Buckeye Caramel Cake
by Chase Dermott, Education & Public Programs Manager
After the savory baked tomatoes we started with, our series was begging for a dessert! I returned to my muse, Pull Together: A Gift from the Merchants of Everett to the Newlyweds to find something sweet for Sunday. I found the advertisement for Buckeye products I admired last week and giggled because the girl in the ad looks like she’s up to something. This appeals to me.
I chose a recipe from the Buckeye section and read through it to make sure I knew what I was in for. Let’s ignore the devious intro line and the all-caps directions (which I read in a yelling voice) and look at our task at hand:
“Buckeye Caramel Cake
Try this on your family: Cream ½ cup butter with 1½ cups sugar; add yolks of two eggs and one cup of cold water, two cups of flour, two teaspoonfuls BUCKEYE BAKING POWDER, and beat three minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of BUCKEYE CARAMEL FLAVOR and 1 teaspoon of BUCKEYE VANILLA, and the well beaten whites of the two eggs.
Bake in two or three layers. Use boiled icing, flavored with caramel flavor and vanilla.”
I thought it might be fun to explore (and possibly locate) the exact brand of products the recipe called for, so I set out to learn about the Buckeye Extract Company, owned by J.B. Stentz out of Olympia, WA.
According to the Historic Property Inventory Report for the Stentz House, the Ohio native “started the manufacture of flavoring extracts, toilet supplies and medicinal preparations in Olympia. He also dealt in spices, baking powder, teas, coffees, mustard, vinegar, ammonia bluing and soda under the Buckeye Extract Label. His plant was located first at Capitol Way north of the fire station… During World War II alcohol and spices were difficult to obtain which ended the business.”
I guess it’s safe to say I will not be able to use Buckeye brand products.
Grocery shopping proved to be quite an adventure. If, like me, you thought caramel was a pretty standard flavor in the baking section, you would be wrong. I went to six stores before I found it in stock, and four of those stores don’t carry it at all. Guys, they carry anise and Madagascar bourbon vanilla extract, but not caramel. I know, I was outraged, too.
Like our last recipe, there are no baking times or temperatures included in this recipe. Evidently, people in the 1920s instinctively knew what they were doing. I did some searching for similar recipes which made me realize how heavily I rely on the internet to provide supplementary instructions. I did so many Googles. How did people successfully make this stuff 100 years ago?
Let’s do this.
I decided on baking directions from this recipe and preheated the oven to 350 degrees. I figured we’d check the layers at 20 minutes and adjust from there.
While the oven was preheating, I prepped the ingredients. I cheated right off the bat, softening the butter in a microwave which our 1920s friends didn’t have. My bad, y’all. However, since electric mixers were invented in 1908, I got to use mine guilt-free (see how well I Google?).
After the butter I move on to the rest of the ingredients. I’ve never beaten egg whites before and let me tell you that was a wild ride. They got all fluffy and poofy, you guys!
Mixing the batter was easy. Initially I thought 3 minutes was way too long to beat the batter, but after the egg whites and flavorings were added, the batter consistency was perfect. *kisses fingers like an Italian chef*
My pans are both square but have different degrees of roundness on the corners, so layering this cake will be, uh, interesting. I did see a seashell shaped baking mold at Goodwill and BELIEVE ME I was tempted to make this the most extra caramel cake you’ve ever seen. Maybe next time.
I checked the layers after 20 minutes of baking and it was pretty clear that they were not ready . I added 10 minutes to the timer and hoped baking both layers at the same time was not a mistake (it probably was).
30 minutes did the trick. I let them cool enough to handle and attempted to flip them onto a wire rack. Despite the fact that I coated the pans with nonstick spray before pouring in the batter, the cake layers really put up a fight.
After a little damage control, I’m ready for icing. Now, I’m a canned buttercream frosting kind of girl, so making icing from scratch already has me worried. I looked through my cookbooks at home before doing a quick internet search. There were lots of recipes available, but the deciding factor was the caption for this one from our new friend, Carol (who doesn’t know she’s our new friend):
“This recipe is quite old, and belonged to my mother.”
I imagine Carol’s mom would not like the “old” comment, but hopefully we can make her proud.
I started the icing process feeling hopeful, beating the egg whites while my lovely little pot of sugar boiled pleasantly on the stove. Little did I know, it held such potential for destruction.
What one minute was clear, glassy bubbles of sweetness instantly turned into a brown, burnt tar of sadness that enveloped my delightfully fluffy eggs and turned them into a thick, sticky lava, instantly adhering to everything it touched. Spoons were covered with a permanent, crystalline glaze. Hard droplets of devastation rained down upon my unsuspecting countertops like a sugary Blitzkrieg. A baby cries. Sirens sound in the distance. Tell my family I love them.
I have few photos of these moments as I was desperately trying to salvage what I could but it was no use. The tar of death coated everything. Carol’s mom judges me.
It’s a good thing we live in a world where a perfect frosting exists already and is readily available.
With a workable frosting in hand, I was able to finish the cake. I trimmed the bottom layer so the shapes would match and slapped on some delicious canned buttercream and caramel drizzle.
Perfecto! The cake itself was moist with great flavor and we didn’t miss the caramel frosting (which tasted as bad as it behaved). My whole family agreed the cake recipe is a keeper.
What I’d keep: The 350 degree oven and 30 minute bake time were perfect and making a cake from scratch was highly satisfying. Angels were singing, birds were chirping. My children followed the wafting smell of baked goodness into the daylight, blinking in disbelief.
What I’d change: I would not use Carol’s mom’s recipe. Sorry, Carol. Save yourself the trouble and make a simpler icing recipe, or buy some you already know you like (buttercream gives me life).
Things I Googled during this episode:
“How to cream butter”
“When were microwaves invented?”
“How to remove mascara from apron”
Cost: It’s hard to say since many of these ingredients are pantry staples. The caramel flavoring was $3 and the buttercream was less than $2. The icing will cost you your soul.
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