Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Gustatory Glimpse of the Past; Granny's Burnt Sugar Cake

I had actually forgotten about this particular type of cake but recently, while talking with my sister Tracy, she mentioned it and it came back into my memory with remarkable clarity.  It was the taste of dessert at birthday dinners that my Granny Rhinehart would host for my father or for his siblings.  It was always present at her large pot-luck-palooza Christmas parties and often in the quaint home where she lived and which I visited frequently in my childhood.  It is a taste unlike any other dessert, pastry or confection.  It is the taste of Burnt Sugar Cake.

In looking for information online, I came across a great blog with an excellent write-up and what looks like a great recipe:  You can check it out at

As for my personal quest to find that particular recipe that I was once familiar with and which I hope my sisters will enjoy, I got this recipe from my Aunt Barbara, my grandmother's oldest daughter.  She says it is virtually the same as Granny's.  Thus I will henceforth refer to this recipe as Granny's Burnt Sugar Cake.  Only she knows if her recipe was different and I will not be able to ask her for specific information on her recipe until I pass on as she has done.  But since she introduced us all to it and made it so delicious (as were all of her baked goods with the probable exception of mincemeat pie, which I always managed to avoid) I decided to call it after her, though I am also thankful to my sister for jogging my memory and for my Aunt Barbara for sending this to me.  As for the actual origins of burnt sugar cake, I suspect serendipity, though I have not found any kitchen lore about this unique treat.

I have not made it yet.  In most ways, it looks very similar to the one posted above (which has great pictures).  I plan to try them both.  For now, here is the family version as it was sent to me.  I am posting it as written because I believe in preserving the historicity and authenticity of nostalgic recipes like this (though I am also not opposed to making minor changes if such changes seem suitable).  It should be easy enough to follow as it is well written.  After a bit of practice, I will post my findings and, if indicated, will include any minor modifications to the recipe or clarifications to the instructions, which my field research may warrant.  Enjoy.

Burnt Sugar Cake
Make a burnt sugar syrup to make this old-fashioned cake.  


Burnt Sugar Syrup
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. boiling water
See directions below

Burnt Sugar Cake
3 c. sifted cake flour - sift before measuring (plain flour works fine)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. sweet butter at room temperature
1 1/4 c. sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
1/2 c. burnt sugar syrup (see below)
1 tsp. vanilla

Burnt Sugar Frosting
1/4 c. unsalted butter
1 lb. powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. burnt sugar syrup
1 tsp. vanilla


Burnt Sugar Syrup
Melt 3/4 c. sugar in a skillet over low heat, stirring occasionally until it turns into an amber-colored liquid.  Turn off heat and very carefully add boiling water.  Mixture will splatter at first.  Return the caramel to low heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the sugar and water are thoroughly mixed and smooth.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Burnt Sugar Cake
Adjust rack to lower third of oven; preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9-inch layer cake pans.  Line pans with parchment paper rounds.  Sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.  Cream butter until smooth.  Add sugar and continue creaming until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until well blended.  To the 1/2 c. of burnt sugar syrup add enough water to make 1 c.  Stir in the vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the burnt sugar syrup mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, until well blended and smooth.  Divide the batter between the two cake pans.  Bake about 25 minutes, or until the surface springs back slightly when lightly touched in the center, and the cakes contract from the pans.  Cool 10 minutes on wire racks, then invert on racks, carefully peel off paper liners, turn baked side up and cool completely before frosting.  Fill and frost with Burnt Sugar Frosting.  Decorate with whole pecan halves.

Burnt Sugar Frosting
Cream 1/4 c. unsalted butter until light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in 1 pound (1 box) powdered sugar (sifted), with 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 c. burnt sugar syrup and 1 tsp. vanilla  until creamy smooth and spreadable.  If mixture is stiff, add water, a teaspoon at a time.

One thought that occurs to me is that I would like volume measurements on the powdered sugar rather than weight (hope they actually sell 1 lb. packages or else I'll finally have to get a good digital scale).  The other thought is that I would like to trick the pecans out just a bit, either by roasting them a bit and salting them (good contrast with all of the sugar going on) or candy them (more sugar cannot be bad either).  


  1. Nothing tastes better than a nostalgic dessert:)

    Hope you guys are going well.

  2. Oh wow this sounds good! If I weren't tied up with raspberries right now, I might be baking this up today!