Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Best-Ever Caramel Cake

What a celebration cake! This recipe is worthy of birthdays, anniversaries, parties and other special occasions. It is extra-special because not only 'can' it be made ahead of time, it actually tastes better the second day. The cake itself is deep with vanilla, the icing dark and firm with the caramel that only comes from that special concoction of sugar, cream and butter.

Best-Ever Caramel Cake, a gorgeous special-occasion layer cake, best made the day before. A production but worth it!

How'd I do?
Even before making this gorgeous cake, I knew I'd try to set up the photo as seen in Food & Wine. Here's their inspiring shot!

“Honey, it’s only a number,” chided my eighty-something neighbor when I once hesitated to answer the dreaded "How old are you?" question. "Well good," I thought. “Then I pick 37!”

When it comes to age, I come from a family of liars. My cousin Lynda is now younger than her two grown sons. My clever cousin Barb is not 29, but 31. I liked her unusual choice so much that one year, I decided to turn 41 from 29 – but only after a party.

It’s easy for liars to stay young, so long as the memory and math skills still work. Most people, normal people, turn a year older one birthday at a time. Me, every birthday, I recalculated the year of my birth. I lied about my age for so long, I had to think real hard to remember my real age.

When my nephews were young, they’d say, “Auntie Al, you can’t be 35. You’re older than our mom and she’s 39!” I would calmly remind them of the year I was born and suggest they ‘do the math’.

One year, the little guy, all serious, put a pencil to paper then professed to his older brother, “Mathew, she IS 35. Do the math!”

I quaked: my sweet, innocent and generous-hearted nephew Alex actually believed my lie. I hoped fervently that someday, perhaps at my funeral, he and his brother would laugh about their aunt’s habit of lying about her age.

MAKE IT AN OCCASION No lying about this Caramel Cake, however. With three layers, a dramatic appearance and rich, groan-now-it’s-so-good flavor, Best-Ever Caramel Cake shouts ‘party’. I made it for my own birthday (which one? pick a number!) and oh my, we all scraped the last sweet crumbs from our plates.

MAKE IT AHEAD OF TIME Still, I know, the recipe is long, especially the icing. The one oh-so-important reason why I’m sharing the recipe is this: it not only can be made ahead of time, it tastes better the day after it’s made. This makes it perfect for making the night before and taking to work, say; or making the day before, then carrying along to a potluck the next day; or you know, making it the day before your birthday, then relaxing with bonbons in a bubble bath on your birthday itself, knowing the cake is baked and beautiful.

The recipe for Best-Ever Caramel Cake is adapted from the September 2010 issue of Food & Wine, a fabulous issue from which I clipped more than a dozen recipes. But this cake, what Food & Wine and its developer, chef Ann Cashion of Johnny's Half Shell in Washington, DC call "Revelatory Caramel Cake", this cake called to me for days. It just insisted on being made!

ALANNA’s TIPS This is the longest recipe I’ve ever published on Kitchen Parade, which is known for quick and easy recipes. Making the cake itself is, well, a piece of cake, very straight-forward. The icing is a considerable production although nothing hard, just lots of steps. If the icing is too daunting, no problem, just make a triple or quadruple batch of my mom’s recipe for Caramel Frosting. Please note, I haven’t made the cake with Mom’s Caramel Frosting but think that it would work just fine. Next time, I will use cake dowels to prevent the cake from slipping. It didn't, but it felt like it could have.

SHOPPING LIST To make the recipe easier to follow, I have written it showing each ingredient in the quantity called for in each step. But several ingredients are repeated. To make the vanilla cake and the caramel icing, you’ll need a total of:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1-3/4 cups whole milk
  • 4-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2-1/2 sticks butter
  • 1-1/4 cups cream
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • light corn syrup
  • baking powder
  • vanilla
  • table salt

KITCHEN EQUIPMENT To make this Best-Ever Caramel Cake, you’ll need:

  • 3 round cake pans
  • parchment paper & waxed paper
  • 1 small bowl
  • a whisk and a spatula
  • an electric mixer, preferably a standing mixer since the icing requires a long stretch of mixing
  • toothpicks
  • cooling racks
  • medium saucepan
  • large heavy saucepan
  • candy thermometer
  • strainer
  • cake plate
  • knife or offset spatula
  • squeeze bottle, optional

ABOUT THE CALORIES No doubt, this cake is an indulgence, a rarity in Kitchen Parade.

Some times I hesitate to even calculate the calories and Weight Watchers points. In my head, I write, “Some things we don’t want to know” and imagine people grinning, or maybe, groaning, but everyone understanding that this is a big cake.

But the thing is, knowledge is power. When we bake, the calories add up fast and we’re crazy to fool ourselves otherwise. This cake calls for so much butter, sugar and cream, at least we KNOW it’s an indulgence. We also know it's a special-occasion cake. Is it worth the calories? That’s for each one to decide.

But anyone who turns to recipes from Kitchen Parade is armed with the information needed to make an informed decision. That too is a rarity, just look at the baking blogs, the food magazines, the programs on food TV. How many of these provide nutrition information? I'm willing to bet, elsewhere, indulgences are commonplace, not the rarity they should be.

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. Follow Kitchen Parade on Facebook!


Hands-on time: 1 hour with regular attention throughout over 4 hours
Time to serve: Cake tastes best the day after it’s made
Serves 12 or 16 or even 20


(Vanilla Cake only)
Hands-on time: 45 minutes
Total time to make & cool: 2-1/2 hours

Preheat oven to 350F/175F. Butter three 8-inch cake pans. Cut three rounds of parchment for the pan bottoms. Butter the parchment and then flour the pans. Tap out the excess flour. If you have just one mixing bowl, you might want to whip the 3/4 cup of cream that's called for late in the cake recipe too.

  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla

In a bowl, gently whisk the milk, egg whites and vanilla until just combined.

In standing mixer, mix the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt for a few seconds.

  • 12 tablespoons butter, cut into tablespoons, warmed to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup whole milk

Add the butter and milk to the flour mixture, blend at low speed til blended, then medium speed until smooth, about one minute. Beat in the milk-egg white mixture in three batches.

  • 3/4 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks in another bowl

With a spatula, stir in about a third of the whipped cream, then fold in the remaining whipped cream.

Divide the cake batter among the three pans, smoothing the tops. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, peel off the parchment, then invert onto a rack to cool completely.

Once cool, place five or six strips of waxed paper around the perimeter of a cake plate or cake stand, then place the bottom layer in the center, covering up about an inch of the waxed paper strips. (Why the waxed paper? To protect the plate from the Caramel Icing as it drips down the sides.)


This icing uses no powdered sugar! It is thickened by the caramel itself and sets to a firm but not hard cake frosting.
(Caramel Icing Only)
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total time to mix and ice: 90 minutes
  • 2-1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk

DISSOLVE THE SUGAR In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, corn syrup and milk, then cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Keep warm while continuing.

  • 1/2 cup sugar

MAKE THE CARAMEL In a large, heavy saucepan (my four-quart Dutch oven worked perfectly, the caramel swells a lot as it cooks so be sure to use a large enough pan), sprinkle the sugar over the pan’s bottom. Cook over moderate heat, swirling occasionally, until an amber caramel forms. (For more caramel flavor, let the caramel get quite dark, just be careful not to burn the sugar.) Carefully pour the warm milk mixture over the caramel (careful, it will sizzle). Cook over medium high, stirring, until the caramel dissolves (this will take awhile, just keep stirring, scraping up any caramel bits from the bottom of the pan). Now, this will be hard but STOP STIRRING and cook until caramel registers 235F (the soft-ball stage) on a candy thermometer, about 30 minutes. (During this time, the caramel should bubble fast and will swell to nearly fill the saucepan. If it doesn’t, gradually increase the heat until it does.) Remove from the heat.

  • 1 stick butter, softened to room temp
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup cream

ADD RICHNESS & COOL Stir in the butter, vanilla and cream and stir until the butter melts. Strain the caramel into the bowl of the standing mixer, let cool 15 minutes.

  • 1/4 cup cream

BEAT UNTIL CREAMY Beating the mixture at medium speed, slowly add the cream. Continue beating the mixture until light and creamy, about 15 minutes. Work quickly from this point on, the icing will begin to harden.

FINALLY! ICE THE CAKE (Visual learners, check out how to frost a cake for step-by-step photos.) Set one cake layer on a plate, pour enough icing over the layer to cover the top, leaving about a quarter inch around the perimeter for the icing to squeeze out. Top with the second layer, cover with icing. Add the final layer and pour the rest of the icing over the top, letting it run down the sides. Working quickly, use a knife or offset spatula to spread the icing gently around the sides. Check the sides carefully for complete coverage, patching later will be obvious. I used only about 2/3 of the icing, it was plenty.

If you like, transfer some icing to a squeeze bottle and squeeze out a design on cake’s top. I used a V pattern for the outer ring, then a U pattern inside it, then dots in the center. Much to my surprise, from the top, it looked like a sunflower! Go crazy!

LET ICING SET Let the cake stand for 2 hours before to allow the icing to set. If serving the next day, refrigerate overnight but return to room temperature before serving.

NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Slice, assuming 20/16/12 slices: 414/518/691 Calories; 17/21/28g Tot Fat; 11/14/19g Sat Fat; 53/67/89mg Cholesterol; 297/371/495mg Sodium; 61/77/102g Carb; 0g Fiber; 48/59/79g Sugar; 3/4/6g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS WW Old Points 10/12/16 & WW PointsPlus 11/14/19

Gorgeous Tone-on-Tone Icing (Simple to Do!)

Best-Ever Caramel Cake, a gorgeous special-occasion cake, best made the day before.

If you like tone on tone, you'll love the looks of this cake after it's iced. The Food & Wine cake just smoothed the icing. I found that a little plain so got out a squeeze bottle and started squeezing. Turns out, from the top, the design looked just like a sunflower! Nice, since the the cake platter is a gift from my dear Auntie Gloria and has a sunflower design too!

If Age is Just a Number ...

What do you pick, your real age or something else? Let me know in the comments!

More Party Cakes!
Can You Tell? I Adore Festive Layer Cakes!

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
Southern Belle Lemon Layer Cake Chocolate Cinnamon Whipped Cream Cake Banana Nut Cake with Caramel Frosting
~ more cake recipes ~

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~ Caramel Icing ~

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Recipe Makeover: Healthy Waldorf Salad

Who thinks the recipe for Waldorf Salad needs a massive makeover? I do, that’s who. And so will you, comparing the calories and Weight Watchers points for my makeover recipe versus a traditional recipe. Would you believe, a reduction of almost 75%?
PS There's no sacrificing flavor, either. This salad tastes great!

Healthy Waldorf Salad ♥, my makeover recipe reduces calories & Weight Watchers points by almost 75%.

Mayonnaise plays the schoolyard bully in too many salads. “Taste me!” it shouts, punching us in the taste buds. “This salad is all about me-me-mayo!”

In those mayo salads, mayonnaise overpowers the naturally shyer flavors, the ones that need room and a little coaxing to reach their full potential.

A traditional Waldorf Salad is thick with mayonnaise, even though some recipes "thin" – ahem – the mayonnaise with sour cream.

For my makeover recipe for Waldorf Salad, I’ve sent the bully that is mayo to the back of the fridge and substituted something lighter and sweeter, a little yogurt laced with vanilla.

The result is a salad where the apples and walnuts (they’re the shy kids, you know!) become BFF with a kiss of nutmeg – becoming, at last, the deserving popular kids.


Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Time to table: 15 minutes
Makes 4 cups

  • Zest & juice (about 2 tablespoons) of a lemon
  • 2 medium apples, cored and diced
  • 2 ribs celery, trimmed and diced small
  • 1/4 cup (25g) currants or raisins
  • 1/4 cup (25g) toasted walnuts, chopped (how to toast nuts)
  • 1/3 cup non-fat vanilla yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Additional nutmeg for sprinkling

In a large bowl, toss the lemon zest, lemon juice and chopped apples. (Be sure that all the apple pieces touch the lemon juice, so they won’t turn brown.) Add the remaining ingredients.

Top each serving with a sprinkle of nutmeg. Best served immediately or within an hour or so.

ALANNA’s TIPS Healthy Waldorf Salad makes for a great fruit dessert, though it does take a little getting used to the idea, well, that there’s celery in your dessert. That said, it took just two bites to love it, celery and all! No vanilla yogurt? No problem. Just add a splash of vanilla to your yogurt. Greek yogurt works well here, all the way from the 0% fat to the full-fat. I adore the Fage products but they're increasingly difficult to find at a reasonable price. (Darn you, Sam's Club, for dropping Fage yogurt!) After that, I'm partial to Trader Joe's European-Style Yogurt, it's looser than Greek yogurt but has a strong sourness that harkens back to my time living in Finland.

My HEALTHY WALDORF SALAD (recipe above) Per Cup: 115 Calories; 4g Tot Fat; 0g Sat Fat; 0mg Cholesterol; 30mg Sodium; 20g Carb; 3g Fiber; 15g Sugar; 2g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS WW Old Points 2 & WW PointsPlus 3 & WW SmartPoints 5

vs TRADITIONAL WALDORF SALAD (based on a popular internet recipe, I estimate the serving size is 1-1/4 cups) Per Serving: 434 Calories; 35g Tot Fat; 4g Sat Fat; 0mg Cholesterol; 131mg Sodium; 28g Carb; 5g Fiber; 19g Sugar; 5g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS WW Old Points 10 & Points Plus 12 & SmartPoints 16

TEN POINTS? TWELVE POINTS? WOW, SIXTEEN POINTS??? Give me a break! Those traditional recipes are so high in calories and Weight Watchers points. Just look at the whole meals, the pies and rich desserts you can have for a whole eight points, see the Eight-point recipes. Heavens, look how many whole meals, soups, salads and desserts you can have for FOUR points, see Four-point recipes. So for a little apple salad to add up to ten or twelve points and now sixteen points? To quote one of my two favorite seven-year olds? "That's craaaay-zee."

How Did I Give Waldorf Salad a Recipe Makeover?

Frankly, this one was easy.

I substituted full-fat mayonnaise with non-fat yogurt. In Waldorf Salad, mayonnaise serves as a binder, holding all the apples, celery and walnuts together. This means that the fat in mayonnaise just isn't missed.
I increased the volume of the plant-based ingredients, apple, celery, walnuts and lemon.
First up, I added more fiber-rich and flavorful apple. Isn't Waldorf Salad, after all, supposed to be an apple salad?
I also increased the fiber-rich and low-calorie celery, chopping it small so that the apple still stays front and center. Celery adds great crunch, it helps us eat more slowly.
I made sure the walnuts were toasted, that increases their flavor. I used fewer walnuts too, but still, a generous tablespoon per cup.
I bumped up the flavor of the overall salad, using vanilla yogurt, adding the zest of a lemon and kissing it all with nutmeg.
But I kept the serving size at a full cup, even though other Kitchen Parade recipes often use a half cup as the serving size. But compared to the traditional recipe, it just didn’t seem like a fair fight to reduce the calories by 87%. I was still trying, you know, to compare "apples to apples".

Regular Readers: Would you like more recipe makeovers like this one for Healthy Waldorf Salad? Give me some ideas in the comments, which dishes you'd most like to see made over? I'll do my best!

More Apple Desserts!
(If Only to Prove I'm Not Averse to Good Desserts)

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
Baked Apples Naturally Sweetened Apple Butter Extra-Crispy Apple Crisp

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