Friday, November 25, 2016

Butter Pecan Layer Cake

For Thanksgiving I decided to make a Pecan Pie, but then I found this recipe online, and decided to make a Butter Pecan cake. The original recipe is here- I've made a few changes, and I split the work over three days, so here is my version. It is the most elaborate, and definitely the tastiest cake I've made in a long time. It ages well. One day after being assembled it still tastes great. 

The plan below is how I should have broken the work up. What I did was make the icing and cake the second day, and assemble on the third. The icing suffers a little from being refrigerated- you might have to beat it a second time to bring the texture back, and this is a nuisance. It was still delicious, but I wouldn't make the icing a day ahead again. This is also the most time and labour intensive step.

Day 1
Brown Butter
Bourbon Caramel Sauce
Day 2
Day 3
Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing

Best Butter Pecan Layer Cake. 
12 generous slices, 16 reasonable slices.

Day 1:
Brown Butter
4 sticks of unsalted butter (each stick is 8 tbsp)

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over low-medium heat. Stir frequently with a silicon spatula. The butter will foam quite a bit. Scrape the sides and bottom, as you stir, to keep the butter browning evenly. It took me about 25 min of near constant stirring to have the butter change colour.
As turns brown pour the butter out, along with all the milk solids, into a heatproof dish. I put it into a glass jar with a wide mouth. Let it cool a bit and put it into the fridge for later use.
Put the butter out about an hour before you start making the cake or the icing- it will need time to come to room temp before it can be used.

Bourbon Caramel Sauce
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp bourbon
1 pinch of salt

Put the sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Gently swirl the pan to combine- do not stir. Crystals might form on the sides. Ignore them.
Simmer till the mix turns brown- took me about 25 min at medium-low heat. It burns easily, so will need constant vigilance at this stage.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter- make sure the butter is not too cold or the mix will seize.
Add the cream and stir.
Add the bourbon and the salt.
Put the pan back on the heat and simmer for a few minutes while stirring.
My caramel was full of lumps so I had to strain it into a jar- after this is both looked and tasted great. Set this aside to cool, then refrigerate.

Day 2: Brown Butter Pecan Cake
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups finely chopped pecans
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 of the brown butter, softened
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
2 egg yolks (keep the whites)
3 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup buttermilk (1 1/4 cup 2% milk with 2 tsp of vinegar left to sit for about 10 min)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Melt the 3 tbsp of butter in a pan or skillet at medium heat. Add the chopped pecans (2 cups).
Stir frequently, till browned. Took me about 7 min.
Take them off the heat, and set aside for adding to the batter later.
Butter 3 8-inch cake tins, line with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust with flour and set aside. I suspect 2 9-inch tins would also work well, and result in a cake that is easier to cut, though less impressive to look at.
Make the buttermilk, if not using store bought, by putting vinegar into 2% milk and setting this aside for some minutes before use.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
Use an electric stand mixer with the paddle attachment to combine the brown butter, oil, white sugar and brown sugar till pale and smooth (about 7 min). Mix in the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, adding the vanilla with the last egg.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed just until combined, then add in 1/2 of the buttermilk and mix just until combined. Repeat alternating flour and buttermilk, ending with the final 1/3 of the flour.
Fold in the pecans till evenly mixed through.
Divide batter evenly among the 3 prepared baking pans.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. It took me 32 min.
Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack while in the pan.
Run a knife around edges of the pans to ensure the cakes are loosened, and invert them onto the racks to cool completely.
When the cakes are cool level the tops. I had to do this for just one of them- the other two came out pretty flat.
If making the cakes some time or days before assembling them, brush them with 2 tbsp simple syrup each (1/3 cup sugar heated with 1/3 cup water till the sugar dissolves) before storing. 
I put each cake on a separate dinner plate, brushed it with syrup, and then wrapped it up in plastic for the next day. They sat out on the counter overnight and came to no harm. It was about 62F/17C in the house.

Day: 3
Brown Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream

6 large egg whites (you can use 2 from yesterday)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (16 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
the remaining 1/2 of the brown butter softened
3 tsp vanilla extract

Dip a paper towel in a tiny bit of vinegar and wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with this to remove any trace of grease.
Make a double boiler by placing the mixer bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. The bowl isn't supposed to touch the water but it after about 20 minutes of stirring I let the bowl get into the water a bit in an effort to speed things up.
Place the egg whites, sugars, and salt into the bowl and whisk gently but continuously. Keep whisking till the mix reaches between between 150 and 160 degrees F (took me about 35 min). I started by placing the mixing bowl on a baking rack that I arranged over the saucepan. When this seemed to be too slow I inverted a small glass bowl in the saucepan and rested the mixing bowl on that, to get closer to the boiling water.
Attach the bowl to your mixer and use the whisk attachment to whip the egg whites on high speed until thick, glossy peaks form and the bowl no longer feels warm to the touch. It will take about 5 min for the mix to look glossy, and about 15-20 min till the bowl cools.
When cool switch to the paddle attachment and reduce the speed to medium-low. Add both butters, about 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition. The meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added, don’t worry. Once all the butter is added, beat until the icing is smooth and silky. This took me about 5 minutes.
Add the vanilla and beat on low just until combined.
I made the icing a day before making the cake, and had to refrigerate it. This meant that the next day I had to take the icing out a couple of hours before assembling the cake, wait for it to warm up, put it back into the mixing bowl, and beat it again to get a nice glossy look to it. It never looked as nice as it did on the first day.
I tampered with the ratio of sugar, using a quarter cup of white and 1 3/4 cups of brown. This changed the structure of the icing a bit, and made it a bit looser. It tasted great but didn't look as shiny, or hold the layers up quite as firmly as an icing with more white sugar might have done.

Put the first layer down on a plate or cake stand. Top with about 1/4 of the icing. Place the next layer on top and cover with another 1/4 of icing. Add the top layer and fill any gaps that there might be on the sides.
Cover the top and sides with a very thin layer of icing and put the cake in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This crumb coat will make it easier to finish icing the cake tidily, with fewer stray crumbs.
Pull the caramel sauce out- I had to microwave mine to melt it, and then put it out in the cold to get it to a cooler temperature.
Cover the top and sides with the remaining icing, trying for as smooth a surface as possible.
Make sure the caramel is cool before you pour it over the top, or it will melt into the icing. Top the cake with the caramel sauce working outwards from the centre. It should make its way to drizzling down the sides without any help from you.
Toast 1/2 cup of whole pecans in a little butter, till brown, about 5 min, to top the cake.


  1. I'm so glad you tried this recipe and enjoyed it so much! It definitely is a production, but so so worth the effort!
    You did such a beautiful job! Love love love!

  2. Me too! I'm so glad I bumped into your blog online, and that you decided to combine three yummy components so cleverly like that :)
    Thank you for stopping by and for the amazing recipe. <3 <3