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Sep 8, 2010 06:12 PM

i need help with southern caramel cake icing!

I made the caramel cake in this month's food and wine magazine:

the cake came out beautifully, but the icing didn't work, it was too runny. i mixed it until cool but it wouldn't thicken. a friend of mine had made a similar cake the week before - hers didn't work either, but she had the opposite issue - the icing was hard and crystallized and crumbled like praline.

we compared recipes and the major difference was that my recipe said to cook the caramel to 235 - which is just below soft ball stage. her recipe said to cook the sugar to 248. so i put the icing back into the pot even though i had added the butter already and cooked it until it was 248. when i placed it in the mixer it immediately began to thicken and take on a crystallized appearance, although it did not harden or crumble. it stiffened as soon as i began spreading it but i was able to get it onto the whole cake. it ended up being incredible - perfect smooth but slightly sugary (in the that powdered sugar buttercream way) consistency and amazing flavor.

i tried to make it again this week, and the icing didn't work. i followed the recipe but cooked the icing to 248, and then added the butter and cream. it was gooey and soft and chewy like melted caramel candy. it was much darker than the 1st batch. i even tried putting it back on the heat. but it never set up.

now...i don't actually know what the texture is supposed to be like, having never had this cake before. and...i am a professional pastry chef and i can't for the life of me figure this out and i am becoming very frustrated not knowing how to achieve the same results.

any suggestions? recipes i have found in other threads use descriptive terms like "boil down low" and "cook for 20 minutes" and such.

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  1. I live in the South and have frequently heard that weather will affect how the icing on a caramel cake (and divinity,too) turns out. I don't like caramel cakes so I never bake them and can't confirm it.

    1. Not that it helps you, but I had the exact same problem with the recipe from Food and Wine. I cooked the caramel to 235' as directed and it never thickened. I poured it over the cake like a glaze, put it in the fridge and crossed my fingers, but it never set Tasted good, but it was really sticky.

      1. bumping this thread up in hopes more pastry people will weigh in, thanks!

        1. I've got my mother's recipe for Caramel Cake, and the frosting has always worked perfectly. Here it is:
          1 c. buttermilk, 2 c. sugar, 1/2 t. baking soda, 1/2 c. butter, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1 t. vanilla
          Mix sugar, soda, butter, and milk. Cook until soft ball stage, and cool. Add vanilla and beat until creamy. Spread quickly on cake to before it hardens.

          Hope this helps.

          1. Boiled caramel frosting is notoriously tricky. I'd always been warned against making it when it's humid out or is threatening rain. It's been a while, but I recall cooking it to soft ball stage, beating by hand with a wooden spoon, and applying it quickly. I've heard you can place the bowl over a hot water bath if it's hardening too quickly. I've also seen a friend beat in a tablespoon or cream, though I can't say that's a tried and true safe method since I was a teen at the time, and don't recall specifics. (She may have had a different recipe?)

            To be honest, I've adopted salted caramel buttercream instead, because it's so much easier and has massive flavor payoff. Of course, the texture isn't the same at all, but hey, you can't have everything and have it easy too!