salted caramel cinnamon cake

After September all but flew by, I was hoping to savor October. Weekdays spent at the Market, weekends out at the orchard, coffee dates and movie nights, windbreakers and sturdy boots, bright buckets of Halloween candy and gourds adorning doorsteps. All the makings of a good autumn month.

And funnily enough, all the above came to pass. I just seem to have missed my chance to savor it.

Now we’re well into November, and I feel like each day slips through my fingers before I even realize I have a hold of it. So when Zach told me he would be out of town on Friday for nationals up in PA – on his birthday no less – I decided I couldn’t let the day go by uncelebrated.

Even if it is still a bit early.

This cake is, admittedly, an updated version of the one I made him last year. Not so new, but I do think a bit improved. A butter-based frosting, omission of the cream cheese, and a layer of dulce de leche to bring it all together.

And, of course, a reminder of a summer well past; one spent exploring Valencian streets and Granadan bazaars, conversing with locals in our broken accents, strolling past nondescript bookstores and boutiques, the familiar scents of churros interrupting our conversations on our way home from a day of class. It’s hard to believe, sometimes, that our trip was over a year ago. So in the hopes of rekindling the flame, so to speak, this cake was made with those days in mind – and in particular, Zach’s insatiable love of churros. For the occasion, I chose cinnamon as the spicy backdrop for a mountain of salted caramel; a perfect marriage of flavors for a trip down Valencian avenues.

And quite fittingly, I’m sitting on Zach’s couch right now, taking a break in between working on Spanish essays and Super Smash Brothers Brawl matches to write.

I guess some things never change.

Salted Caramel Cinnamon Cake
A BakedBeen original; frosting inspired by cucina nicolina

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups AP flour
  • 1 heaping tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Ingredients for the dulce-de-leche:

  • 1 14-oz can dulce de leche
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream

Ingredients for the salted caramel frosting:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 heaping tsp salt
  • 1 cup [2 sticks] butter, softened
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Ingredients for the salted caramel shards:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp fleur de sel

Method to prepare the cake:

Preheat oven to 350F and grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans. Beat eggs and sugar on medium speed until blended. Add milk and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Lower the speed, add flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt, and beat until just incorporated.

Divide batter evenly among the three pans and bake until set, about 25 mins. Allow cakes to cool completely.

Method to prepare the dulce de leche:

Spoon dulce de leche out into a medium bowl along with the tbsp of heavy cream. Beat on medium-high speed for about 30 seconds, to loosen the caramel. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate until using.

Method to prepare the salted caramel shards:

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium-high flame, whisk sugar and water until sugar dissolves. Once the syrup starts to bubble, stop whisking. Allow syrup to heat, undisturbed, until it turns a bright amber color, 10-12 mins. Once this happens, quickly remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the syrup over the aluminum foil, allowing it to spread into a thin layer. Sprinkle the fleur de sel evenly over the caramel.

Allow the caramel to harden, about 30 mins, before peeling it off the aluminum foil. Break the caramel into shards with your hands, and for smaller pieces, chop with a sizable kitchen knife. Keep shards in an airtight container at room temperature until using. Shards can be made up to 3 days in advance.

Method to prepare the salted caramel frosting:

Whisk water and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high flame. Once the sugar dissolves, stop whisking. Allow syrup to come to a boil, and let it simmer until it turns a dark amber color, 6-8 mins. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the heavy cream and vanilla, whisking as the liquid is added. The syrup will harden and sizzle up spectacularly, but don’t panic. Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth, and then whisk in the salt. Set the caramel aside and allow it to cool to room temperature, about 30 mins.

In a large bowl, cream the butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 mins. Reduce the speed and slowly pour in the salted caramel. Once incorporated, gradually add the powdered sugar and beat until incorporated. Frosting is best used immediately.

Assembly:

Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate. Using half of the dulce-de-leche, spread a thin layer on the cake. Top the caramel with a generous amount of frosting, and spread evenly. Add the second layer of cake on top and repeat the process with a layer of the dulce de leche and a layer of frosting. Add the remaining layer on top of the second. Frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Garnish with chopped salted caramel shards. Refrigerate the cake until serving.

Notes:

  • To make the assembly process a bit easier, stick the cake in the fridge for 15-20 mins once you’ve added the third layer – before you frost the sides. Once removed from the fridge, spread a thin crumb coat over the entirety of the cake, and return the cake to the fridge for another 10-15 mins. Resume frosting the cake with the remainder of the salted caramel frosting.
  • If you find your layers slipping from side to side – as I frequently do with layered cakes – drive 4 toothpicks through the top layer into the second, placing them evenly around the edges of the cake. Just let your cake-eaters know so they don’t hurt themselves!

The dessert is pretty much perfection. The actual cake is a bit dry on its own, but works well with the richness of the frosting. Still, if it’s not quite up to your liking, I’d recommending pouring a bit of simple syrup over top once the layers have cooled – it’ll keep it well and moist, I assure you. The frosting, though, is kind of unbeatable. I was licking it by the spoonful as I pranced about the kitchen, pulling plates and frosting knives out of cabinets and drawers and generally making an enormous ruckus. A good way to spend an evening before driving over – with Noosh, of course – to visit our boys.

Zach and I have been friends for four years now – close ones at that – and after the marvelous party he, Michael, and Jeremy very graciously threw for my 21st a few weeks ago (has it already been that long?), I had to do something to repay the gesture. In some small way. And, you know, cake never fails.

So this I dedicate to you, my darling Zach (and my Michael and my Jeremy!), for 4 years of amazing dinner parties, kicking ass and taking names in video games, Spanish essays and calc exam sessions, spending those sessions eating our depression away in pints of B&Js and bags of pita chips, summer nights at the Monticello and winter evenings with Star Trek, and all the moments in between. I’ll never be able to look at a churro without thinking of our long walks through Valencia, or a bowl of salted caramel frosting without fond visions of flamenco dances and Spanish beaches. Thanks for all the memories, kid.

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