Vanilla Caramel Latte Cake
March is my birthday month. This year, I had several ideas of cakes floating around my head starting in February. I went to the drawing board and wrote down the different flavor ideas and how I wanted to execute them in cake form. The three ideas I came up with were, vanilla caramel latte, lemon raspberry, and coconut mango. The flavors aren't particularly unique, but the cake layering is. As always it would seem, I went with the Milk Bar cake method. Which means exposed layers and rich fillings. Since I couldn't very well make three cakes for my birthday, I decided to start early. This cake, I made a few weeks in advance. The lemon raspberry cake will grace my actual birth day. Then, if I am still feeling inspired, I'll probably make the coconut mango cake in April. Yeah, I am ridiculously serious about my birthday cakes this year.
So, on to this cake. I was first inspired by this flavor because hot coffee is still a must. We still have a fair amount of snow on the ground and the nights are still below freezing, so spring isn't quite here for us up in the far northeast. To break this cake down for you, the cake is a simple yellowish cake tinted with vanilla beans, then homemade vanilla caramel is slathered over the cake, then liquid espresso cheesecake is spread over the caramel. That whole layer process happens once more, then to finish it off, a simple vanilla frosting is slathered over the top layer of the cake. Extra caramel drizzle over the top is optional, but I think totally necessary. This cake is rich, so a small piece is all you need. But damn, it's good. Now that we've polished off this cake, I can't wait to move on to the lemon raspberry cake! Just in time for Easter too. This will please any coffee lover in your life. Go the extra mile, get the supplies and make this cake! You will be so satisfied and happy that you did in the end.
Vanilla Caramel Latte Cake
Yield: 1 (6-inch) triple layer cake
For the vanilla bean caramel sauce
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream, room temperature
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the vanilla cake
- 9 1/3 Tablespoons (115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
- 3 Tablespoons (50 grams) light brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup (110 grams) buttermilk
- 1/3 cup (65 grams) grapeseed oil
- 2 teaspoons (8 grams) vanilla extract
- 2 vanilla beans, seeds scraped
- 2 cups (245 grams) cake flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (6 grams) baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) kosher salt
For the liquid cheesecake
- 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoon (6 grams) cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
- 2 Tablespoons (25 grams) whole milk
- 1 Tablespoon instant espresso
- 1 large egg
For the frosting
- 6 Tablespoons (82.5 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 oz. (27.5 grams) full-fat cream cheese
- 1 Tablespoon (9 grams) corn syrup
- 1/2 Tablespoon (6 grams) vanilla extract
- about 3/4 cup (100 grams) confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) kosher salt
- tiny pinch baking powder
To make the caramel, spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over medium-low heat, watching carefully. When the sugar begins to liquefy around the edges, use a heatproof spatula to gently stir it towards the center. Continue stirring very gently until all the sugar is melted.
Measure out the heavy cream in a liquid measuring cup and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream. Set aside.
Once the caramel reaches a deep amber color, immediately remove the sauce pan from the heat. Carefully and slowly drizzle in half of the heavy cream along with the vanilla bean seeds, whisking constantly as you drizzle. The mixture will steam and bubble violently. Whisk until the cream is well incorporated, then whisk in the remaining cream. Stir in the salt and the vanilla. If any sugar has hardened, place the saucepan over low heat and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until cold. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If needed, it can be rewarmed in the microwave or in a saucepan over low heat.
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour the edges of a quarter sheet pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugars. Beat on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes, until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add in the eggs and vanilla bean seeds, and mix on medium-high for 2-3 minutes more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.
With the mixer on low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix for 4-6 minutes, until the mixture is nearly white and twice the size of the original batter, and completely homogenous (there should be no streaks of fat or liquid.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer on very low speed, add in the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix for 45-60 seconds, just until the batter comes together. Spread the batter in the prepared quarter sheet pan.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through baking, until the cake is puffed and the center is no longer jiggly (the cake should bounce back when lightly poked with your finger.) Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool completely.
To make the liquid cheesecake, preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a small loaf pan (8 1/2 x 5 1/2-inches) with parchment paper. Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add in the sugar and mix 1-2 minutes more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and salt, then whisk in the milk and instant espresso, and then the egg until smooth. With the mixer on medium-low speed, pour in the egg mixture. Mix for 3-4 minutes, until completely smooth.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and spread in an even layer. Bake 15-20 minutes. Gently shake the pan. You want the cheesecake to be firmer toward the outer edges but still jiggly in the center. Continue to bake as needed until this texture is achieved. Do not overbake – you want this to be under baked! Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
When you are ready to assemble the cake, make the frosting. Combine the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high until smooth and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer on low speed, stream in the corn syrup and vanilla. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is silky smooth and glossy white. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the confectioners’ sugar, salt, and baking powder. Mix on low speed just to incorporate. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat 2-3 minutes. Use immediately or store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
To assemble the cake, invert the cake from the sheet pan onto a work surface. Use a 6-inch cake ring to cut out 2 circles from the cake (these will be the top two layers.) Wipe off the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment or a silpat. Use a strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring. Use scraps from the leftover cake to place in the ring and push together in a flat, even layer. Spread 1/4 cup of the caramel sauce evenly over the cake. Use the back of a spoon to spread half of the liquid cheesecake in an even layer over the caramel.
Gently tuck a second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top 1/4-inch of the first strip of acetate. Set a cake round on top of the cheesecake, and repeat the layering process once more (1/4 cup caramel sauce and remaining liquid cheesecake). Place the remaining cake layer on top of the cheesecake. Spread the top of the cake with the frosting.
Transfer the assembled cake to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and the filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month. At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve, remove the pan from the freezer, pop the cake out of the cake ring, and peel away the acetate layers. Transfer to a cake platter and defrost for at least 3 hours before drizzling with more caramel sauce (optional), slicing and serving.