I was happy to stare down my longtime nemesis, caramelizing sugar, in the syrup stage of this recipe. It worked the first time! The burnt sugar syrup lends a beautiful color to the cake, and a very distinct flavor that works well with the maple.
If you like stories about relationships and towns like Stars Hollow, you should definitely check out Louise Miller's books. The Late Bloomers' Club is more about the town and the relationship between two sisters, while The City Baker's Guide to Country Living is more focused on romance. Both are great reads and both have a lot of baking in them. The author, a pastry chef, can be followed in Instagram.
Burnt Sugar Cake with Maple Icing
For the syrup:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
For the cake:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
9 oz unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract*
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup burnt sugar syrup
For the icing:
1/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp heavy cream
To make the syrup
A quick note: Never walk away from sugar syrup and never touch it. Caramelizing sugar is an extremely hot process. Please use caution.
Place the sugar evenly in a pan and turn the burner on high (a cast-iron skillet is great for this). Let the sugar melt. You don't want to stir the sugar - it will form sugar crystals and clump up - but you can gently move the pan to swirl it. The sugar will dissolve, then start to turn light brown. While the sugar is cooking, boil the water. When the sugar has turned to a golden amber color and is smoking a bit, take it off the heat. Very carefully drizzle in the boiling water. It will sputter when you do this - make sure you are wearing long sleeves. Return the pan to the heat once all the water has been added, and stir until combined. Set aside to cool.
To make the cake
In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer), cream together the butter, sugar, and light brown sugar until it is light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla extract. In a separate small bowl, mix together the sour cream and 1/2 cup of burnt sugar syrup. You will have extra syrup. Save it - it's delicious in coffee!***
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter, sugar, and eggs, mixing just until the flour is incorporated, then add 1/3 of the sour cream/ burnt sugar mixture. Repeat until you have a uniform cake batter, taking care not to overmix. Scoop the batter into a well-greased 10-12 cup Bundt pan.
Bake at 350 F until the top springs back when you press it and a cake tester comes out clean, about 1 hour.**
Let cool completely before unmolding and icing.****
To make the icing
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter, salt, and confectioners sugar. Add the vanilla extract and maple syrup. Add the heavy cream 1 tbsp at a time, until the icing is a nice, spreadable consistency.
Place the cake on a platter. Using an offset spatula, spread the icing over the top of the cake.
*-I had maple extract in my pantry so I used 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp maple.
** - Knowing my Bundt pan, which is a garage sale find of the old metal variety, bakes hot, I checked at 45 minutes and it was done. Know your oven, know your pan, check early so you don't overbake.
*** - It's true! I added it to my cold brew coffee.
**** - Again, knowing my pan and how cooling sugar crystals can merge a cake with pan, I let it cool for 10 minutes and then turned it out to cool completely.