Just before we left on this last trip of ours (3500 miles) to Utah, Idaho and Oregon, our local paper had published an article about the pastry chef at Charlie Palmer’s Restaurant, Maren Henderson. I’ve mentioned the restaurant before – we’ve been there several times now and loved it on each occasion. It offers a very sophisticated dessert menu, and this is one of the items on it. I’ve not had the cake at the restaurant – always something else intrigued me more – but our daughter-in-law Karen tried it and raved about it. So in planning this trip, I took along some almond meal in a little plastic bag and was able to create this cake up north for our daughter’s birthday. She actually wanted a carrot cake (I made that too), but I made both so people could have a choice.
So, Maren Henderson created a really interesting (read: rich, yummy) cake that’s not your mainstream cake. It’s not hard to make, even though it has two layers. The bottom layer (which becomes a topping when you invert it) is a caramel that makes itself during the baking process. The cake is not unusual except for the addition of a cup of almond meal (Trader Joe’s carries it). I did make some sautéed apples to serve with this, and it needs something to cut the richness (the caramel is almost like candy) so I’d definitely serve it with vanilla ice cream on the side. I made the cake earlier in the day and reheated the entire cake (on the cake pan pictured). I heated it for exactly 5 minutes, but it wasn’t long enough, as the icing was still very thick and candy-like.
Once you bake the cake you allow it to cool briefly, then you invert the entire thing onto a baking pan. If you used a glass pan, you can watch the cake gently ooze itself out of it and once you take the pan off, the caramel oozes all over the sides of the cake. The recipe indicates it serves 21. Well, I’d say it might serve 30. It’s very rich, so you don’t want large pieces. Since we were offering two cakes, we cut this into about 1 ½ inch squares. Maybe some were 2-inch squares, and it was ample, especially with the apples on the side and ice cream too.
Everyone raved about the cake. And it’s really very, very good. Would I make it again? I might, but have decided that I prefer another cake to this one, the applesauce spice cake that I make in a springform pan. I prefer the caramel brown sugar frosting on that cake to the one here. But this one is very pretty to look at with its caramel dripping all around. The pastry chef apparently serves it in a small round – you can cut it using a round cookie cutter. She also serves it with a ghee foam, and I’d guess she probably drizzles the plate with more caramel sauce too. The caramel that puddled on the pan (see photo) became almost like sticky toffee/caramel cubes. So I’m not sure that maybe I overbaked it. I followed the directions to the letter (50 minutes) but still, maybe it had gone to the candy stage. Perhaps I should try it again with a different pan. I also might make half a recipe in a 9×9 pan and see how that turned it. So, in case you’d like to give this one a try, here’s the recipe:
Brown Sugar Cake
Recipe: Chef Maren Henderson, via the Orange County Register
BROWN SUGAR LAYER:
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 pound unsalted butter — cut in several pieces
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups brown sugar, packed
1 pound unsalted butter — cut in several pieces, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
6 large eggs
1 cup almond meal — (sold at Trader Joe’s)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 whole Granny Smith apples — peeled, seeded, sliced
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
1. BROWN SUGAR LAYER: place heavy cream, butter and salt in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Place 4 cups brown sugar in a large bowl. Pour hot cream mixture over brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour mixture into two pans (one 9×13 baking pan AND one 8-inch square pan. The height of the brown sugar layer should be the same in both pans. Allow to cool, then place in refrigerator until completely set, about 2 hours. Or, you may put them in the freezer just until it’s completely chilled (not frozen).
2. CAKE LAYER: Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl of electric mixer, beat the butter and all the sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and mix until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to combine between additions and scraping down sides of bowl with rubber spatula as needed.
3. In a medium bowl combine almond meal, flour, salt and baking powder. Stir with a wire whisk to combine. Add dry mixture to butter-egg mixture and mix to combine. Use rubber spatula to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl at least once of twice.
4. Using a large soup spoon, drop small mounds of batter at close intervals on top of chilled brown sugar layer. Use rubber spatula to GENTLY spread into an even layer. Try to fill in corners and edges with little dollops of batter rather than spreading. You may also use a pastry bag to pipe the batter on top of the layer too. Bake in oven for 50-53 minutes. Cake will be surrounded on sides and bottom with the caramelly brown sugar mixture. Some of the caramel may ooze over the pan during baking.
5. THE TRICKY PART: You want to let the cakes sit until the brown sugar that surrounds the cake cools a little. You want it firm enough so it won’t slide off, but warm and oozy enough to unlock the cake so it will unmold. Suggested: let the smaller cake cool for about 10 minutes and the larger cake 15 minutes. Cooling time will depend on your kitchen and the temp in your kitchen. Run a thin bladed knife around all sides of the cake. Place a baking sheet on top of each cake and using oven mitts, quickly but cautiously turn the pan over and set on your countertop. It may take 15-30 seconds for the caramel to release (if you’re using glass pans you’ll be able to see the cake come loose). Remove pans and allow cake to cool further. Some of the caramel will ooze over the cake edges. You should serve this relatively soon (while it’s warm). If you allow it to cool, place pan in a 300 oven for 4-8 minutes to reheat the cake before serving with vanilla ice cream.
6. SERVING: The chef who originated this recipe uses 2-inch round cutters to cut each serving (but then you’ll have some waste, since the edges outside the rounds won’t be serve-able. You may, alternatively, cut the cake into squares.
6. APPLES: Peel, seed and slice the apples in thin slices. Saute in a medium frying pan with a bit of butter (or water) until they’re mostly cooked. Add a little bit of brown sugar and cinnamon to flavor them. Set aside and serve in a compote along side the cake. You may also serve the cake with grilled pineapple slices or cooked pears.