The first year I lived in this apartment, my then-roommate and I decided to have people over for dinner about once a month. This way, we could save a little money by not going out, but we'd still get a chance to see our friends. We both decided it was a great idea, but it never really happened.
Fast forward three years, and two roommates later. I brought up the idea of monthly dinner parties with Joelf and he was 100% on board. We began to assess what it would take for us to host dinner parties: rearranging the apartment so that we could expand the table and have up to 10 people over at once, place settings for 10, serving platters and bowls (neither of us owned any), a few more wine glasses, low ball glasses for cocktails, candles, table linens, more utensils, appropriate dinner party music and centerpieces.
It was a major undertaking.
We made our list of all the people we know that we would want to have over for dinner, selected our first round of ten, and sent out invites.
We settled on a slightly traditional Sunday supper menu of a pork roast with roasted potatoes, braised red cabbage, and salad.
Everyone expected me to bake a cake, which I didn't. I had planned on making a pear-frangipane tart but the crust didn't work, so I baked little individual pear-frangipane things in little ramekins, but I didn't bake them in a ban-marie so they dried out and were not so great. But the pears! They were poached in rum and a vanilla bean and were SO YUMMY. Thanks, RLB (you can find the recipe in the Pie and Pastry Bible, under Pear and Almond Cream Tart).
So for November's dinner party, I felt obligated to bake a cake.
Nov 23, 2008
Name of Cake: Martha's Butterscotch Pecan Cake
Occasion: November Dinner Party
Constituents: 3 layers of brown sugar butter cake soaked with butterscotch sauce, filled and frosted with butterscotch cream cheese frosting, chopped toasted pecans for garnish
This cake is a little over the top.
But if you are a caramel fan, you will LOVE IT.
The first thing I did was make the frosting, as it benefits from an overnight in the refrigerator. This is because the frosting consists of a brown butter butterscotch that you cook first, then blend into an already nice and sweet cream cheese mixture. The overnight gives the butterscotch and the cream cheese time to sort out their differences and come to a harmonious agreement of sweet, tangy, caramel goodness.
The next day I baked the three cake layers, which are essentially yellow buttermilk cakes made with dark brown sugar. I used dark muscovado sugar for the dark brown sugar, which has a deeper, rounder, more full molassesy sugary flavor. I highly recommend substituting muscovado sugar in place of all your brown sugar needs. Especially in the butterscotch, mmmm. So much better.
Anyway, the cakes baked up without much mishap. They had that big, open crumb typical of an all-purpose cake and they were actually a bit dry and coarse. I guess that's why they needed a serious lathering of butterscotch sauce? Or did I do something wrong?
I made another round of butterscotch sauce, this time substituting Lyle's Golden Syrup for the corn syrup. This is the sauce that each cake layer soaks up before being filled and frosted. It all seemed like way too much to me--what was wrong with making a delicious and tasty butterscotch cake to go with the frosting, or making a simple brown sugar cake and going to town with a butterscotch buttercream, or covering the cake in butterscotch, skipping the frosting altogether and serving with whipped cream or ice cream on the side?
Anyhoots, I played along with the directions and basted each cake layer with butterscotch and stacked the cake. The middle layer threatened to slide right off the plate so I used a couple of straws to stake the cake, frosted the whole thing as much as I could bear, and covered the sides in pecans. Then the cake went back into the refrigerator for another overnight, in order for all that hoohah to sort themselves out, as well as to solidify everything so the cake didn't fall apart.
Dinner the next night went fairly smoothly; the conversation was good, if not unusual, and the roasted chicken and vegetable in a pumpkin thing turned out pretty darn good.
The cake was still a little chilled from the refrigerator and thus not as flavorful as it was later on at room temperature. It was very rich. And we all passed out from insulin shock. Just (barely) kidding about that last part.
At room temperature, the cake had a very pronounced caramel flavor, and was moist and very very sweet. Between all the sugar in the cake, butterscotch, and frosting we really did kill ourselves, just a little, with each slice we ate. I really enjoyed it, but I don't know if I will ever be making it again. Perhaps components of the cake--the extra butterscotch sauce warmed over vanilla ice cream is pretty damn good. Perhaps exploring other ways to celebrate butterscotch in cake form would be best.
November's Martha Stewart Living: Pecan Butterscotch Cake