Burnt Sugar Bundt Cake

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I sometimes wonder if cookbook readers’ favorite books get dog-eared more from repeated reading than from actual cooking. Pages crease, folded to mark every can’t-wait-to-make-that recipe. Book jackets tear from too many jostle-y trips around town in backpacks or book bags. Book spines bruise when they topple to the floor from the hands of bedtime readers, fallen asleep dreaming of the recipes between those covers.

Take my copy of Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s “Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented,” from their Baked bakery in Brooklyn, for example. I love this book in a Velveteen Rabbit way, and it shows. I carry Baked around with me to my kids dance classes, soccer games and play practice, filling the usual waiting-for-kids moments with Matt’s reminiscences of the childhood sweets that inspired him to create this or that new dessert (Orange Creamsicle Tart, Peaches and Dream Pie) I’ve taken it repeatedly to the grocery store, stocking up on ingredients for when the moment to bake like Baked arises. It’s often my bedtime reading, too, which explains the dents on the spine. But lately, finally, it’s getting worn the best way a cookbook can: stained and splotched with inevitable egg and butter dots as I actually use it to bake.

As I write this, I am enjoying the aroma of Matt’s Burnt Sugar Bundt cake baking in the oven. That recipe–like a lot of the others in this book, balances just the right ratio of history (burnt sugar cakes are an old and beloved American tradition), practicality (it’s a bundt cake, for God’s sake!) and artistry (it’s decorated with stained-glass-like shards of burnt sugar.)

I’ve been asked repeatedly to find burnt sugar cake recipes. One very old one from Texas comes to mind, as do several others from community cookbooks. The history of the cake is a bit vague, although the 2004-published Pennsylvania Trail of History Cookbook suggests that the cake, like much other culinary deliciousness, was the product of an accident: “Burnt sugar, an accident in the maple sugaring process–usually caused by an inattentive maker–was put to use in flavoring cakes.” But this bundt from Baked of Brooklyn is an interesting re-think on the theme, contemporized with coconut milk and rum in the mix, plus pretty sugar shards on top.

There’s also the bundt-ability of it. Bundt cakes, it seems, vaulted to stardom in the ’60s, years after the bundt pan was invented. According to Jean Anderson, writing in her “American Century Cookbook,” a group of Minneapolis ladies asked Nordic Ware owner H. David Dalquist to make an aluminum version of European cast-iron kugelhupf pan in 1950. He obliged, but it wasn’t until Good Housekeeping Cookbook ran a picture of a pound-cake bundt 10 years later that the pan–and the cake–took off. And so, without further ado, here’s Baked’s Burnt Sugar Bundt recipe

Makes 1, 10-inch Bundt cake

For the burnt-sugar syrup: Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • about 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

Bundt Cake Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (2 1/2 sticks) cut into 1-inch cubes, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Burnt Sugar liquid (see above)

 

Caramel Rum Frosting Ingredients

  •  1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp dark rum
  • 2 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • Burnt Sugar Liquid (see above)

Sugar Shard Garnish Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp water

Instructions

  1. Make burnt sugar liquid: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, slowly melt the sugar. Use a wooden spoon to stir it continuously to ensure even melting. When the sugar turns a dark caramel color (it will start smoking just at this point) remove the pan from the heat and slowly stream in the cream while continuing to stir (don’t worry if mixture clumps.) Return pan to medium heat and stir until completely combined; cook for 2 minutes longer, stirring.
  2. Transfer the burnt caramel mixture to a 2-cup heatproof glass measuring cup and add enough coconut milk to make 1 1/2 cups liquid. Add lemon juice. Using a small whisk, whisk to combine all, scraping any caramel that clings to the sides of the cup. Divide the mixture in half; set both portions aside.
  3. Make the bundt cake: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously spray the inside of a 10-inch bundt cake pan with nonstick cooking spray, or, butter it thoroughly, dust with flour and knock out excess flour. In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Scrape down bowl and add eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add vanilla and beat for 5 more seconds. Retrieve one of the reserved portions of burnt sugar liquid. Add flour mixture to standing mixer bowl in three parts, alternating with the burnt sugar liquid, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl and beat again for 10 seconds. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a sharp knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen sides of cake from pan and turn it out onto the rack.
  4. Make the caramel rum frosting: Put the butter, rum, confectioners’ sugar and remaining portion of burnt sugar liquid in a food processor. Pulse in short bursts, scraping sides of bowl as necessary, until frosting is shiny and smooth. It will be a bit liquid, but will firm up in the refrigerator. Note: You can add more confectioners’ sugar for a firmer frosting. You can also subsitute 1 tsp vanilla for the rum. We added both vanilla and rum, plus some salt for a salted caramel frosting effect.
  5. Optional garnish: Place 1/2 cup sugar in small saucepan. Add 1 tsp water and mix to make sugar the texture of damp sand. Cook over high heat until sugar dissolved and turns amber, stirring constantly. Pour caramel onto a sheet pan lined with a Silpat (or other silicone nonstick liner). Be sure to pour on the silpat rather thinly. Cool. Break into small shards. Note: Don’t worry about the candy residue on the pan: just soak in hot water and it will easily dissolve.
  6. Assemble cake: Using an offset spatula, spread slightly chilled frosting over the crown of the Bundt cake in a thick layer. Top with caramel shards. Let frosting set before serving. Cake will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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