I like to bake. I like to cook. The two things are not the same for me, though. When I cook, I don't usually follow recipes to the T. To me, that's part of the fun. Cooking is an art that improves over time. Baking is different. Baking is a science, with measurements that need to be exact. I happen to like both, but I cook much more frequently than I bake.
One thing I love to bake is birthday cake. Who doesn't love birthdays?! I don't usually love cake (why eat cake when you can eat cookies?) but I love celebrating. So when I was asked to make a Dulce de Leche cake by my friends' sweet son for his 12th birthday, I was happy to oblige.
The problem was, I had never made a dulce de leche cake. And I don't actually love dulce de leche, as it's usually too sweet for me. Still, I perused recipes. I reached out to folks on Instagram. And I tested several recipes. Would dulce de leche go better with a white cake or a chocolate cake? I had to find out. Ultimately I decided to go with white cake, and I used a tried and true recipe that my mother shared with me ages ago. (recipe below)
As for the dulce de leche, I made my own. Dulce de Leche is a creamy caramel sauce made from milk and sugar. You can speed up the process (which takes 7 hours!) by using sweetened, condensed milk and heating it for a long time until it caramelizes. Several recipes suggested that I boil the can - the whole can, unopened - for 2-3 hours. Boiling the can sounded weird to me. Is that even safe? I didn't know, but I saw the same instructions in so many places, so I gave it a try. The outcome was great. A uniform caramel color with a creamy sweet deliciousness. Still, the idea didn't sit well with me. I didn’t feel safe about it
I wondered if I could get the same result by slow cooking condensed milk without using the can. I found several sources that suggested I could pour sweetened condensed milk into an 8x8 pan and put that dish inside of a 9x13 pan filled 3/4 of the way up with water. I placed it into an oven preheated to 400 degrees and cooked it for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it became dulce de leche. When the cooking process was done, I whisked vigorously. The outcome wasn't uniformly colored, and there were some bits of condensed milk that became small clumps. At first I was disheartened by this. But ultimately I realized it's these small bits that make the texture interesting. They give life to the dulce de leche. So I went with it.
I used the dulce de leche as the glue that held the two cake layers together, and also in the frosting. Instead of going with a buttercream frosting or anything that required confectioners sugar, I went with a whipped cream frosting. (recipe below) The results were fabulous! This cake went over so well, and frankly, I was relieved. I will absolutely make this again!
White Cake (makes two layers)
- 1 cup butter
- 1-1/2 cups sugar (divided)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1-1/4 cups milk
- 5 large egg whites
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of two 9 inch cake pans. In a large bowl or an electric mixer beat the butter and 1-1/4 cups of the sugar until the mixture is smooth and creamy. If your butter is already at room temperature, you can do this by hand. Add the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in parts, alternating with the milk and gently mixing after each addition. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they stand in soft peaks. Still beating, gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until the mixture stands in stiff peaks. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tins. Bake about 32-34 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cool completely before taking out of the pan. Use a very sharp long knife to flatten the tops of each layer. Spread the dulce de leche generously on top of one layer and then place the second layer on top of that. Frost with spiced whipped cream and enjoy! Serve with extra dulce de leche on the side (optional)
Spiced Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup dulce de leche
pinch of salt
Using the whisk attachment of your standing mixer or a hand mixer, whisk the heavy cream on high until it begins to change form into whipped cream. Once you see that change, add the cinnamon, dulce de leche and salt and continue mixing until desired consistency. I prefer it well whipped, as I think it spreads best onto cakes.