Recipe and Photography by Anita Chu
Don’t let the simple appearance of this cake deceive you. I decided to take a basic vanilla cake and use one of my favorite techniques, browning butter, to oomph up the flavor. Browning will turn the simple taste of butter into a fabulous melange of caramel, nutty, and butterscotch, adding a lovely complexity to whatever you add it to. It also gives the cake a delicate creamy yellow color. The cake is then layered with a rich chocolate ganache and an innocuously pale buttercream, with a sweet golden taste of caramel. It all makes for a richly sweet cake to welcome spring.
Browned Butter Cake
makes (2) 9-inch round layers
12 ounces unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk, room temperature
To make the cake: Cut butter into 1-inch pieces and place in a medium saucepan. Cook on medium-high heat until the butter begins to turn brown and smell nutty. Swirl the pan so the butter cooks evenly.
When butter is rich brown (you can leave it lighter for a more subtle flavor, but don’t let it get too dark and burn), remove from heat. Place melted butter in a container and refrigerate for an hour until butter has resolidified.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9-inch round pans.
Place solid browned butter in a stand mixer. Beat on medium until it softens and becomes creamy.
Add sugar and beat until it goes from dry and clumpy to fluffy and smooth. It may take a few minutes.
Add in eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating between each addition, until fully incorporated. Add in the vanilla bean paste and mix until combined.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
With mixer set on slow, add in flour mixture and milk in 5 additions, starting and ending with the flour. Beat just until incorporated.
Divide batter between the two pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove and place on wire racks. Run a knife around the edges for easier removal. Let cool for about 20 minutes and then invert pans to remove cakes. Let them finish cooling before decorating.
Whipped Chocolate Ganache
8 ounces semisweet chocolate (around 70-75%), finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
Place chocolate into a medium heatproof bowl.
Place cream in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat just until it comes to a simmer.
Pour cream over chocolate and let sit for a minute before stirring to combine. Stir until chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is smooth.
Pour into a container and chill in refrigerator for an hour until it is firm.
Place ganache in a stand mixer and whip with whisk attachment until it is light and fluffy. Do not overwhip or it will become dry and crumbly, just like overwhipped cream.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
To make the caramel: Place sugar into a small saucepan and add enough water to give it the texture of wet sand.
Cook sugar on low heat until it has dissolved.
Raise heat to high and let cook until it turns golden. Do not leave it unattended – it can burn very quickly.
Meanwhile, place cream in glass measuring cup and microwave for about 30 seconds just until the cream is warm. Or, you can heat it in another saucepan on the stove.
Once the sugar has turned golden brown, remove from heat. Pour in cream in a slow stream and whisk to incorporate. If any hard chunks of caramel form you can place over medium heat to melt.
Let caramel cool and thicken while you make the buttercream.
3/4 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
Combine the sugar and egg whites in a medium metal bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.
Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny. Continue whisking until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F.
Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled.
Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth. Do not add the butter too quickly or beat too quickly or the buttercream may break.
When all the butter has been added, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth. It may appear to separate briefly but continue beating and it should come back together.
Be sure the caramel is still liquid and flows thickly. If it has cooled too much and solidified, warm it up slightly on the stove. Add the caramel to the buttercream and beat to combine.
The buttercream is ready to be used. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it, to prevent it from drying out.
To assemble the cake: Level off cake layers if necessary. Place one cake layer on a cake board or cake decorating stand.
Spread the whipped chocolate ganache over the layer evenly. You can reserve about half a cup for decorating the top of the cake, if you want.
Place the second cake on top.
Spread a crumb coat of caramel buttercream over the top and sides of cake. Refrigerate for about an hour to let the frosting set.
Spread the rest of the caramel buttercream over the top and sides of cake with an offset spatula.