My mother-in-law’s birthday was coming up and I knew I wanted to bake her something special. I tend to tell people to just send me a recipe of whatever they want and I will make it. This year, I knew I wanted to make something a little more elaborate and make it more of my own. She loves salted caramel anything, so it was a good basis to build the perfect cake around.
Once I decided around the salted caramel theme, I then debated back and forth on the cake flavor. Do I do a caramel cake? A chocolate cake? Vanilla? And then I remember seeing a browned butter cake and it sounding wonderful. Not too chocolate-y, not too sweet, it was just what the cake needed to balance out all of the sweeter elements.
Since I have recently become obsessed with making macarons and figuring out the perfect recipe that works for my oven, I decided why not make salted caramel macarons and use them as a beautiful cake topper. They were a hit! That recipe will be up at some point…it is still a work in progress. Anyone that has tried making them before knows how incredibly tedious they are to make perfect, but more on that later.
Getting back to the recipe, you will need a candy thermometer for the Italian meringue buttercream. Because you are making a simple syrup, you need the sugar to be at the perfect temperature to create the perfect meringue. I have seen different methods on knowing what the right temperature is without having a thermometer, but it all seemed way too complicated. I think I picked mine up at Walmart for around ten dollars, but amazon sells thousands of them for super cheap! Trust me, you will thank me later.
If you have never had Italian meringue buttercream (I hadn’t until making this recipe), then you are sorely missing out on this silky and smooth buttercream. If you did not know, there are four main types of buttercream used throughout the baking realm:
⇒ American Buttercream: Typically made with butter, powdered sugar, milk and vanilla. Super quick and easy to whip up in no time. It tends to be the sweetest of the four (are we even surprised?).
⇒ Swiss Meringue Buttercream: Made by whipping together egg whites and sugar that has been gently heated in a double boiler until the sugar dissolves and the eggs are cooked. Once the sugar has dissolved, the mixture is whipped into a meringue. Butter is then gradually added to make the perfect light and fluffy buttercream.
⇒ Italian Meringue Buttercream: Similar to the Swiss Meringue method, the Italian Meringue method is made by cooking a simple sugar syrup and adding it to a whipped egg white mixture. Butter is then added to create a beautifully rich and super glossy buttercream.
⇒ French Meringue Buttercream: Made with egg yolks, the French Meringue method can be the hardest to make. It involves adding a simple sugar syrup into the egg yolks, which can scramble easily if not done correctly. But if made correctly, it is ultra rich and smooth.
The Swiss, Italian and French method all tend to be not as sweet as the American buttercream, but allows for any type of flavor variation to be added. I want to try out the Swiss meringue method next, as so many people talk about it being their favorite!
What are your guys favorite variations of buttercream? I am always adding to my list of what to make next. Let me know if you end up making any part of this recipe! It was a huge hit in our family and I will definitely be making it again. Enjoy!
•Brown Butter Cake•
300g unsalted butter
330g granulated sugar
360g all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
•Salted Caramel Sauce•
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) room temperature unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp salt
•Salted Caramel Italian Meringue Buttercream•
1 1/4 cup + 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
9 room temperature egg whites
1 tsp cream of tartar
6 sticks room temperature unsalted butter
1-2 cups salted caramel sauce (depending on personal taste)
» For browing butter:
› You can do this two different ways, in the microwave or on the stove. I have done both and both work just fine. I think that I prefer browning it on the stove but with that you have a higher chance of burning it quicker.
› For the microwave: Put the butter in a microwave-safe (I love my pyrex) bowl and cover it with a microwave-safe saucer or plate. Microwave on high for 3-5 minutes, depending on the amount and intensity of your microwave. The butter will melt, then start to pop and begin to brown. Don’t be scared to do this, you want a deep brown color (makes for a better flavor). Cool completely before using.
› On the stove: Put the butter in a small saucepan on a low to medium heat and stir until it is melted completely. Continue cooking, stirring frequently (this is one of those things you keep your eye on the entire time) until it starts to turn brown and gives off a nutty smell, about 5 minutes or so. Make sure to not let it burn – it continues to cook even after you take if off the heat so take it off a little earlier than you think. Poor into a heat proof bowl.
› You will have little browned bits at the bottom of your butter with either method you use. That is to be expected – so don’t panic. Let chill in the fridge until butter is starting to solidify and is still soft (about 30 minutes to an hour).
» For the cake:
› Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three 7 inch (or four 6 inch) round cake tins. Line tins with parchment paper.
› Combine your flour and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside. In a measuring cup, combine your milk and vanilla extract and set aside as well.
› Beat together your browned butter (browned bits and all) and sugar on high for 3-5 minutes, until it goes pale in color and creamy. Reduce your speed to a medium-low speed and add one egg at a time, beating well after each one.
› Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture (I added 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 of the milk mixture, and so on). Beat until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
› Pour equal amounts of batter into your lined cake tins (you can eye ball this or weigh them out equally like I did). Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the outside is a golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.
› Cool in the tins for 15 minutes before overturning onto a wire wrack to finish cooling. Make sure cakes are COMPLETELY cooled before adding buttercream or it will turn into a disaster site and melt everywhere. They can be stored in an airtight container overnight.
» For the salted caramel sauce:
› In a 2-3 quart saucepan, begin melting the sugar over a medium to high heat. Whisk it as it begins to melt. You will have clumps form as the sugar starts to melt, but they will break back down. You do not want to take your eye off of your caramel, it is precious and something could go wrong the second you step away. Once all of your sugar has melted, stop whisking. You may swirl the pan occasionally as it continues to cook.
› Continue cooking until the sugar has reached a deep amber color and develops a nice nutty aroma. This is where it can get a bit tricky. You walk a fine line between a beautiful, deep caramel and something burnt heading for the trash. When I first started making caramel, I probably took it off a bit early, but I would rather have lighter caramel then burnt caramel.
› As soon as you think it has reached it’s “sweet spot,” add in all of the butter. The caramel will bubble up vigorously, but stand your ground and whisk until all the butter is fully incorporated. Remove from the heat.
› Slowly pour in the cream. Again, it was bubble up vigorously but stand your ground and continue to whisk until the cream is completely incorporated. Add in the salt and mix..
› Let the caramel cool completely to room temperature before adding to the buttercream. I made this first and stuck it in the fridge to cool while I made the buttercream. It can be stored in the fridge for up to one month.
» For the buttercream:
› Combine the 1 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and water to a small saucepan. Swirl around 1-2 times until water completely covers the sugar. Bring to a boil over a medium to high heat. Use a candy thermometer to accurately measure the temperature of the syrup (VERY important). When the sugar syrup reaches 110C (220F), start beating your egg whites in a stand mixture (or with a hand mixture like I did) fitted with a whisk attachment.
› Start on a low to medium speed and get the egg whites nice and frothy (this helps break up the protein in the egg whites). Once they are frothy, sprinkle in the cream of tarter and the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar. Increase the speed to medium/high and beat until stiff peaks form.
› When the syrup reaches 118C (246F), pour it along the side of the bowl in a slow and steady stream while the meringue continues to mix on a medium to high speed. Whisk the meringue until the bowl is cool to the touch, about 6-8 minutes. You should have nice stiff peaks and the meringue should not move when you turn the bowl upside down.
⇒ Special note: The goal is the have the syrup at the right temperature and the egg whites at the stiff peak stage at the same time. It is better to have the egg whites ready first rather than the syrup. If the syrup is not quite ready but you have hit the stiff peaks stage, turn the mixer to the lowest speed until the syrup is ready. If the syrup is ready before the egg whites, add a very small amount of hot water (not cold) to lower the temperature slightly.
› Once the meringue is completely cooled, turn the mixer to a low speed and start adding in the butter 2-3 tablespoons at a time. Allow the butter to become incorporated before adding more. Continue until all the butter is added.
⇒ NOW, this is where it can get a bit hairy. Every time I have made this there comes a point where all the butter is added and it begins to look curdled and thin. THIS IS NORMAL. Just continue beating, it will smooth out. I promise it gets worse before it gets better. If it does not incorporate after awhile, your butter may be too warm. Just pop it in the fridge for 20-30 minutes and then beat until smooth.
› Add in 1-2 cups of salted caramel sauce, depending on the intensity you want it to be. I think I added about 2 cups because I really wanted the salted caramel flavor to stand out.
› The buttercream can be stored for up to a week in the fridge and a month in the freezer. It is important to bring the buttercream up to room temperature slowly, as to not melt the butter in the process. Leave it out on the counter until it reaches room temperature. Once it is at room temperature, beat for a few minutes until smooth and creamy. If it gets too warm, place back into the fridge for a few minutes.
» Assembling the cake:
› Using a large serrated knife (or a fancy cake leveler), trim the top off each layer of cake to make even and flat layers. Try to get them all the same height.
⇒ One easy way to do this is to find the lowest height of the cake, place a toothpick next to that point and mark it. As you go around each side of the cake cutting it, use the marked skewer to make sure each cut is at the same height.
› For the crumb coat, add a small amount of frosting onto an 8 inch cake board or serving plate. Add the first cake layer. Use a small spatula to add a layer of frosting. Smooth it out and add the next layer of cake. Repeat the process until all of your layers are on top of each other. Add more frosting around the outside of the cake to fill in the grooves between each layer. This should be a neat thin layer of frosting which is supposed to trap any cake crumbs from showing up on the outside of the cake. Let the cake chill for 2 hours or overnight.
› Once your cake has chilled, add a fresh layer of frosting using a small offset spatula. Use a cake scraper to smooth out the frosting around the sides. Then smooth out the top using the cake scraper.
⇒ Side note: A big thing right now is making sure your cake is the smoothest cake with the sharpest edges. This takes lots of work and practice. I am still working on making my cakes perfectly smooth and sharp. So don’t get down on yourself if your cake doesn’t look “picture perfect” because you’ve worked damn hard on it!
› To finish off the cake I added a caramel drip with the leftover caramel I had, piped swirls on top with a Wilton 1M piping nozzle and topped everything off with my salted caramel macarons (recipe coming later – I am still working on the perfect macaron recipe that works for my oven). You can really make this your own! Be creative – add sprinkles, gold dust, a chocolate drip – it is a way to be as artistic as you want. Enjoy!