It’s October, which means two things.
1. The entire series of Gilmore Girls is now on Netflix, so I will never again be a productive human being.
2. The house must always smell like cinnamon and toasty pecans.
The mall where I grew up used to have stands of cinnamon candied pecans around the holidays, so it just doesn’t feel like fall without that heavenly smell. I suppose a scented candle would suffice, but baking has a better end result, so here’s yet another excuse to bake a cake. I don’t think Aaron has ever repeated, “Something smells good,” as much as when I was making all the components to this cake. It really is everything that’s good about fall wrapped up in one lovely little layer cake package- layers of buttery cake with toasted pecans, a brown sugar and cinnamon frosting, and a caramel sauce that’s spiked with some rum. What could be bad about that?
When I was getting ready to make the caramel sauce for this cake, I realized I was out of cream, so I decided to try this version which uses brown sugar and evaporated milk. Unlike the traditional method, this one is practically foolproof. There’s very minimal chance of burning the sauce or yourself (both of which I have done), and while the flavor is not quite as complex as the recipe I usually use, it still beats the crap out of the store bought variety. I added a healthy dose of vanilla, a big pinch of salt, and stirred in a couple of tablespoons of rum at the end to give it some more depth. If it’s your first time making caramel, this recipe is a good option.
Oh, and before I go, let’s talk about this brown sugar and cinnamon swiss buttercream for a sec. Make it, frost your cake with it, and don’t worry if you have leftovers. Spread it on cinnamon rolls, toast, spoon it into your mouth while watching Gilmore Girls, bathe in it, whatever. I always err on the side of extra frosting since I like a smooth finish to my cakes, and I assure that the leftovers never made it to the freezer.
For the caramel sauce recipe, click here. I added 2 tablespoons of rum along with the vanilla extract.
- 3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 1/3 cups (140 grams) chopped pecans
- 2/3 cup (150 grams) butter, softened but still cool
- 1 1/3 cups (270 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup (160 ml) whole milk, at room temperature
- 10 ounces (280 grams or about 10 large) egg whites (I used liquid egg whites)
- 1 1/2 cups (330 grams) light brown sugar, packed
- pinch of salt
- 6 US sticks (3 cups or 680 grams) unsalted butter, softened but still cool and cut into 2-inch chunks
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
- Place the melted butter and pecans in a baking pan, stir to coat the pecans, and bake 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Grease and line 2 8-inch baking pans with parchment paper.
- With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together on medium high for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
- Turn the mixer town to medium and beat the eggs in one at a time until incorporated.
- Add the vanilla and beat to combine.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
- With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture and the milk into the creamed mixture in alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
- Stir in 1 cup of the toasted pecans.
- Divide the batter between the 2 pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Watch the cake carefully at the end of the baking time as it can over bake and dry out quickly.
- Cool on wire racks for about 10-15 minutes.
- Run a knife around the edge of the cake pans and turn the cakes out on the wire racks to cool completely.
- For the Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
- In a large bowl (I used the bowl of my stand mixer), combine the egg whites, brown sugar, and salt.
- Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk often. The water should not touch the bowl, since it's the steam that will be heating the egg whites. If they heat up too fast, you'll end up with scrambled eggs.
- Using a candy thermometer, heat the mixture to 160 degrees fahrenheit while continuing to whisk the mixture. 160 degrees is for food safety issues. If you use pasteurized egg whites, you can stop heating around 120-140 degrees until the sugar has dissolved.
- Remove the egg whites from the heat and use a whisk attachment to beat the egg whites on medium high until stiff peaks form and the meringue has doubled in volume (about 8-10 minutes). At this point, the meringue should look stiff and glossy, and the bowl should be neutral (not warm) to the touch. If your meringue is still warm, you'll run into problems later.
- Turn the mixer down to low and mix in the cubes of softened butter, one at a time until they become incorporated into the mixture.
- It may look curdled at first, but continue mixing until the frosting has become smooth.
- Add the vanilla extract and cinnamon and beat to combine.
- To Assemble the Cake:
- Split the cake layer in half horizontal with the knife to divide them.
- Place one layer of the cake on an 8-inch cake board.
- With an offset spatula, spread about 1 cup of the frosting on top of the first layer, followed by about 1/3 cup of the caramel sauce (If the caramel difficult to spread, warm it up slightly in the microwave and use a piping bag to drizzle it on the buttercream).
- Repeat this process with the second and third layer, spreading another 1 cup of the frosting and 1/3 cup of caramel on top of each.
- Place the 4th layer of cake on top.
- Place the cake on a turntable, and apply a thin layer of the frosting on the sides and the top of the cake to lock in the crumbs.
- Let the frosting set up in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
- Apply the remainder of the frosting to the sides and top of the cake, using an offset spatula and a bench scraper to smooth out the sides.
- Put the cake in the fridge for another 1/2 hour-1 hour to let the frosting set. (This will keep the frosting from melting when you add the caramel sauce and help control the "drippiness" of the caramel).
- If the caramel sauce has gotten too thick, microwave it 10 second intervals until it is slightly runny but not hot.
- Pour small amounts of caramel sauce over the top of the cake until is starts to gently run down the sides.
- Smooth the top of the cake out with an offset spatula if necessary.
- Top with the remaining toasted pecans and serve at room temperature.
Cake recipe adapted from Taste of Home.
You can halve this recipe to make a 4 layer 5-inch cake (like the one you see pictured here). Reduce the baking time by about 5 minutes.