Decadent Deep South Caramel Cake from Making Arrangements
1 package (18.25 ounces) plain white cake mix
1 cup whole milk
8 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract – not imitation
Lang’s Famous (if she says so herself) Decadent Caramel Icing (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350℉.
Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, then dust with flour.
Place the cake mix, milk, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until mixed, then increase speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more.
Pour batter into cake pans and bake until they are golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 27 to 29 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of each layer, and invert. Let cool completely before icing.
Meanwhile, prepare the Decadent Caramel Icing.
Decadent Caramel Icing
2 sticks butter
1 (16 oz.) box of light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup evaporated milk (canned)
2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Place butter, brown sugar and salt in a saucepan. Heat, stirring until the brown sugar is well dissolved. Add milk and continue stirring until blended. Let bubble (at an easy boil) for approximately 4 minutes. Stir constantly to avoid sticking. Set hot mixture aside to cool for several minutes. Using mixer, add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. You will see it turn lighter and caramelize. When you’ve reached the desired consistency, ice the cake, placing some of the icing between the layers.
Place one cake layer, right side up, on a serving platter. Spread the top with the warm frosting. Place the second layer, right side up, on top of the first layer and frost the top and sides of the cake with clean, smooth strokes. Work quickly, as the frosting will set. (If the frosting gets too hard to work with, place the pan back over low heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly, to soften it up.) Once the frosting has set, slice and serve.
Note: Cake can be stored covered in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, at room temperature for up to 1 week or it can be frozen, wrapped in foil, for up to 6 months. Thaw the cake overnight before serving.
Decadent Deep South Caramel Cake
This cake has been the mainstay of many a celebration in Lookout Mountain, and my family has been fortunate to be on the receiving end of this heavenly concoction numerous times. My friends Hazel and Nini are known for whipping this recipe up and presenting it to friends who are celebrating birthdays and other fun occasions as well as to friends who are overcome with sadness. They bring it to folks moving into new houses, couples with new babies and grandbabies, and to folks gathered around the death bed of someone they can’t bear to let go.
Nini presented my father with a birthday cake six weeks before he died. It was wrapped in foil, and he accepted with delight, saying, “Oh, honey, I love your caramel cake! It’s my favorite thing in the world!” Of course, that was the one time she had NOT made the caramel cake. She promised to make it for him on his next birthday, which he didn’t live to see. But she arrived a few weeks later at my parents’ house with the luscious caramel cake as we huddled around his bed, my father barely there anymore. We lifted our forks to him as we tasted the rich creamy sweetness of the thick icing, and felt lifted up and comforted. We felt love, pure and simple, through this cake.
So, of course, this is the particular cake I refer to in Making Arrangements. It is the cake unlikely cancer-survivor Lang Eldridge double-wrapped in foil and froze for her soon-to-be-widowed husband. When I asked my friends if I could share the recipe, they deferred to Patsy Kemm, protesting that it was her recipe and not theirs to share. Her daughter, Kristin, said, “My mother, who did die from cancer, would have been thrilled to have you use her recipe. Mom’s cake was loved my many. Her spirit is alive through the Caramel Cake recipe. So go right ahead and use it.”
Patsy is in heaven now, hopefully talking about that incredible cake with my father. When you take your first bite of this cake, I hope you lift your fork to her, and to all the folks you love.