I took one of those Facebook quizzes titled “What career were you meant to do?” while I was waiting for this creme brulee cake to bake, and I found myself pondering my answers. I enjoy so many different hobbies and view the world in so many different ways, it can be hard to choose one answer to any single personality question.
Creme Brulee Cake
Sometimes I’m very practical, while other times I’m incredibly imaginative. For instance, I love music; I’ve played Chopin, Bach, and Beethoven with much passion and joy, but never with enough enthusiasm to become a concert pianist.
I pour over magazines like Architectural Digest and constantly dream about designing my own home, but I don’t think I could ever be so creative as to decorate another person’s home with a style that reflects their own.
When I think about what makes me feel my best and combines the many sides of my personality, it’s cooking and baking.
Baking this creme brulee cake requires the precision and care of a science-minded pragmatist, as well as the romanticism and creativity of an artist. I get to use both sides of my personality.
I can listen to my favorite songs on the piano while I measure my ingredients and decorate my cake to my heart’s desire. But even if you may not enjoy such hobbies, this creme brulee cake merely requires a love for luxury, beauty, and decadence because that’s precisely what it delivers.
The cake is a twist on the classic French dessert creme brulee, with the silky vanilla cream sandwiched between spongy layers of white butter cake. It’s almost like you’ve gone to heaven.
I say almost because heaven wouldn’t be complete without some Swiss meringue buttercream.
Instead of caramelizing the top of this cake like you would with classic creme brulee, the frosting for this cake is infused with the flavor of caramelized sugar. Caramel sauce is mixed into the shiny, Swiss meringue buttercream, imparting that sweet and salty flavor so many of us love.
The cake itself is incredibly moist, which pairs wonderfully with the light and fluffy frosting.
This creme brulee cake is perfect for any celebration, be it a birthday, anniversary, or even a wedding engagement. If this cake doesn’t scream love, I don’t know what does!
Creme Brulee Cake
White butter cake filled with pastry cream and topped with a caramel swiss meringue buttercream.
for the white butter cake
- 14 tbsp unsalted butter plus more for greasing pans, room temperature
- 3.25 cups sifted cake flour
- 1.5 tbsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup + 2 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1.75 cups sugar
- 5 large egg whites reserve yolks for pastry cream
for the pastry cream filling
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
for the caramel swiss meringue buttercream
- 10 tbsp sugar separated into 1/3 cup and 1/3 cup
- 2.5 tbsp heavy cream
- 3 large egg whites
- tiny pinch of salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened and cut into tablespoons
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Prepare the cake layers
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter 2 nine-inch cake pans and then line the bottoms of each with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. In a large measuring cup, whisk the milk and vanilla to combine. Temporarily set both of these aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until pale and fluffy. Add the sugar in and continue to mix until it’s thoroughly combined.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on medium-low speed. Now add 1/2 of the milk mixture and mix to combine. Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture, mix, then the remaining 1/2 of the milk mixture. Once the last of the milk mixture has been combined, pour in the remaining flour and give everything once last mix to combine. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix again until the batter is smooth.
In a clean mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter with a rubber spatula to lighten the batter. You don’t have to be gentle at this point when folding. Now add the remaining egg whites and very gently fold them into the batter until you can no longer see any white streaks or clumps.
Divide the cake batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops out. Bake the cakes for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each comes out clean. Set the cake pans on a wire cooling rack and let the cakes completely cool inside their pans.
Prepare the pastry cream filling
Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch together in a medium bowl until pale yellow and thick.
Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until the milk is scalding hot and just starting to simmer along the edges of the pan.
Pour just a little bit of the hot milk into the bowl of yolks and whisk vigorously to combine the two. Continue whisking vigorously as you pour the rest of the hot milk into the bowl of egg yolks.
Transfer the entire mixture back into the saucepan and constantly whisk over medium-low heat until the mixture is thick and pudding like - about 5 to 7 minutes.
Pour the pastry cream into a bowl and add the vanilla extract and butter. Stir them into the cream until combined and smooth. Cover the cream with a sheet of plastic wrap, placing the plastic wrap directly onto the cream. Refrigerate the cream until thoroughly chilled - at least 3 hours.
Prepare the buttercream frosting
Start by making the caramel sauce. To a small, heavy-bottom saucepan, add 2 tbsp of water and 1/3 cup of the granulated sugar. Give this a stir to combine, then set the saucepan over medium-high heat. Do not stir this mixture anymore. Just let the mixture come to a boil and continue simmer until it becomes a dark amber color and just starting to smoke - about 7 to 9 minutes. Keep your entire on the caramel the entire time!
Once the caramel has reach the dark amber color and is starting to smoke, remove the saucepan from the heat. Carefully add in the heavy cream, leaving space between you and the pan as the mixture will bubble violently. Stir the cream and caramel together until it’s completely smooth. Pour the caramel into a bowl to cool.
In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the remaining sugar, salt, and egg whites together until combined. Place this bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and heat the mixture until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture registers 140°F with a thermometer - about 7 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the bowl from the saucepan and use a hand mixer to whisk the warm egg white mixture on high speed until stiff peaks form. Add in the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, and whisk to combine the two.
Once all the butter has been added, add the caramel sauce and vanilla extract; whisk to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until ready to use.
Level your cake layers, if needed, to create even, flat layers. Place one cake layer on a cake board or your cake stand. Place about 3 tbsp of buttercream into the corner of a small ziplock bag and snip the tip of that corner off with some scissors. Pipe the buttercream along the top edge of your first cake layer. This buttercream is going to act as a barrier for the pastry cream.
Scoop just enough pastry cream onto this cake layer to create an even layer of filling. Use the back of your spoon to smooth out the cream. Don’t put too much cream or else you risk it seeping out the sides of the cake. Reserve any extra pastry cream for another dessert.
Carefully place the second cake layer on top of the first. Cover the entire cake in a layer of buttercream to create a simple crumb coating. Don’t worry about any spots of cake showing through as this is just the base layer of frosting. Chill the cake for 10 minutes.
Remove the cake from the fridge and apply another layer of buttercream all over the cake. This time, use an offset spatula (and a turntable, if you have one) to create a perfectly smooth, polished finish on the cake. Cover the cake with a cake stand cover or place in a bakery box before refrigerating until the frosting has firmed up a bit and you’re ready to serve.
If you refrigerate the cake, let it sit out on the counter 20-30 minutes before serving.