caramel cake

I have recently completed a consulting job with Poulet, deli/restaurant with a humble, kitchy interior. Started by Marilyn Rinzler and the infamous Bruce Aidells, Poulet has stood in the same spot since 1979! With the hopes of providing honest, healthful food, with a chicken slant, it is still owned by Ms. Rinzler and manages to makes heaps more food than the diminutive kitchen implies.

A family friend, Ms. Rinzler asked me one day last Spring if I could look at some of their baked good recipes and help her out with advice and suggestions. I began baking 2-3 days a week alongside Lucila Hernandez, Poulet’s long term kitchen manager, to test the recipes they had on hand, and re-work them to provide a more viable repertoire of baked goods for their clientele and kitchen staff.

“What is this consulting thing you speak of?”

I get this question a lot. The exact sort of consulting I do depends on what I’ve been hired to do. It depends on how much time the employer wants me there. Being the overachieving, A-type of employee that I am, I tend to give a little something extra. Throw in some extra information they might not even know to ask for.

At Poulet I tested all the recipes, tasted them with the staff and fixed what needed fixing. I trained and taught Lucila better baking skills and techniques. I created Excel spread sheets for keeping track of what we made, sold and tossed. Seasonal fruit was bought and recipes created around what was at it’s seasonal best. “Cake mixes” were made well in advance, so getting a baked good in and out of the much used oven took less time. While spending time re-working recipes I got a feel for who did what when. I learned that if I did not get there before 7 am, the lunchtime dessert could not arrive until after lunch had begun.

At Poulet the most important item is the chicken. And with one oven working overtime, my sweet things stood in a very long line for hot box space!

Commercial cooking and baking is all about streamlining. It’s about efficiency. As cooks we are constantly finding way to have our food be sent out of our respective workplaces in the fastest way possible. “What can be done in advance without hurting the end product,” could be our tag-line.

Amid the costing-out, training, rewriting recipes, testing and re-testing, writing a newsletter, photographing, spreading the word and tasting, I was able to create some favorites. Because most of my training has been in restaurants, I’ve spent little time making pretty frosted cakes, pre-packaged puddings and tart slices. So, as many of you know, I had a lot of fun at Poulet creating these sorts of items.

Although right at the beginning I began working on the caramel cake. And because so many of you have requested the recipe, here it is. Of course if you took my if you took my caramel class, you own the recipe and watched it being made!

caramel cake

CARAMEL CAKE with Caramelized Butter Frosting

1 1/4 Cups SUGAR
1/2 teaspoon KOSHER SALT
1/2 teaspoon BAKING POWDER

*Caramel syrup recipe follows

Preheat oven to 350F
Butter one tall 9″ cake pan.

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth.
2. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.
3. Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl.
4. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.
5. Sift flour and baking powder.
6. Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dries.
7. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time.
8. Add another third of the dries, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dries. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, drry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}
9. Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds. making sure batter is uniform.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it. Cake will keep for three days unrefrigerated.

caramel cake


2 Cups SUGAR
1/2 Cup WATER

1 Cup water for “stopping”

1. In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand.
2. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush.
3. Turn on heat to highest flame.
4. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.
5. When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and prepared to step back.
6. Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons UNSALTED BUTTER
4-6 Tablespoons HEAVY CREAM
2-4 Tablespoons CARAMEL SYRUP
Kosher or sea salt to taste

1. Cook butter until brown.
2. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.
3. Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.
4. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.

The Caramel Cake is also wonderful on it’s own. I’ve also been known to drizzle it with ganache, or serve it with whipped cream. You will be surprised how delicate the crumb is! The caramel not only adds flavor, it contributes to the cake’s moist tenderness.


Caramel Cake, The Recipe. 28 December,2010Shuna Fish Lydon

  • Santos

    oh man. i’m trying this out tonight. congratulations on your many successes this year,and i look forward to seeing your inevitable skyrocketeyness to great heights in the new one!

  • Anonymous

    Good gods. If I could roll around in that cake, I would. Caramelicious!

    – Chubbypanda

  • artemis

    So this cake looks soooo good in the photos (and in Poulet’s window case!)–but I’ve tried it three times now (first two with slight tweaks–cake flour instead of AP, etc.–that might have thrown something awry, but the last time exactly as it appears above) and all I get is a royal mess–dense, greasy, rubbery, nothing that’s even close to a cake. Has anyone else gotten this recipe to work as written? Any chance an ingredient is missing or a quantity is off somewhere? Or has my luck just been abysmal?

  • shuna fish lydon


    I’m so sorry you’ve had some problems making this delicious cake. Feel free to email me directly (there is an email link on Eggbeater), and I will try and work out with you what might be going awry.

    Thanks & sorry!

  • Linda

    Doesn’t 2 Cups of milk sound excessive for only 2 cups of flour. I may be missing something, but maybe that’s the problem.

  • shuna fish lydon


    this is by no means an easy cake to just whip-up. the method and the ingredients say this, yes.

    a recipe is merely a guide. feel free to change amounts and methods to suit the cake you want in the end.

    I found this recipe in the SF Chronicle and Flo Braker’s name was on it. she is an amazing baker. her method was different and I changed it to suit my needs. so any experimentation you make is welcome!

    thank you for the comment and question.

  • masterbaker


    I tried this cake in the restaurant Le Poulet a month ago and nearly fell off my seat. It was sensational. I hadn’t had something that good since childhood (in the ’50s when people really knew how to bake treats like caramel cake, butterscotch meringue pie, etc.). So I decided to make the pie myself. I prepare Thanksgiving dinner for a group of male friends and we always celebrate a friend’s birthday at the same occasion. We normally order a cake from a good bakery but this year I wanted to surprize our friend with my own cake baked from scratch.

    Well, first I tried other caramel cake recipes (i.e. easier ones) without success. So I finally decided to try the recipe now in question. I am not a professional baker but I can as they say “throw down” some dishes (African Americanese for “one can cook”).

    I followed fastidiously the recipe. The result was horrendous. The cake took forever to bake. The batter (before I poured into the cake pan) was too liquidy. It came out very rubbery, dense, flat. Moreover, the color was not caramel as was the one at the restaurant and in the photos. The taste was disappointing. I dumped it into a plastic bag and took it to the garbage only to notice how heavy it was. I thought I was in the gym again, exercising.

    This is the third caramel cake in three days that I have tried to make. I think that I will resort to ordering from a bakery. This recipe could not possibly be correct.

  • shuna fish lydon

    Hello MasterBaker,

    I no longer consult at Poulet but I’m glad they are still making a cake I helped develop there.

    There is a current post on my blog eggbeater concerning this cake and more through instruction is covered there.

    This cake is not an easy cake to make, at all. This fact is only something I learned this year with comments such as yours coming to my attention.

    I’m sorry it was not successful for you. If you google the cake you will find many other recipes which I hope will work out better for you.

  • Hi, I am about to bake this cake, it looks very good.
    I was wondering what 2 each eggs meant. Does that just mean 2 eggs?

  • Hello Natashya,

    Yes, just 2 eggs to make this cake batter. I use large but it would work with just about any size except extra small.

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  • Julie

    Shuna, may I ask what you used on top of the Caramel Buttercream? Did you drizzle the caramel syrup on top of the buttercream? I would love to make this for my cousin’s b’day. She loves caramel and it would be the perfect opportunity to try this cake. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question.

  • Shoy

    Wow. Just WOW! This is one fabulous cake. Not large, tho thats a good thing. It’s long gone and I find myself craving it…good thing there’s enough left over syrup for another. Thanks you for this recipe. I took some pieces to work and it caused a near riot. One lady wanted to order 3! I told her I’d make her one and give her the recipe. Very popular around here!

  • With some trepidation, I quadrupled this recipe to make a 3/4 sheet cake last weekend. It turned out perfectly, which was a thrill, but even better, I learned a lot about cake batters – what they like, what they don’t like – from the caramel cake tutorial. This one goes into the permanent recipe file. Thanks, Shuna.

  • Beth

    I made this cake, and literally, it knocked my socks off! It is absolutely amazing, and I think it is the most delicious cake I have ever had. One thing, my frosting was lumpy, even after sifting the confectioner’s sugar. I didn’t really care because it tasted so good, but would love some tips on how to make it smooth.

  • tom

    This cake is FABULOUS! It is NOT however easy. I am getting better at it each time. My son asked for a caramel cake so I went looking and found this. He liked it and I liked it so much that I have made it and modified it for an Eggnog cake and a Chocolate Malt cake. It is so great. THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU.

  • Pam

    I made this cake last night, it is wonderful. I am a somewhat surprised that it turned out well considering the fact that my caramel sauce was opaque. I am not sure why it didn’t come out translucent. Any one have a clue as to what I did wrong? Loved the buttery frosting… very yummy!

  • Ilana

    Hello Shuna,
    This cake looks fantastic and answers all the requests I got.
    I have a question though: can I make the caramel syrup ahead?

  • Kylie

    Is the reason everyone is having such problems because you did not list how much cream should be used in the cake?
    I would love to make this, but can’t imagine how so many people read over the part “2. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.”

  • Oh my! I LOVE caramel cakes. How I wish I can make my caramel cake looks yummy as u did in your cake that shows in the picture.Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  • Paul

    @ Kylie – There is no cream in the cake. In this case, “cream” is a verb and you’re supposed to cream (beat) the ingredients until light and fluffy.

  • Wow, I just finished making this cake and OMG it is delicious. Caramel is one of my favorite flavors and this cake is just another reason to support my love of the gooey goodness that is caramel!

  • lauren

    I was just wondering is there a conversion for cups? 😐
    As i’m from the UK so I have no idea what measurements i’m ment to use.
    cheers 🙂

  • Kerrie

    Just made this Sunday afternoon for a get together. Delicious!!!!! I made them as cupcakes and sprinkled them with red Hawaiian sea salt. People were speechless!!

  • Swati Khandelwal

    Also, can you please provide the veg version of your recipes as most of them have eggs and we cant have them.. Please..


Shuna Fish Lydon

Shuna fish Lydon was whisked and baked in San Francisco but served and eaten in New York City. She’s had a 16 year tumultuous love affair with professional cooking and has BFA in photography from CCAC.

Working with and for some of the best chefs in NYC and California, Shuna’s resume reads like the who’s who of cooking today. She identifies as a fruit-inspired pastry chef and calls the many local farmers’ markets her muse.

Currently “at large,” Shuna spends her time teaching baking and knife skills classes, consulting at local restaurants and writing for a number of outlets about deliciousness.

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