Monochromatic Food

January 28, 2010


I was recently reading something about our sense of taste.  You probably know this, but it turns out that our tongue actually plays a fairly small role in our being able to taste things.  Our sense of smell is much more influential and our eyes play a big part too.  As I have become a better cook, I have paid more attention to the “eating with your eyes” part of food.  In planning a dinner party, for example, I will try to make sure that the plate has a balance of flavor, texture, and color.  Once in a while I am surprised when something turns out differently than my expectations and I have an all green dinner.  Or an all beige dessert as in this case.


I’ve had this Caramel Cake in my dessert notebook for a long time.  Periodically I would pass it by and read, in the header, how the Gourmet test kitchen couldn’t keep their hands off of it.  For unexplained reasons, I would then turn the page.  Not last weekend.  It was finally time to see what got the test kitchen so excited about this cake.

To be fair, the cake itself is actually quite plain.  Moist and pleasant but really just a basic buttermilk cake.  The icing is where it’s at.  There isn’t much of it but what there is has terrific caramel flavor.  The recipe tells you to allow it to drip off the sides but I was really careful and tried to keep as much on the cake as possible.  Yes it’s fun to swipe your finger(s) through the yumminess that pools on your baking sheet, but it really tastes so much better on the cake.

Because I can’t leave well enough alone and because I am infatuated with my ice cream maker, I made a pear caramel ice cream to go along with the cake.  Here is a weird thing about me.  I keep chocolate, caramel, and mint in one category and all fruit in another when it comes to ice cream.  I don’t usually like those two categories to meet one another.  However, I had two pears sitting on my counter and it was time to use them up so I cross contaminated and found sheer ice cream bliss.   Pear and caramel – who knew??  David Lebovitz, that’s who.  The Perfect Scoop is full of untold treasures.


One Year Ago: Orange Pound Cake

Caramel Cake
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 9

For Cake
2 cups plus 2 tbsp. sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
1 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For Caramel Glaze
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Make Cake: Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.  Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla.  Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.  At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled).  Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.  Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.  Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan.  Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely; about 1 hour.

Make Glaze: Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 2 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved.  Boil until glaze registers 210 to 212°F on a candy thermometer, 12 to 14 minutes, then stir in vanilla.

Put rack with cake on a baking sheet and pour hot glaze over top of cake, allowing it to run down the sides.  Cool until glaze is set, about 30 minutes.


  1. I am a huge fan of The Perfect Scoop. That is my go to book for frozen treats. I bet the ice cream was perfect with this cake. Great dessert!

    Comment by Maria — January 28, 2010 @ 1:12 am

  2. YESSSSSSSS!! i would like that and a heaping pile of glazed walnuts on the side. This is genius.

    Comment by Tracy — January 28, 2010 @ 1:34 am

  3. Oh, this looks AMAZING. Having suffered from multiple colds this winter where I’ve lost my sense of smell (toddler in her first winter of daycare) I can verify that I can taste almost NOTHING when I can’t smell.

    Comment by Kate @ Savour Fare — January 28, 2010 @ 2:25 am

  4. If something smells bad, I never really try it. So that makes sense. :)

    Comment by Sook @ My Fabulous Recipes — January 28, 2010 @ 4:52 am

  5. I’ve read about our nose and eyes having a major impact on our taste too! It makes you sit back and really enjoy what your eating when you can take it all in. That cake and ice cream sounds pretty amazing too!

    Comment by Jacqui — January 28, 2010 @ 4:57 am

  6. I’d like that glaze on darn near anything!

    Comment by Kathleen — January 28, 2010 @ 5:51 am

  7. This looks absolutely sinful and I’m often a naughty girl. I will try this soon. Each March I have an ample supply of buttermilk on hand for the many loaves of Irish Soda Bread I make. There is always some buttermilk left and I am always looking for something to do with it that is new and fresh. I will try this yummy looking treat then – if I can wait.

    Comment by Penny — January 28, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

  8. That caramel glaze has got me licking my lips.

    Comment by mangocheeks — January 28, 2010 @ 2:37 pm

  9. I don’t have an ice cream maker – yet. Resisting bravely for a few years. :-)

    This dessert, monochromatic or not, seems like a winner! Caramel is irresistible…

    Comment by SallyBR — January 28, 2010 @ 7:36 pm

  10. This is a must bake. Thank you!

    Comment by Julie — January 28, 2010 @ 9:18 pm

  11. lol… sometimes I will make dinner and realize that all the food is the same color. My mom thinks that is a BIG NO NO!!!
    But as long as it tastes good, I dont care what color it is!!!

    Comment by Leslie — January 28, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

  12. (CakeSpy to Caramel Cake): You will be mine. Oh yes, You. Will. Be. Mine.

    Comment by CakeSpy — January 29, 2010 @ 7:28 am

  13. I’ve encountering lovely cakes at every turn today…but this might be the one, I think.

    Comment by Tracy (Amuse-bouche for Two) — January 29, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

  14. The caramel glaze totally sucked me in. I made this cake this past weekend during a hefty snow storm (I live on the East Coast)…it was the perfect soul-warming after-dinner treat! I served it with vanilla bean ice cream, which worked wonderfully. Thanks for a great dessert recipe!

    Comment by Molly — February 9, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

  15. I don’t usually like ice cream with my cake but I would make an exception for this pairing!

    Comment by Ashley — February 18, 2010 @ 9:53 pm

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