Saturday, May 21, 2011

caramel cake

warm and sticky
like a rainbow lolly half eaten. forgotten in the crease of the car seat.
three showers a day
couldn't keep me felling fresh
add to it
a severe case of chiggers
itchy feet
my face swollen to near paralysis
and
you find yourself
smack dab in the middle of one of my favorite food moments

Mississippi 2010-Hubster's Family Reunion

I had been obsessed about caramel cake since reading about Minnie's version of it, in the novel The Help. It is a beautifully written story about fictitious people, weaving through real life. It was captivating.  Almost as captivating as its descriptions of food.

I can't help myself.
I spent the whole "girl with the dragon tattoo" trilogy wondering if people in Sweden actually eat that many sandwiches.

but i digress

Hubster and I were mid-stop in our three week southern states roadtrip, when we hit Mississippi.  I had long forgotten my barbecue binges in Texas and my creole cravings in New Orleans. We were crossing the state line, and i needed caramel cake.
As we drove through some of the most beautiful country
green as the hills of Ireland
with scattered towns
population- merely a blip
I frantically dug through travel books/notes/the web, looking for a bakery, or a sign
touting
BEST CARAMEL CAKE EVER!

nothin'

We were in Mississippi for a family reunion, not a cake walk.  So, I settled in. 
Kind of
  Not really

About 3 days in, the men went golfing.  The remainder of the family was doing other things. I'm not sure, I didn't ask, I was on a mission. I spent an hour that morning with one last ditch effort, searching the web.
i spotted it
A place called Buck's One Stop in Calhoun City
a mere 70 miles away
I'm from Los Angeles. It takes and hour to go 15 miles.  70 miles on open roads? Total breeze

The GPS was slightly off and took me to a dead end street, in a not so friendly neighborhood.  I thought to myself, this is the South, it could be that Buck was making cakes in his garage.  It could happen.  I almost knocked on the door, then thought better of it.  Because I was alone and without cell coverage, I figured i'd best to make one more pass down main street.
no buck's one stop
no buck anything
I did, however, happen upon a parking lot crowded with cars.  A make-shift sign on the front door of the building named the place Bubba T's.  It seemed nice. Actually, it seemed like a community center, possibly serving meals to the homeless.
Really hearty meals of richly smoked meats and slow braised greens
 in an all you can eat fashion
self portioned,
from a modge podge of steam pans

I got in line
Wondering if perhaps, this wasn't an invitation only, memorial luncheon for Bubba T.

I gathered my courage while filling my plate, silently practicing my lines and voice inflection.  The minute I opened my mouth, I was a tell.  Not from around here, certainly not Bubba's kin.  Thankfully, I noticed a small cashier's sign in the far corner of the room. Behind the register sat the most adorable priscilla presley circa 1968 look alike. while she tallied my bill,  we made small talk. yes, i am from out of town, yes, it is hot enough for me, no, i don't need napkins. 
And then I did it. I asked if she knew Buck's One Stop. Her reply, "Yep. The Texaco. You need gas?" First of all, I was standing there, paying for a loaded plate of food, including some sort of pudding-I wasn't going to admit I was looking for more food.  Secondly, I was embarrassed.  Embarrassed that I had driven 70 miles to buy cake I had read about in a book and that I may or may not have crashed a funeral lunch. So, I lied.
Yes, I need gas

I almost didn't stop at the Texaco which, by the way, was no longer Buck's, it had been sold to Mark. But in the spirit of optimism, I held out hope. I've experienced great food at truck stops in Italy, it could happen in Calhoun City.

Nearly a full year has passed yet that day remains an indelible memory.  I can see the patrons, hear the sounds, feel the arctic blast of air rushing me like a wave as i opened the grimy gas station door.  At first glance it looked like every road-side station snack shop--cigarettes, candy, gum, chips. 
And then
I saw it
I felt like Tony Orlando, but instead of yellow ribbons, I saw cakes and pies.
Right there, in the Texaco station, in the township of Calhoun City, population 1770, were the most beautiful, freshly baked cakes I had ever laid eyes on. Including, the object of my obsession.
caramel cake
sky high and drenched in icing
a single slice
flanked by
strawberry cake and coconut cream pie
Behind the counter was the proprietress, amply bosomed, kind-faced and seemingly unaware that people drive miles for her confections. As she and I locked eyes over the counter, my heart sank.  Just one piece remaining. A generous slice, but a single slice, none-the-less.  How was I going to eat the slice of cake while still sharing it with others? Apparently,my lips were moving and I was muttering it out loud.  To which the nice lady gave me a great big smile and pointed at a floor to ceiling shelving unit, stacked with pink boxes.

pink boxes of cake

My heart jumped. I may have shed a tear. I think I giggled a bit.  I was prepared to sell my soul. And had this been Los Angeles, I might have had to.  Because I walked out of there with 2 whole cakes--one caramel, one strawberry--an additional slice of each (for tasting purposes), and maybe some pie. I'm not exactly admitting to the pie. I'm just saying, they sold pie too.

My version of caramel cake tastes pretty close to what I remember from Calhoun City.  It combines a tender crumb white cake with a rich and sugary poured icing.

  Caramel Cake
white velvet butter cake
from rose levy birnbaum
4 oz egg whites--room temperature
1 cup whole milk--divided--room temperature
2 1/4 tsp vanilla
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbs + 1 tsp baking powder
12 Tbs unsalted butter-room temperature
1/4 tsp kosher salt (my addition)
In a mixer combine all the dry ingredients, and mix for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and mix until the flour gets crumbly. Stir in 1/4 cup of the milk and bring the speed to medium high and beat for about 30 seconds.  In a bowl, stir together the egg whites, milk and vanilla.  Add to the dry ingredients in 3 additions, scraping down the sides and beating for about 5-10 seconds after each addition. Do not over mix, but make sure it is all incorporated.  Pour into 2-7" cake tins, which you have parchment lined and greased.   smooth the batter and bake in a preheated 350 oven for approximately 35 minutes.  Bake until a tester comes out clean.
Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn over onto cooling rack and allow to cool completely.  Slice each round into two horizontally to make 4 layers total.

Caramel Icing
2 cups light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
2 Tbs real maple syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
Bring brown sugar, butter, milk, maple syrup and salt to a simmer.  Simmer just until the sugar is no longer grainy, don't let it boil.  Remove from heat and add vanilla, stirring constantly.  Allow to cool just slightly...so that it isn't scorching hot, but nicely warm.  Whisk in powdered sugar.  You have to work fast, this will set up rather quickly.  Pour icing on each layer as you stack it, you don't want it to completely pour over the sides, but it can drip over without issue.  once all the layers are set, pour the remaining icing over the top using a ladle.  use the bottom of the ladle to coax the icing over the sides to cover completely.
sprinkle pecans on top

*full disclosure
i love this frosting, so i make 1 batch and allow it to cool a bit, then spread like frosting between the layers. this gives me a bit thicker layer of filling.  i then make a second batch and completely bathe the cake in it. it is my preferred method...but 1 batch of icing will work as well.

61 comments:

  1. Love this cake and travel tale. Bravo for creating the recipe...a pure Bijouxs.

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  2. All I wanted after I read the Help was a caramel cake too! I love when you find good food in the most unlikely of places, great story!

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  3. holly cow this cake looks amazing!

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  4. wow. caramel never looked so good. loves it, thanks for the post!
    -meg
    @http://clutzycooking.blogspot.com

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  5. What a fabulous story Christy!!! That is too fun. And the cake looks amazing!!

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  6. @jenH so glad to have found someone else willing to admit the real star of that book was the cake ;)

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  7. Loving this recipe! (and the story of the hunt ;o)

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  8. Happened upon your blog via Pinterest and my jaw almost hit the floor when I read your query about people in Sweden eating a lot of sandwiches. ME, TOO! That was on my mind the whole time I poured through those books! Happy to have found another Sister of the Spoon (or Spatula)...LOL! As for the carmel cake...looks divine. I'll be baking this one very soon :) Thanks for the story, the recipe, and the laugh!

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    Replies
    1. cheryl...thanks for popping by and for the kind words. nice to meet you too. if you pop back in, tell me where to find you! headed over to pinterest now to see if i can follow you there :)
      best
      christy

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    2. hello how many eggs does it need to make 4 ounces of egg whites.sorry to ask such a silly question.gonna make this for next gathering.thank you.

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  9. Ended up here per pinterest. Ok, I am about 25 miles from Calhoun City, Ms, and I hope this tale is not waaaayyy out there, because you have me wanting one of these caramel cakes, and I am going to check out the Texaco station! Are you serious, they really have these cakes??

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    Replies
    1. yes..i am very serious! you must go...and bring a big car because you will want to buy one of everything!

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  10. Christy, I stumbled across your cake story and have gotten a good laugh. Im from calhoun county about 15 minutes from Bucks and have also experienced the pure heaven in a bite of their caramel cake! So glad you had the chance to experience that as well.

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    Replies
    1. oh courtney...i don't know if i have ever felt more envious in my life! your county is beautiful and the cakes...oh the cakes :)
      thanks for stopping by!

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    2. Sandra December19,20121 1:10pm


      I have my mother's recipe for carmel icing but comes out almost the same we bwown our sugar add it to the sugar and milk then add the butter and vanilla and as my children say you run before you are ask to beat until it thickens. Best eating yet!!!! nothing like it!!! I am from MS but live in CA and every time I make it everyone wants the recipe!! NOT giving it my mother's secret!!!

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    3. anon...i don't blame you...i have a few recipes that i won't share either! these types of icing remind me of pralines...ooh so gooey and yummy...and they give you popeye forearms with all the stirring!
      thanks for popping in and saying hi!
      christy

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  11. Wow..found this on facebook..decided to have a look. And now...to give it a go for myself. Thank you and thank you again from a Mississippi girl!!!

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    Replies
    1. anon...i hope you love it as much as we do in our house!

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  12. I live in MS and I'm going to Calhoun City to find this Texaco!

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    Replies
    1. oh..if you do...can you post pics on our facebook page? https://www.facebook.com/fudgeripple

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  13. Holy Smoke!! I haven't had Caramel Cake yet but it won't be much longer.

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  14. As the wedding of a friend of mine approached, his fiance's parents, uptight military people from Hawaii, came here to the piney woods of Deep East Texas to meet him and be a part of the prenuptial festivities. One day for lunch he took them to one of our favorite places to eat -- the convenience store/gas station. They served really good soul food there, but the retired Colonel's assessment was, "Only in Texas can you get your lunch and gas at the same place." I know you know better, though. (I'm publishing as Anonymous to protect the innocent.)

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    Replies
    1. funny story....and for the record...gas stations with great food are my favorite places!

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  15. This is too funny. I have lived in Calhoun county, Ms. all my life. I have lived in Calhoun City but now live 10 minutes away in Vardaman, MS. The Caramel cake is really good but so are most of the rest of their desserts. By the way, Buck has resumed ownership of the Texaco! Lol! Next time you are in the great state of Mississippi..venture up the road to Vardaman..affectionately known as the "sweet potato capitol of the world". Here you can find great sweet potato pie and anything else you can possibly imagine made with sweet potatoes at the Sweet Potato sweet shop and the shell station called Wards short stop has fried chicken that has been nationally recognized! We may not be much to look at around here but there is plenty to eat.

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    Replies
    1. anon...you can't imagine my joy when i received this comment. calhoun county rocks! i can't believe i missed the goodies in vardaman...i'm now officially obsessed and am going to pester hubs until we make another trip! thanks for stopping in
      best
      christy

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  16. My friend posted this on Facebook asking if we thought it would work with gluten free flour. I told her I couldn't say, we buy all our caramel cakes from a very special gas station. Guess which one it is?

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    Replies
    1. natalie...i squealed with delight when i saw your comment. i'm so glad it wasn't that i had built the idea of the cake up so much that i had misconception of how great it is. i dream about that cake. some mornings i wake up and think..."wonder if i could convince hubs to go on another road trip to mississippi right now!" thank you for stopping by!
      best
      christy

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  17. I make a lot of cakes, and a friend of mine has been drooling over this cake for a while. So, I thought I'd make it for her. Well, it was very heavy and very dense. It didn't taste like a cake...more like bread. Another friend of mine has made it, too, and she said the same thing. The icing was amazing! I will be making that icing with my own caramel cake recipe from now on. I just wanted to let readers know if they are looking for a sweet "cake" (not icing), this is not the one for you!!

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    Replies
    1. thank you for your note...i would agree, the cake is not a sweet fluffy cake..but it is a true tested recipe belonging to a notable cake baker (it is not my recipe---but the frosting is). i paired this kind of cake with the frosting to mimic the cake i came to adore. personally, i am more of a frosting person, than a cake person, so i like the frosting to carry the whole thing...but if you found a cake recipe that works better for you...that is great. i love that you took the time to give this feedback. thanks again!

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  18. The cake part of this was awful. Driest, blandest cake ever.

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    Replies
    1. Abigail...i am so sorry to hear this. The cake is rose levy birnbaum's recipe...and i have not found it to be dry. It is meant to be less sweet to account for the very sweet icing....but i hate to hear that it is awful...but it is the second time someone has said it...which gives me pause. thank you for letting me know

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  19. Hey y'all! Need some advice. Baking is my favorite hobby and I have been looking everywhere for an easy yet good Carmel cake icing. I made this icing tonight but not the cake, I chose to make a butter cake from scratch, anyway I followed the icing recipe to the letter. It tasted perfect and had a smooth texture up until I put the confectioner sugar in. Then it turned gritty and the taste wasn't nearly as "caramel." I only put 2 cups of Conf. sugar in because I could tell it wasn't setting up right, if I would have put the other cup in it would have turned to fudge! Any advice would be great. I was thinking that next time I may just use the brown sugar and just add 1 more cup of brown sugar and not use the confectioner sugar. Thanks for the recipe and the story. I have some recipes, that being a Southerner, would blow your socks off! Much love, from South Carolina

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    Replies
    1. Baron....The "caramel" on this cake is much more of a praline consistency than a chewy caramel, It is that sort of dense, but immediately melt in your mouth icing, rather than a true caramel. If you want a chewy or even drippy kind of caramel....more like a sauce,(or liked the way it was before the confectioners) then i would try doubling the recipe in its entirety, but omit the confectioners. that might be really nice and exceptionally beautiful if you did it with a butter cake, baked in a bundt or decorative pan...and drawn over like a glaze.

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  20. So I made this icing tonight. I chose mot to use the cake recipe because I knew my family wouldn't dig the one posted. They love my yellow butter cake. It turned out perfect until I put the confectioner sugar in. By the 2nd cup it was so grainy that it tasted like sand in your mouth! I didn't put the 3rd cup of sugar in it or I would have had fudge. I followed the recipe to the letter. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I am a good ole Southern gentleman and have many southern cake recipes that you might be interested in. But please give me some feedback as to what I may have done wrong or what I could do differently. Thanks again!!

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    Replies
    1. Hey Baron. Would you share those recipes?

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  21. I am excited about trying this beautiful cake. I was reading reviews and would like to make a suggestion regarding the cake being dry. Most of the old cake recipes call for whole milk. If you are using 2% milk you will need to add 3 Tlbs of butter for each one cup of milk to increase the fat content. Your cake should not be dry.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your tip. It is also important to remember not to over-beat it. this cake is certainly nothing like a boxed cake...where they are moist beyond compare, but it is lovely...in my opinion.

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  22. I can't wait to try this cake and the icing! I'm sorry to have to tell you that your photos and ingredient's list appear on a scrapper site. They post the ingredient list on a site laden with advertising and then a link to your page with the instructions. I saw a post on Facebook with the photo from above linked to http://fourseasonsrecipes.com/caramel-white-velvet-butter-cake/. I did correct the original poster on Facebook, but I wanted to let you know.

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    Replies
    1. thank you so much. i noticed yesterday that there were quite a few people coming through that sight and attempted to get them to remove it...but as you can imagine, they haven't been very responsive. i appreciate you correcting the facebook poster....that was very kind of you.
      best,
      christy

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  23. Wow! This cake looks absolutely scrumptious. I'm definitely going to try this recipe.

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  24. It is the truth...Buck's in Calhoun City, MS has the best caramel cake ever made other than my husband's grandmother's cake. She lived in Slate Springs, MS. It's worth a trip just to get the cake. If visiting during the holidays, get your order placed early.

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  25. I haven't read the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, but I really wonder if Amish people have as many desserts and always, always have seconds like in the Beverly Louis books. And yes, EVERYTHING in the The Help sounded good.I considered watching those cooking lessons in the movie in slow-motion. You think they're authentic?

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  26. Christy, Caramel cake is a staple at all family gatherings and Church luncheons. Many of us learned a long time ago that the cake part is dry as others have commented. We have learned to compensate by adding a spoonful of ice cream to make the slice of cake a little closer to Heaven.

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    1. Dennis
      Thank you for this feedback. I find the drier cake just perfect for the sweet soft icing...but never thought of having a bit of ice cream with it. that WOULD make it just perfect. :)

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  27. Can you use salted butter and regular salt?

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    1. you can certainly use regular salt...and you can use salted butter...however, if you use salted butter, then you probably don't need the addition of salt in the recipe. I use unsalted butter so i can regulate the "saltiness" of the end result...but because the salt addition is minimal, if you use salted butter, just omit adding the salt. you should be fine....or if you tend to like things a bit on the salty-sweet side, you can add a generous pinch to the icing recipe. i use kosher salt as my all purpose salt...you can certainly substitute table salt.

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  28. Love this caramel cake from Bucks, it is so moist and yummy, we get one just about every time we go to my family there in Calhoun City, on Fridays they serve fried catfish for lunch and oh it is so good too.

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    1. Pamela--I think if I lived within 2 hours of calhoun city, i would be at Bucks every week. I am more than slightly envious of you!

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  29. Replies
    1. goodland...it depends on the size of the egg. the average is about 1 oz. you can either weigh the whites or using a measure cup...4 oz is 1/2 cup.

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  30. I can't wait to try this recipe. I really enjoyed your story. You should have your own column of road trips and recipes.

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    1. thank you Lisa! i love it when I have a good story to tell :)

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  31. I just recently found out, the best Caramel cake that I've ever had consisted of the icing being sweetened condensed milked boiled for 2-3 hours still in the can? Using a pot of water, boil a small can of sweetened condensed milk, I normally use 2-3 cans. refilling pot as needed. let can cool and walaa....can of caramel.

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  32. Hi Christy,

    When you say to use parchment paper and grease the pan, which do you do first?

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    1. kaycee...sorry for the delay in answering you. I grease the pan, put the parchment round in the bottom and then re-grease the round.

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  33. My fondest memories of growing up in the MS Delta include great caramel cakes my friends' mothers used to make (My Mom was not native Southerner) The pic of this caramel cake looks over-the-top delectible. I am visiting my beloved MS again in a month and can't wait to savor the sweetness of this Southern delight.

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  34. Well your cake certainly has garnered a lot of attention even here in Denmark, Nova Scotia, Canada! Found your cake through Pinterest and like many others read your tale of the quest for "the caramel cake". Actually was looking for a good caramel icing and although I chested and used a golden cake mix, had fabulous reviews for my efforts.

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