My mother loves dessert. All my life she’s insisted on snacking on something a little sweet between meals. “Just a little taste,” she would say while fixing a bowl of cake and ice cream. Coffee hour at church was never to be missed and a trip to the buffet was never complete without a plate from the dessert table. Now that we live states apart, she no longer benefits from the Runaway Apricot home bakery. So when she visited NYC for Easter this spring, I closed out the party with a special sweet: a two-layer caramel cake with pineapple flowers.
I don’t often give my mother credit for her cooking, but she had a few tested and perfected dishes. Her banana cake was excellent. The recipe came from a tattered Fannie Farmer cookbook – pages were worn, browned, spattered and coarse with dried batter. The book binding was completely lost to the ages; broken in at least 20 pieces. We always doubled the recipe, added the optional walnuts, and followed my mother’s pencil-written note for a teaspoon of cinnamon. This is the first thing I learned to bake; the first recipe I ever adapted.
My mother’s consistent willingness to do dishes also benefited my cooking greatly. No matter how many bowls and pans I dirtied, she would sit on a stool in front of the sink with the TV blaring behind her and clean everything. She was a stay-at-home mom, but she kept doing dishes even when I started baking three or four nights a week for profit. Cooking was never wound into the drudgery of clean up. The kitchen was always ready for the next batch. She encouraged me and created opportunities while removing obstacles. She would plead with me to bake something instead of yelling at me for making a mess.
So I made this cake for her visit and took advantage of her a little to keep everything tidy while preparing the Easter feast for eight. Instead of the flat, square cake this recipe is adapted from, I made it more glamorous by stacking the rounds with a bit of the glaze in between. (Tall is always sexy.) I also made a pretty daffodil-like topping of freshly dehydrated pineapple. Gorgeous with fluffy cake from sifted cake flour and a neat drip of lightly salted caramel instead of heavy frosting.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the women (and men) who have created opportunities in our lives. And maybe you will whip up this sweet treat to say thanks for the mom in your life.
Caramel Cake with Pineapple Flowers
1 whole pineapple
Follow these instructions from Martha Stewart
3 cups plus 3 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising, sift before measuring)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350° F with rack in middle. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar at a medium speed until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in buttermilk at a low speed until just combined – mixture will look curdled. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing after each until just combined.
Divide batter evenly in two cake pans and spread to edges. Tap each pan on the counter to eliminate air bubbles and flatten. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Cool completely before glazing. (Can be made 1 day ahead and stored in an airtight container.
Glaze: In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a boil, stirring until sugar is disolved. Watch carefully and boil until glaze reaches 210° to 212° F on a cake thermometer, about 12-14 minutes. (If you don’t have a candy thermometer, swipe your finger across a spoon dipped in the caramel to see if the line you create holds.) Stir in vanilla.
Invert one cake pan onto a plate or cake stand. Pour 1/3 of hot glaze on top. Invert remaining half onto a separate plate then invert again onto the glazed first half so it is right-side-up. Pour remaining glaze over cake, allowing it to run down the sides. Arrange pineapple flowers on top. Cool to set glaze, about 30 minutes.