Thursday, January 20, 2011

French Vanilla Cake w/Caramel Frosting & Brandied Pecans

Holy deliciousness. The french vanilla layers, caramel frosting and brandied pecans in this cake came together like a holy trinity of sweetness. The frosting tastes shockingly similar to the extra icing they sell at Cinnabon (yes, I've indulged in the extra icing, don't judge), and the brandied pecans are sweet and crunchy without having an overly strong, sugary coating like some pralines. The nuts would also be great served as a stand-alone snack or in any other dish that calls for sweet nuts. And as for reviews, I served this mini-cake to seven other people (plus yours truly) and got eight gold stars.

Last weekend, when my main squeeze announced he was doing a poker night with the menfolk, I decided to host a little ladies get-together at my place. So while the dudes were playin' Texas Hold-Em and slugging whiskey, we drank wine, enjoyed this tasty cake and engaged in some chicky shenanigans.

We played a charades game called "Celebrity" (also referred to as "Lunchbox" in some parts; thanks to the team effort from Phil and Laurel for suggesting!). I highly recommend it if you're looking for a game for a bigger group. It's easy to explain, works well whether the guests know each other or not and is very entertaining. (Oddly, of the hundred or so celebrities that we wrote down, there were only two duplicates - Jeff Bridges and Fabio. I'm not sure what that says about us.)
In the past, I've generally made layer cakes with 9" cake pans, and unless we're having a big party, the cake never gets finished. It's just too big for a few people to polish off and the last thing I need is extra cake sitting around our house (considering the fact that I already indulge in most of the baking rejects that don't end up being shared...). So after my friend Erica introduced me to the 6" springform (via an amazing turtle cheesecake), I became a mini-cake convert.

The recipe below is measured for a 6" cake, but if you want a bigger cake (8" or 9"), just double the recipe. Similarly, for any recipes that call for bigger cake pans, divide the recipe in half if you want a 6" cake. If you make a lot of cakes, 6" pans are a great investment. I got eight perfectly-sized slices out of this cake.

French Vanilla Cake (from
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1-1/3 cups plus 1 tbs. flour
1-1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 tbs. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together. Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer; add eggs, vanilla and milk. Slowly add dry ingredients and continue to blend with electric mixer. Divide batter evenly into two 6" cake pans. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

OR if you want a bigger cake, double this recipe and use two 9" cake pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Brandied Pecans
1/2 cup pecan halves, roughly chopped
1 tbs. brandy (bourbon, sherry, Grand Marnier would probably all work)
1 tbs. sugar

Stir brandy and sugar together in a medium bowl. Stir chopped pecan pieces into sugar mix until nuts are coated. Spread nuts onto a pan lined with parchment paper or silpat. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-9 minutes, stirring once. Be careful, these will burn FAST. Better to take them out early than late.

Let cool and break up any nuts that are stuck together.

Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Whisk-Kid)
1/4 cup light brown sugar 
10 tbs. unsalted butter, softened and divided (4 tbs. and 6 tbs.)
1/3 cup heavy cream 
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2-3 cups powdered sugar*

*My apologies, the amount of powdered sugar originally listed here was short.

Melt brown sugar and 4 tbs. butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil over medium heat; remove from heat. Whisk in cream until completely blended. Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. When cooled, pour a quarter of the sauce into a ziplock bag to save for drizzling.

Cream remaining 6 tbs. butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in vanilla and salt. With mixer running, slowly pour in cooled brown sugar mixture and beat until smooth. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating well after each addition until completely smooth. Chill slightly for a firmer texture, stirring occasionally.


To assemble cake, place one cooled cake on the plate or cake stand on which you plan to serve the cake, flat side (bottom side) down. Generously apply a layer of frosting and a layer of nuts (about 1/3 of the nuts) to the top of the first layer.

If you want to get a flat cake top, like the one pictured, using a large, serrated knife, slice the rounded top off the second layer of cake (this should be just the top few millimeters of the cake). Place the cake, cut side down on top of the first layer of cake and frosting. If you don't care about having a flat-top, skip the slicing and place the second layer on top of the first layer, rounded side up.

Frost the entire cake with a thin coat of frosting to catch any loose crumbs and fill in divots or gaps. Place cake in the fridge for 20-30 minutes so that the first coat frosting hardens. Then frost the entire cake with a generous second layer and top with remaining nuts.

Snip the tip off the reserved caramel sauce in the ziplock bag and drizzle over top of cake. Serve to friends with a nice white and side of charades.


  1. I love that game!!! Such a great way to have everyone interact!

    Oh, and the cake looks great too :)

  2. That looks amazing. I feel like I need to brush my teeth just looking at the pictures. Kudos!!

  3. Another great post! The cake looks amazing, and the mini-cakes idea is great. I got a mini pan for making chocolate tortes, but I think mini cake pans are in my future.

  4. This is making me drool, it looks delicious! LOVE playing Celebrity. When playing with a big group on a mountain getaway a couple of years ago we had one duplicate: Rod Blagojevich. Not sure what that says about us!

  5. I just died from your blog tonight. It must have been something you baked...

  6. I just saw this one! I must now rush out and buy 6 inch pans of my own. And pecans. And a cool wooden spoon like that. (Where do you find such things? My wooden spoons all look like the boy has chewed on them. Grrrr.)


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