I can’t think of a cake more synonymous with southern baking than a caramel cake. I can’t think of a baker more renowned than Edna Lewis. Put them together and you get tender layers of vanilla cake enveloped in the most perfect homemade caramel icing.
The caramel can be tricky to make, but once you get the hang of it, you will feel like a rock star.
If you’re new here:
Edna Lewis is known as the “Grand Dame” of Southern Cooking. She grew up in Freetown, Virginia and is well known for her four cookbooks including the Taste of Country Cooking, which is where this Caramel Cake recipe originates. Edna’s cookbook is hugely influential in how I bake and finally mastered my buttermilk biscuit recipe.
About This Recipe:
I’ve modernized the recipe slightly– sharing instructions for using a stand or hand mixer. However, there is magic in Edna’s description that takes you back to a different time.
“Also, listen for any quiet noises from the cake. If there are none, that’s a sign that it is done”
The way my modern oven is set up, I literally can’t hear anything besides the fan of the oven. The ability to use other senses to know when something is dones, reminds me of the opening chapter of Michael Twitty’s book, The Cooking Gene, which explains how the enslaved Africans used music to time when food is done. Powerful. Resourceful. Brilliant.
What is Soft Ball Stage
The Taste of Country Cooking was written in 1976. I’m sure some had candy thermometers, but I’m guessing they weren’t standard in every baker’s kitchen. So the way Edna writes the recipe– is without a candy thermometer. So you need to know what the soft ball stage is. When you’re using a candy thermometer– it’s 235ºF to 240ºF. If you don’t have a thermometer, you’ve reached “soft ball” if you take a spoon and drop the caramel into a cold cup of water and it forms a soft mass. It’s literally a soft ball. Genius!
The Caramel Icing Trick
Once the sugar/cream reaches soft boil stage– you are going to place that sauce pan in a large bowl that is filled with cold water. This is where every other attempt to make caramel cake went wrong for me. The cold water cools the icing at the right rate of speed to ensure a smooth and thick finish. Previously I had cakes slipping and sliding ALL OVER THE WORLD. Because that icing was not set enough.Print
Edna Lewis Caramel Cake
A classic southern dessert table standout featuring tender layers of vanilla cake enveloped in the most perfect homemade caramel icing.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 1 9-inch cake 1x
- Category: Cake
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 medium eggs, room temperature
2 cups sifted flour
⅔ cup milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup heavy cream
2 ¼ cups light brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the Cake
Heat the oven 375ºF. Line 2 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
In the bowl of the stand mixer or a large bowl with a hand mixer, stir the butter on low speed for about 1 minute until the butter is shiny. Then add in the sugars and salt, mixing for 3-4 minutes until the mixture is light.
Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing until combined.
Turn the mixer down to low speed and alternate ½ cup of sifted flour and ¼ cup of milk, ending with flour. Before you add the last ½ cup of flour, pour in the vanilla extract and lemon juice. Then add the baking powder to that last ½ cup of flour before pouring it into the bowl.
Stir the batter until smooth and no flour remains.
Bake for 25 minutes without opening the oven.
Turn the cake out of the pan immediately and put it on a wire rack. Cool for 5 minutes and then cover with a clean towel.
For the Caramel Icing
In a medium saucepan, heat the cream until hot, but not boiling. Add in the sugar and stir it well. Boil the cream and sugar mixture gently over medium high heat until you reach the soft boil stage . Remove the pot from heat and set it in a large bowl of cold water.
Add the butter and vanilla and stir continuously until the mixture becomes thick enough to spread. Remove the bowl from the cold water.
Put the Cake Together
Place one layer of the cake on a cake board or platter.
Spread a third of the caramel onto the cake layer. Place the second layer on top of the first layer. Pour the remainder of the icing onto the center of the cake and then spread it across the top and down the sides.
If the icing becomes too thick, while you are frosting, add a couple tablespoons of cream to thin it out.
Store in an airtight cake pan at room temperature.
Keywords: Caramel Cake, Cake, Edna Lewis