Caramel Corn Drip Cake

Back in the day...

when we were dating, I made my then-boyfriend a birthday cake. His family was getting together for Easter and celebrating his birthday the same day, and I was making the cake. Simple, right? Well.....I ran into more trouble than I expected deciding what to make. I eventually figured out the reason why - I wanted a cake that
1) looked good - you know, appetizing and fun,
2) could feed a small army - he has a huge family ;)
3) would appeal to his nieces and nephew - kids can be the harshest cake-critics ever - and
4) didn't contain any chocolate (migraine trigger for my now mother-in-law).

Finding a chocolate-free birthday cake that looked and tasted good ended up being more of a challenge than I thought it would be - every birthday cake that came up in my initial Pinterest search had some form of chocolate in it! I finally stumbled across an amazing-looking caramel corn cake, and duplicated it in sheet-cake form to make sure I'd have enough for everyone ;)  Huge hit. Everyone loved it!

So this year, when my now-husband's birthday rolled around, I found myself wanting to re-create the caramel corn cake with a twist ;) Here's what I came up with!

Candles optional!  Caramel corn surprise center optional as well.....but recommended! 

My current favorite layer cake recipe is below - a slightly-modified version of Martha Stewart's Vanilla Layer Cake recipe - multiplied by 1.5 to make 3 8-inch layers. (Word to the wise - DON'T try to get all fancy adding caramel sauce to your cake batter! I ended up with three cake layers that dissolved into CRUMBS when I tried to remove them from the pans. Yeahhh. Failsauce.)

Cake layers (x1.5 recipe)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 c granulated sugar
4 eggs + 2 egg whites
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 T baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 c whole milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans and line with buttered parchment or spray with baker’s floured cooking spray. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
Cream softened butter and granulated sugar together on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add vanilla, eggs and egg white and beat well, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture, alternating with the milk. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and mix until well combined.
Divide batter between pans (I find a kitchen scale helpful for this part) and smooth tops with an off-set spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; about 25-30 minutes. Cool in pans for 15 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely. If desired, use a glass or medium-sized biscuit cutter to remove center from two of the three cake layers.

Caramel Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting:
8 oz (one package) cream cheese, softened
16 Tablespoons (two sticks) butter, softened
6-7 c powdered sugar
2-4 Tablespoons milk
2 Tablespoon Caramel sauce (or desired flavoring)
1/4 t. salt
Beat together softened cream cheese and butter; slowly add in powdered sugar alternating with milk until frosting reaches desired consistency. Add caramel sauce and salt and beat until well combined.
Reserve about 1/3 c frosting to use for building your caramel corn pile on your cake.

Additional Supplies/Equipment:
- 1 8- or 9-inch cardboard cake circle
- 1 jar caramel sauce (recipe if you want to make your own) - whether you're making or buying caramel sauce, make sure it's thick enough to stay in a decent drip on the sides of your cake - orrr you'll end up with 'slug trail' drips and a puddle at the bottom of your cake. I've definitely had that happen and I don't recommend it! 
- 2-3 c caramel corn (purchase or make your own)
- Cake turntable, offset spatula, and bench scraper - not all 100% necessary but incredibly helpful!

Once your cakes are cool, level them (if needed/desired) and add frosting between the first two layers (if you've cut centers out of two of your cake layers, those will be your bottom two layers). Fill the empty centers of your cakes with small caramel corn pieces, add a layer of frosting over the second cake layer, and put the final layer on top!

Now you're ready to crumb-coat . If you're unfamiliar with crumb-coating, it's just what it sounds like - a thin layer of frosting over the entire outside of the cake to keep crumbs out of your final layer. 
Once your crumb coats have set (this takes about 5-10 minutes in the fridge), add your final layer of frosting and smooth. I like to use an offset spatula and bench scraper for this part. Once your cake is well covered, place it into the fridge or freezer for at least 10-15 minutes - this sets the frosting and makes the caramel drip set more quickly. 

Okaaaay......the drip! I put my caramel into a piping bag for this part, but I've seen people use squeeze-bottles for this also. Make sure your cake is chilled - I think I probably left mine in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, and I've heard putting your cake in the freezer for 10-20 minutes is a good way to get drips to set. I warmed my caramel just slightly (about 5 seconds in the microwave) to thin it so it would pipe a bit more easily. Slowly pipe the caramel around the upper edge of the cake, pausing every inch or so to let more caramel fall in a drip down the side of the cake. Return cake to the fridge to set the drips.

To create the caramel corn pile on the top and around the edge of the cake, I piped small amounts of caramel sauce onto the top of the cake and used them to stick the caramel corn to the cake. To create the caramel corn pile, I used small amounts of frosting in between the caramel corn pieces to help them stick together - you could do this with a mound of frosting if you wanted, but I know my husband's much more likely to eat a pile of caramel corn than a pile of frosting! If you're adding candles to your cake, you may want to place them before adding the caramel corn - it makes it easier to see how to space the caramel corn around the candles. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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