Thursday, November 10, 2011

[churros and orange juice] cinnamon cake with dulce de leche frosting and salted caramel shards

I am just realizing that 11/11/11 is happening tomorrow. I am also realizing that this was a Facebook group I joined at least two years ago, thinking "oh, that's so far away, I have forever to think up the most epic wish I can conceive."

Yet, an odd-two years later, I don't know what to wish for. Two years ago I thought I'd be more mature, with a concrete path laid out for my life, knowing exactly what I'd want to do and how long it'd take me to do it. Two years ago I thought that being in my 20s meant I'd be an independent adult, fully-functioning social paradigm of grace and poise, with a repertoire of meritorious experiences under my belt.


All I've learned since then is that I'm likely not at all capable of surviving even a week in the real world without parental guidance, financial support, or an academic counselor telling me what I should do with my life. Perhaps I should wish for some direction. Or coming up with an adequate thesis topic before Thanksgiving break. Or being proposed to by a handsome prince with loads of cash.

I kid, of course. Okay, perhaps not so much about the rich prince, but as for the rest, I'm not concerned. Still growing up, after all. And learning, and experiencing, and all that important stuff.

All that's more useful than wishing, anyway. Where will wishing get you, save for crushing disappointment when laziness trumps pro-activity? Not that I'll stop being lazy, of course, but best not to put all your eggs in one basket. Particularly when that basket is just a socially constructed label of "epicness" for one of the [admittedly] coolest numerical dates in existence.

But I digress. This post isn't about wishes. It is about a date, though, and an important one, at that. Specifically, my dear friend Zach's birthday. Which was yesterday, but whatever.

[Also my father's, incidentally, but that celebration is for another day when I'm actually at home. Nevertheless, all my love and best wishes, dad!]

Zach loves dessert. I know this because he and Jerm often serve as my human garbage disposals for leftover baked goods. But when I bake for Zach, it has always been with peanut butter. It's a safe bet, since the only thing Zach loves more than dessert is peanut butter. But I'm tired of peanut butter and predictability. I wanted to do something unique, and different, and special, and totally and utterly for Zach.

So I decided on churros.

...okay, so, not really churros. But a cake totally and utterly churro-inspired. I had been pondering for a while earlier in the week about what I could do outside of the realm of legume butters, and suddenly it struck me. And I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it earlier.

Cinnamon Cake with Dulce de Leche Frosting and Salted Caramel Shards
A bakedbeen original.
Yields one 9-inch cake.

For the cinnamon cake, you'll need:
  • 4 eggs
  • scant 1 cup sugar
  • 5 tbsp whole milk
  • 2 tsps vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder

For the dulce de leche frosting, you'll need:
  • 11 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tbsp butter, softened 
  • 1 14-oz can dulce de leche
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For the salted caramel shards, you'll need:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp fleur de sel

To prepare the cinnamon cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. In a large mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, mix eggs and sugar on medium speed until blended. Add in milk and vanilla and incorporate. Lower speed and add flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder. Mix until just blended. Divide batter equally among both pans and smooth with a spatula. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean when poked in the center. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto wire racks and let cool completely.

To prepare the dulce de leche frosting: 
In a large mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add dulce de leche and mix on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until fully blended.  Lower speed to low and slowly add in powdered sugar. Gradually raise speed to medium-high and beat for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat another 30 seconds. Frosting can be prepared up to a day ahead and kept refrigerated until using.

To prepare the salted caramel shards:
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high flame, whisk sugar and water until sugar dissolves. Once the syrup starts to bubble, stop whisking. Allow syrup to heat, undisturbed, until the mixture turns a deep amber color. Quickly remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the syrup onto the aluminum foil, allowing it to spread out into a thin layer. Sprinkle fleur de sel evenly over the sugar. Let sugar harden, about 30 minutes. Peel sugar off of the aluminum foil and, with your hands, break it apart into shards. Set aside and cover loosely with cling-wrap until using.

To assemble the cake:
Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate. Spread a generous layer of the frosting on top of the cake. Sprinkle some of the shards on top of the frosting. If the shards are large, break them into small pieces [but be sure to reserve a few large shards to decorate]. Place the second layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Refrigerate until serving.

Right before serving the cake, pierce the remaining large shards around the center of the cake.

Zach and I spent 4.5 weeks in Spain earlier this summer, which, if you know me at all, are familiar with in excruciating detail. We had a marvelous time, of course, from exploring Valencia to trying new foods to visiting Granada to actually being able to converse with the locals. One of my fondest memories, though, is on one of our walks back from university.

It was a nice walk, about 2.5 miles, strolling past familiar old bookshops, banks, and boutiques, chatting about anything and everything. Zach had been telling me, since day one, that he wanted nothing more than to eat some good, Spanish churros, but we had yet to have done so. So we decided, probably about halfway into our trip, after having come to that startling realization, to stop at one of the unassuming cafes by our apartments to eat some flipping churros.

And they were delicious. Fresh and crispy, still hot and leaving traces of cinnamon sugar on our fingers, a mug full of warm chocolate sauce for dipping, and a tall glass of Valencian orange juice for patriotism. A perfect 15 minutes of sitting in the center of the plaza with nothing on our minds save for realization that we were actually in Spain, sitting in the center of the plaza, eating churros.

And so it was a no-brainer that I wanted to give some of that perfection back to Zach for his 21st birthday. Not exactly churros, but a cake unequivocally inspired by that afternoon. Perhaps not the answer to his epic wish for Friday, but intended to remind him of something meaningful.

Unparalleled deliciousness was only a bonus, really.

[But seriously. One of the best cakes I've ever made. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but seriously.]

Though I think I'm settling with the rich prince wish for 11/11/11. No harm in trying, right?

Only crushing disappointment can come out of this, after all.


  1. I mean, what more could I ask for...? Reminiscing over Spain and all of the other memorable moments in my 21 years so far, all beaten, baked, and iced into this delicious concoction makes for a happy Zach. You're the best Sabeen <3

  2. This looks amazing. I've always thought churros need to be a more glutton-friendly size!
    Also I didn't know we got a wish on 11/11/11! Stooged.

  3. @Zach: <3 you sweetie!

    @Eloise: I know!! Why settle for 30 seconds of bliss when you can have a whole cake?! And it's alright; my wish was totally unobtainable, so I think it's okay :)


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