Saturday, March 10, 2012

Butter Pecan Cake with Brown Butter Frosting

This cake was a collaborative creation for one of the most special days of my life.  Recently I was having a conversation with Sally Roach, the pastry chef of the historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.  You may recognize the beautiful old Stanley if you've ever watched The Shining.  Sally and I were talking about a cake she would make for our wedding, and I didn't want just a "regular" old flavor... no chocolate, no red velvet... I wanted something very unique and special.  We had to think about this dilemma for a bit.  She wondered what some of my favorite flavor combinations were.  She wanted to incorporate flavors of our Southern heritage.  Seriously, how often does someone go to this much trouble to make something totally unique for you?  

I told her that one of my favorite flavor and textural combinations is buttered pecan... as in buttered pecan ice cream, as in the flavors of pecan pie.   I could almost see the light bulb flashing over her head.  She got really excited and started talking really fast (as I do when I'm excited), and began telling me all the flavors she wanted to pull together - flavors of our beloved Southland.... rich and nutty browned butter, fresh chopped pecans, brown sugar, dark rum...Mmmm.

Fast forward to the main event.  The flavors of "our" creation were spectacular!  As I stood in the kitchen of the Stanley (yes, Mom, I was in the kitchen.) sampling her wares, I made it known very plainly that she WOULD have to share this recipe so that I could make it at home.  I adapted it a bit, but the general concept is the same.  Every time I have a bite of this cake, which one of my friends described as "every bite is like a party of flavors and textures!," I will think of the day that I married one of the most wonderful men that I've ever met.... in the softly falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. It's a lovely combination of tasting the South, but looking at the snowy mountains.     

Click for Printable Recipe 
Cake:
  • 2 sticks softened butter
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Filling:
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp rum
Icing:
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup browned butter, room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp dark rum
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar 

Step-by-step
The first thing that needs to get done in preparation for making this cake, is to make the browned butter. Now if you are familiar with brown butter, you know that this is way up there on the scale of "pure heaven..." as it is  nutty and fragrant and takes on a whole new dimension of flavors that the "regular" butter does not have.  If you are NOT familiar with it... then have I got a TREAT for YOU!!

To make browned butter...
Over medium heat, book the butter until it is brown around the edges and it gives off a nutty smell. I like to use a really heavy saucepan for this to achieve even heating and to prevent burning.  Careful, there is a fine line between brown butter and burnt butter.
2 cups butter, cut into pieces
Here, it is still yellow.
Now, you can see that it is brown... under all that froth.
Strain the butter (to remove the milk solids). 
1st straining
2nd straining
 

Chill the brown butter.  We will bring it back to room temperature for use in the recipe. 


To make the butter pecan cake...
Prepare you pans before you begin.
 Cream the butter and sugars. 

Gradually add the eggs.
Add the pecans.



Sift the dry ingredients together.

Combine the milk and vanilla.

Alternating, add the milk/vanilla and then the flour mixture to the butter mixture.




Bake at 350 degrees F.  The time will depend on what size you are cooking.  I used three, 9" pans and cooked them 20 - 23 minutes.  If you used only two pans, the batter will obviously take a little longer to cook.  I used three pans so I would have thinner layers (which ultimately translates as more brown sugar rum glaze and more frosting!).  The batter should be cooked through and the top should be golden.  This is a fairly dense cake, so do not over bake it or it will be dry.  Check with a toothpick it you want to.  The toothpick should come out clean.

To make the brown butter buttercream frosting....
Whisk together the egg whites, brown sugar, and salt over a double boiler until the sugar has dissolved.  (Or in my case, I just set a pan over a pot of simmering water to achieve the double boiler "effect.").




Whisk the hot egg white and sugar mixture on medium speed until cool.  Then turn the mixer to high and whisk until stiff peaks form.



Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the butter, then the rum.  Add the confectioners sugar and cream of tartar.  Continue to whisk until it is glossy and smooth.






To make the brown sugar, rum glaze...
Since this does tend to be a dense batter, I felt that the addition of the glaze in between each layer would give me a moister end product.  I also wanted to mirror the flavor profile of the cake, so that each part of the cake is loaded with complimentary flavors and textures. 
In a small saucepan, heat butter, brown sugar, and rum until melted and slightly thickened.  Remove from heat and allow it to cool.



Assembly... 
Alternate layers of cake, rum glaze, and frosting.  Ice the outside of the cake and finish with clear sugar crystals and chopped pecans.  

I think it also works best if your refrigerate it for a while so that everything can set nicely.  This cake is better the following day when the glaze has really soaked into the layers, and those flavors marry together. 

But today, I am sharing this experience with two of my other favorite little people... dirty little faces and all! :-)

Does life get a whole lot better than this?

Order the Menu Musings Cookbook!
 
Method:
The first thing that needs to get done in preparation for making this cake, is to make the browned butter. Now if you are familiar with brown butter, you know that this is way up there on the scale of "pure heaven..." as it is  nutty and fragrant and takes on a whole new dimension of flavors that the "regular" butter does not have.  If you are NOT familiar with it... then have I got a TREAT for YOU!!
To make browned butter...
Over medium heat, book the butter until it is brown around the edges and it gives off a nutty smell. I like to use a really heavy saucepan for this to achieve even heating and to prevent burning.  Careful, there is a fine line between brown butter and burnt butter.  Strain the butter (to remove the milk solids).  Chill the brown butter.  We will bring it back to room temperature for use in the recipe.

To make the butter pecan cake...
Prepare you pans before you begin.

Cream the butter and sugars.  Gradually add the eggs. Add the pecans.

Sift the dry ingredients together. Combine the milk and vanilla. Alternating, add the milk/vanilla and then the flour mixture to the butter mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees F.  The time will depend on what size you are cooking.  I used three, 9" pans and cooked them 20 - 23 minutes.  If you used only two pans, the batter will obviously take a little longer to cook.  I used three pans so I would have thinner layers (which ultimately translates as more brown sugar rum glaze and more frosting!).  The batter should be cooked through and the top should be golden.  This is a fairly dense cake, so do not over bake it or it will be dry.  Check with a toothpick it you want to.  The toothpick should come out clean.

To make the brown butter buttercream frosting....
Whisk together the egg whites, brown sugar, and salt over a double boiler until the sugar has dissolved.  (Or in my case, I just set a pan over a pot of simmering water to achieve the double boiler "effect."). 
Whisk the hot egg white and sugar mixture on medium speed until cool.  Then turn the mixer to high and whisk until stiff peaks form.  Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the butter, then the rum.  Add the confectioners sugar and cream of tartar.  Continue to whisk until it is glossy and smooth.

To make the brown sugar, rum glaze...
Since this does tend to be a dense batter, I felt that the addition of the glaze in between each layer would give me a moister end product.  I also wanted to mirror the flavor profile of the cake, so that each part of the cake is loaded with complimentary flavors and textures. 
In a small saucepan, heat butter, brown sugar, and rum until melted and slightly thickened.  Remove from heat and allow it to cool.

Assembly... 
Alternate layers of cake, rum glaze, and frosting.  Ice the outside of the cake and finish with clear sugar crystals and chopped pecans.  I think it also works best if your refrigerate it for a while so that everything can set nicely.  This cake is better the following day when the glaze has really soaked into the layers, and those flavors marry together.

3 comments:

  1. What would you suggest as a substitute for rum if I wanted to make this alcohol free?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You could use something like a praline syrup, which can be found in any gourmet coffee shop, or the area of your supermarket that has flavored syrups that are intended for coffees. The praline flavored one is alcohol free, and has a slight pecan taste that would complement the flavor profile of this cake very well. This is what I used in my Apple Praline Bundt Cake, and I think it would be an excellent substitute for the rum in this recipe. This cake is very special to me, by the way, as it is a recreation of the cake my husband and I had for our wedding!!! :)

      Best wishes!
      Julie

      Delete
    2. Thank you! I am making it for a co-worker's birthday. I hope it turns out as wonderful as it sounds!

      Delete

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