Back in 2007, we were moving and getting settled into our new home. The boys were 5, 3, and 6 months old, and I was a tired mama. I had been writing this blog for just over a year, and was excited about the new kitchen and the neat things I saw happening on other people’s blogs. I can’t remember precisely whose Daring Bakers post I saw first, I just remember this:
“A month or so ago a graphic began to appear on some of the websites that I regularly visit, an image showing ninja warriors hacking away at what appeared to be a meringue while mixers and rolling pins were flying above. The title on the graphic intrigued me: ‘Daring Bakers.’”
“I mused about who The Daring Bakers might be. Was it some freemason-like secret baking society with their own rituals, passwords, and initiation rites? Did they have their own secret formula for pain au levain? What did one have to do to become a Daring Baker? Would I be able to recognize one if I bumped into her on the street?”
I wrote those words in June of 2007 after getting notice that my request to join had been accepted. I loved all the blogs that were participating, and it looked like they were having a great time tackling the baking challenges. I wanted to be as daring as they all were! And one blogger that absolutely tickled me with her stream-of-conscious writing and lack of inner monologue was Lis of La Mia Cucina, who co-founded the Daring Bakers with Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice.
If you want to get a good understanding of how Lis’s mind worked, read her story about making Martha Stewart’s crepe cake, which she titled: To My Dearest The Martha…I Laugh in the Face of Your Saggy Ass Crepes. You’ll have a whole new vocabulary by the time you are done. I still laugh until tears run down my face as I read it, and I’ve needed those laughs this week, because Lis unexpectedly passed away on Tuesday morning.
I’ve found myself smiling and crying at different times this week as I think about Lis and all the Daring Bakers and what the people in that group have meant to me. I have true friendships with a number of the DBs, relationships that would have never happened otherwise.
I joined the DBs because I wanted to bake better, and the idea of a group of people helping each other and proudly sharing successes and challenges seemed like exactly what I needed. Every month we got the new challenge and worked on it for several weeks, sharing tips and asking questions of each other as we went, all while keeping it a secret until the day we all posted our photos and stories. Then we would race around the Internet to read each other’s stories and give props. When I joined, there were about 60 of us, so visiting everyone’s blog was fairly easy. Now the group known as The Daring Kitchen has membership in the thousands; thousands of people who challenge themselves to try new things each month and support others in the group while doing it.
All that from just two friends who met online and wanted to make pretzels together. That’s quite a legacy.
I’m an educator at heart, and I’m part of the team that launched K12.com in 2001, so you could say that using the Internet as an educational tool comes naturally to me. Watching the Daring Bakers grow absolutely fascinated me for many reasons: it was organic, no one in charge had an education or technical background, and it was self-sustaining. My inner education and tech geek was so enthralled with the idea that I cajoled Lis and Ivonne into letting me write an education article about the DBs, which I published on my instructional design website back in the day. Many of the original members answered the survey I sent out and gave plenty of data to work with.
The concept worked, and it still works today, all because of the people who started it and those who continue it. Those of us who are now Daring Bakers alumni look back on the early days very fondly, remembering all the crazy, fun times and how we laughed at ourselves amid kitchen disasters. Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups spoke for us all when she wrote, “In a virtual world there are wonderful and very real people. A number of them are in this group.”
And Lis was always right in the middle of it, making us laugh harder and always, always, encouraging each and every one of us.
So this week as many of us mourn her passing, we also want to celebrate her life and what she helped create by doing another Daring Bakers challenge. Kellypea got us organized, and we’ve all chosen our own way to express our love for Lis and each other.
I chose to bake a cake, a cake that was the DB challenge in November 2008. It was a two-part challenge: Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting from Shuna Fish Lydon, and Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels from Alice Medrich. I managed to make the caramels, but not the cake, so this is my chance to make up that challenge.
It’s a Daring Bakers challenge, so of course there is butter, sugar, flour, and eggs.
I made a caramel syrup from just sugar and water.
And browned lots of butter.
And made a mess in the kitchen.
And the whole time I thought about how much fun it all was back then, tackling monster jobs and laughing the whole way. I started blogging because it was fun, and Lis and Ivonne and the rest of the DBs made it even more fun.
Lis, you left us far too soon, and we miss you in more ways than you can possibly know. I hope you are having fun baking wherever you are. And I want you to know that every time I screw up something in the kitchen, or anywhere else for that matter, I’ll always remember how daring you were. And I’ll probably say, “FAKK IT.”
Bless your cotton socks.
There are three parts to this recipe: the caramel syrup, caramelized butter frosting, and the caramel cake. It sounds like a lot, but the great thing—besides the fabulous flavor—is that the parts can be made ahead. The syrup will keep for a couple weeks in the refrigerator, and you can make the frosting a day or two before you need it, just keep it chilled. I made the cake the night before so it had time to cool completely before frosting.
The caramel syrup recipe makes lots of syrup, leaving plenty for more caramel cakes. It also has other uses; think coffee drinks! Mmmmm. And that frosting would go well on other cakes, too. If you love caramel, you will just die over that frosting, and possibly never buy fake caramel frosting again.
The cake was the hardest part for me, trying to make sure I got the texture just right, which was close but not as light as I wanted. That will take a little more practice.
CARAMEL CAKE WITH CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING
Adapted from Shuna Fish Lydon.
Makes 1 (9-inch) cake.
small stainless steel saucepan with tall sides
fine mesh sieve
stand mixer with paddle attachment
medium mixing bowl
9-inch cake pan, buttered and lined with parchment paper
2 cups (350 g) granulated sugar
1 + 1/2 cups (360 ml) water, divided
CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING
12 tablespoons (170 g) unsalted butter
16 ounces (454 g) confectioners sugar, sifted
4 to 6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons caramel syrup
dash sea salt
10 tablespoons (141 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/4 cups (219 g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup (80 ml) caramel syrup
2 large eggs, room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 cups (240 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk, room temperature
1. CARAMEL SYRUP – In the saucepan, mix together the sugar and 1/2 cup water until it feels like wet sand in your fingers. Brush down any stray sugar crystals from the sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush. Turn the heat up to high. Cook the mixture until the color is dark amber (like dark maple syrup) and just starts to smoke, about 15 minutes (plus or minus). Watch the mixture closely so it doesn’t burn. Put oven mitts on your hands, and very carefully and slowly, drizzle the remaining 1 cup water into the middle of the hot sugar mixture. It will sputter and splatter, so stay back and be careful! [Note: For safety reasons, you should have a bowl of ice water handy in case the hot sugar splatters onto your skin.] Reduce heat to medium and whisk the mixture until the volume reduces slightly. Dip a spoon into the mixture and allow it to cool for a few seconds. It should feel sticky to the touch. Remove from heat and allow to cool. The caramel syrup will keep in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for a couple weeks.
2. CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING – In the saucepan, brown the butter, and strain it through the fine mesh sieve into the bowl of the stand mixer. Allow to cool. Add the sifted confectioners sugar a little at a time, mixing on low speed. Add the vanilla. When it starts to look chunky, drizzle in some heavy cream and caramel syrup, a little at a time, adding more sugar as you go. Continue until all the confectioners sugar has been incorporated and it has a smooth texture. Depending on the humidity, you may need to adjust the amount of heavy cream. Mix in the sea salt. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use, then allow it to come to room temperature or microwave for about 10 seconds or so. If it’s too stiff, run it through the mixer again to soften it.
3. CARAMEL CAKE – Preheat the oven to 350° F/175° C. The oven should be hot for 30 minutes before baking the cake.
4. In the bowl of the stand mixer, cream the butter on high speed until smooth and light. Add the sugar and salt, and cream at high speed until the mixture looks a very pale yellow. At low speed, slowly drizzle in the caramel syrup, a little at a time, mixing between additions. Scrape down the bowl and increase speed to medium. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl again, mixing at high speed until the mixture is light and uniform.
5. In the medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Turn the mixer to the lowest speed and add 1/3 of the flour. Drizzle in half of the milk slow while mixing. Scrape down the bowl as necessary. Repeat with another 1/3 of the flour, then the milk, then the last of the flour. Increase speed and scrape down the bowl as necessary. Fold the batter by hand a few times to make sure everything is evenly mixed.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Rotate the cake, then bake until the middle is set and the sides start to pull away from the pan, about 15-20 more minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out onto the wire rack to finish cooling.
7. Spread a thin crumb layer (see below) of the softened caramelized butter frosting on the cake and allow it to set, then add the final layer of frosting. Ready to serve!
More Daring Bakers Adventures
More Daring Baker Tributes to Lis From Other Blogs
[More to come! Adding as I find them.]
[An original post from Andrea Meyers: making life delicious. All images and text copyrighted, All Rights Reserved.]
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