The sweetness of the south

About a month ago I was completely engrossed in the widely popular book, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.  It’s one of those stories that causes you to become lost in the rich character development.  One that each time you open, you can’t turn the pages quick enough, and yet you want to turn them slowly so you don’t finish too quickly.  One that causes you to be so greatly enthralled with the character’s lives that you just can’t soak it up enough.

I love reading.  I have had a deep fondness for it since I was a child.  I used to walk through the hallways of my elementary school with my nose buried in a book (insert nerd comment here), with no regard to who may be in my path.  I would much rather have spent recess inside enjoying a good story rather than out on the playground burning up energy.  That said, I’m going to be honest.  It’s rare that I find a book that draws me in and I actually feel sad that I’ve finished it.  There are some books that are just worth never ending, and this was one of them.  I wanted these characters to be my friends in real life.

The story is set in Mississippi in the year 1962.  The climate in the area during this time was thick with racism. When doing some research on the area during this particular year, I found that there were huge riots taking place at the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford because protesters were angry about the admission of a black American to the university.  There were lines being crossed that many were outrageously hateful about, and the ways that anger was shown were appalling.  The story makes you feel scared for both white and black Americans alike, and I think that is truly where its secret lies.  To be able to convey and have readers understand what each side was experiencing is truly an art.

One of my favorite parts in the book was the baking of caramel cakes.  It probably occurred around 6 times in the book.  There was never any real explanation or description of the cake…only the mention of it being baked.  I gathered from those mentions that the cake was something that was requested often.  By the end of the book I was on a personal mission to find a great recipe for one and try it out!

I looked through several cookbooks, online sites, etc. only to find over and over again a buttery layer cake with fluffy caramel frosting.  While these cakes looked marvelous in their own right, the cake I was looking for seemed simpler.  It seemed less stated, not overdone, simply put, modest, and easy enough to whip up when the person you work for requests it for dessert.  I finally came across one after lots of searching that I felt fit this description well.  I found it on epicurious.  I hope you enjoy it, and if I haven’t already, I hope I’ve convinced you to read this gem of a story!

Southern Caramel Cake

(Epicurious)

For cake

  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For caramel glaze

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Equipment: a candy thermometer

Make cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Make glaze:
Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil until glaze registers 210 to 212°F on thermometer, 12 to 14 minutes, then stir in vanilla.

Put rack with cake in a shallow baking pan and pour hot glaze over top of cake, allowing it to run down sides. Cool until glaze is set, about 30 minutes.

Cooks’ note: Cake (before glazing) can be made 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

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2 thoughts on “The sweetness of the south

  1. Sweet J says:

    I loved this book too but it took two or three chapters for it to grab me. Probably because all the characters are women in Mississippi. Having said that, once there was a little mystery involved I was on board. The book does help a northerner like me from a small nearly all white town understand why many black Americans hold so many hurts.

    This book made me hungry all the time. The descriptions of the meals alone can make you gain weight. 😉

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