I have always loved the idea of caramel cakes. Yellow cake with a creamy caramel coating, it marries two of my favorite sweet indulgences so what could be better? I should confess that I am not a frosting person. I am one of those people who loves cake but scrapes every iota of the icing off before devouring the soft, moist cake. The fillings and frostings are necessary because they keep the cake from getting stale but there are very few of them that I will deign to eat. Although, the ones that are actually good enough for me to eat, I consume with great pleasure. Caramel frosting has been one of those elusive recipes that I've never quite conquered. Burnt sugar icing recipes abound, but they're never exactly what I want, they're always too...burnt. Caramel frostings are usually buttercreams and I loathe buttercream. For our wedding cake we were supposed to have a caramel pecan filling, it was a compromise because I don't like pecans but I love caramel, Alex loves both of them together. Anyway, I knew exactly what I wanted because caramel filling is one of those things that hasn't eluded me. I can make a caramel filling like no other, but what I got was a bloody caramel buttercream with very few nuts in it, a compromise that worked for neither of us in the end. We went to at least a dozen bakers before settling on the one to make our cake. Frankly, we could have gone with the first one and saved ourselves the trouble because although our guests enjoyed it, we were pretty unimpressed. But it was our wedding and you can't let a little thing like the cake ruin your day, even if you are incredibly picky and have spent days trying to find the right cake. I could mention the fact that many (though not all) caterers bank on the fact that events are usually special occasions and that people will be determined to enjoy them so that no matter how bad the food may be, the host will be unwilling or unable to admit it or to do something about it that may cause an unpleasant scene. But I'm digressing. After the wedding I was determined to bake my own caramel cake. It wasn't a mission that I worked on every day, rather something that hovered in the back of my mind and popped up whenever one of us or our guests had a yen for old fashioned cake. We've been married for over five years now and I've finally gotten it right. This cake was a triumph, everyone loved it. More importantly, I loved it and have eaten large pieces of it for breakfast for the last two days. It will be gone soon but that's okay because I can reproduce it and now so can you. Here's the recipe for caramel icing, adapted from Bert Greene's Kitchen Bouquets. By the way, Bert Greene wrote some wonderful cookbooks and if you ever come across them in a used bookstore they are definitely worth checking out.
1 cup whipping cream
2 1/4 cups light brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter (I used 1/4 cup)
2 teaspoons vanilla (I omitted this)
Combine cream and sugar in a heavy bottomed pan. Boil over low temperature till a 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture forms a soft ball when dropped in cold water, approximately 20 minutes. Place pan in cold water and stir in butter and vanilla until thick enough to spread. Use immediately. If the icing becomes too thick to spread beat in a few drops of boiling water.