If you’re anything like me, you’re looking forward to fall. It’s the season of cool nights, hot cups of tea, fresh baked goods and cuddling up under a blanket with a good book. Reading Louise Miller’s The Late Bloomers’ Club was so cozy and comforting, it felt like I stumbled into Stars Hollow, a fall festival just around the corner. I’m absolutely jones-ing for fall.
Nora owns the Miss Guthrie Diner, which was opened by her parents and is now an institution in the small Vermont town of Guthrie. She is well-respected in the town but mostly keeps to herself in the wake of her divorce from her high school sweetheart. When the beloved local cake lady, Peggy, unexpectedly dies and leaves her estate to Nora, no one is more surprised than her. Nora learns that Peggy was considering selling her land to a large corporation, potentially changing the town of Guthrie forever, and she must take on the burden of making the decision herself.
Brimming with a memorable cast of characters, it was easy to fall in love with Nora and the residents of Guthrie. I couldn’t help but get lost in this book, and I look forward to picking up Miller’s previous novel The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living. Miller, who is not only an author but an accomplished pastry chef, included a recipe for Burnt Sugar Cake with Maple Icing in the back of the book. It’s a cake that features prominently in the novel, and honestly, sounded too good to resist.
The hardest part of the recipe is making the burnt sugar syrup, for which she lays out careful directions. If you’ve ever made caramel, it’s similar. Start by melting granulated sugar in a saucepan until it turns a deep amber, making sure not to stir. Then, extremely carefully add boiling water, stirring until combined into a syrup. Set aside to cool.
While that’s cooling, you can make the cake. Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a large bowl (using a hand mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer), cream together the butter and sugars before adding the eggs one at a time and vanilla extract. In a small bowl, whisk together the burnt sugar syrup and sour cream.
To the egg, butter and sugar mixture, add about a third of the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.
Then, add about a third of the syrup and sour cream mixture, again mixing until just combined. Repeat with the dry ingredients, then the syrup, until all ingredients are combined, taking care not to overmix.
Scoop the cake batter into a greased Bundt pan and then place into a 350-degree F oven to bake for about an hour.
The cake is finished when it springs back to the touch and a cake tester comes out clean.
It was so hard to resist waiting for it to cool entirely because it smelled absolutely delicious, but you can’t ice it until it’s completely cooled. While it’s cooling, make the icing by combining softened butter, powdered sugar, salt, vanilla extract and maple syrup with a mixer. To that, add heavy cream (one tablespoon at a time) until the icing has a spreadable consistency.
I’m not the best at icing gracefully but it’s all about coverage and flavor, and this cake 100% delivered on comforting autumn flavors.
If you’re not in the mood for something sweet or you’re clinging to the last days of summer, I also made a bonus recipe, inspired by Guthrie’s Corn and Tomato Festival. This Corn Tomato Salad came together in minutes and beautifully showcases those summer vegetables. I made it without the mozzarella. I’m sure it’s delicious either way.
Burnt Sugar Cake with Maple Icing
For the syrup
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup boiling water
For the cake
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- ¾ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 9 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks plus 2 TBS)
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup sour cream
- ½ cup burnt sugar syrup
For the maple icing
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 cups confectioners sugar
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 2 TBS heavy cream
To make the maple syrup:
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. Don’t 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 of 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 a time. Add the vanilla extract. In a separate small bowl, mix together the sour cream and ½ cup of burnt sugar syrup. You will have extra syrup. Save it--it’s delicious in coffee!
Add ⅓ of the flour mixture to the butter, sugar and eggs, mixing just until the flour is incorporated, then add ⅓ of the sour cream/burnt sugar syrup 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 degrees 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 one tablespoon 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.
From: Louise Miller, as included at the end of The Late Bloomers’ Club
Note on making the syrup: Never walk away from the sugar syrup while making it, and never touch it. Caramelizing sugar is an extremely hot process. Please use caution.
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