessert that shows up at every special occasion. And Minnie’s caramel cake is famous far and wide. By the time I finished the story, I was determined to find the caramel cake recipe. It had to be simple, from scratch, and Southern. After lots of searching, I found the closest thing in one of my favorite cooking magazines, Gourmet, January 2008. I especially love the buttermilk in the cake batter. It gives the cake a moist, tender tang. And the caramel glaze? It’s so good, I licked the bowl. And the plate. With its simple ingredients and easy preparation, you know this caramel cake recipe originally came from someone’s best friend’s mother’s sister. Or maybe even from Minnie herself.
For the cake
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
For caramel glaze
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Equipment: a candy thermometer
Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.
Make the glaze: Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil until glaze registers 210 to 212°F on thermometer, 12 to 14 minutes, then stir in vanilla. The glaze will thicken and darken to a rich caramel color.
Put rack with cake in a shallow baking pan and pour hot glaze over top of cake, allowing it to run down sides. Cool until glaze is set, about 30 minutes.