A celebration of all-things-caramel

This rich and decadent treat accompanies any good pudding - make mine a caramel sauce, every time.
In our mind, no pudding is quite complete without a drizzle of caramel sauce on top. It’s the ultimate sweet, sticky indulgence.
Whether it be a hearty chocolate brownie, a tower of choux pastry, a classic crème brûlée or a spiced apple cake, caramel is a wonderful way to make a great thing even better.
This super-sweet confectionary comes in all shapes and sizes, including sauces, hard candies, melt in the mouth toffees, and the oozy centres of our favourite chocolates. But, did you know that hard candy caramel sweets were first made in America, way back in the 1650’s?
In this blog post, dedicated to shedding a spotlight on the wonderful world of caramel, we’ll be delving into the history of this tasty treat, exploring some great caramel sauce facts, and how it came to be such a staple on our dessert menus. Then, with an even greater level of appreciation than we could claim before our education in caramel, we’ve got a recipe for a vegan, lightly spiced caramel apple cake. We take dessert seriously here.
Although we can’t place caramel’s exact history, we know that the first record of sweet-toothers making this tasty treat dates all the way back to the 1650’s, where American settlers made hard caramel candies by boiling sugar and water together in their kettles. At some point in caramel’s journey (between then and the start of the 1880’s), home sweet-makers began adding fat and milk, creating the soft squishy caramels that we know and love today.
Historically, caramels were often made by using sugar beet juice, as refined sugar was regarded as a luxury commodity, making it both very expensive and difficult to get hold of.
By the mid 1800’s, the American caramel craze had taken off, and the majority of US candy makers produced their own variety of caramels. It may come as a surprise to learn that Hershey’s actually started off by making caramel, not chocolate. Milton Hershey’s first sweet venture was Lancaster Caramel Company, which he later sold in 1900 (for $1 million, a staggering price for the period). Other key caramel makers in the period were Goetze’s Candy Company (which, in 1940, made the bold decision to only sell its Caramel Cream), and Brach’s Candy (founded in 1904 in Chicago). These big players in the dessert industry helped to skyrocket caramel’s popularity, paving the way for the sweet sticky confection that we know and love.
From these humble beginnings, and with the help of some sensational entrepreneurs, caramel has continued its dramatic rise in popularity. So much so that, today, very few desserts go without a generous drizzle of caramel sauce.
To pay a decadent homage to caramel’s delicious history, next up we’ve got our recipe for a vegan caramel apple cake.
This gorgeous bake is filled with warming spices, encased in thick vegan cream cheese icing and then liberally topped with a caramel shell. Everything from the look to the flavour has been inspired by Autumn, and we think it makes the absolute perfect accompaniment to an evening in - just picture reading a book by the fire as you tuck into this sticky, sweet and flavourful cake.
Recipe for Vegan Caramel Apple Cake
For the cake:
  • Alternative milk, 480ml
  • Apple cider vinegar, 2 tsp
  • Self-raising flour, 420g
  • Ground cinnamon, 2 tsp
  • Ground nutmeg, 1 tsp
  • Ground ginger, 1 tsp
  • Caster sugar, 450g
  • Baking powder, 1 tsp
  • Bicarbonate of soda, 1 tsp
  • Vegetable oil, 120g (alternatively, you could use melted coconut oil)
For the cream cheese buttercream:
  • Dairy-free butter, 250g
  • Dairy-free cream cheese, 50g
  • Vanilla extract, 1 tsp
  • Icing sugar, 600g
For the caramel:
  • White sugar, 130g
  • Corn syrup, 175ml
  • Cream, 235ml
  • Butter, 65g
  • Vanilla extract, ½ tsp
  • Biscuits, 50g (whatever your favourite kind may be)
  • Cinnamon sticks and star anise
For the cakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line three 6 inch cake tins with greaseproof paper.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dairy-free milk with the apple cider vinegar and whisk until fully combined. Set the mixture aside for 10 minutes to curdle. This process creates a vegan version of buttermilk.
3. In a separate large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Mix until fully combined.
4. Add the oil into the bowl of 'buttermilk' and whisk together.
5. Add the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix well.
6. Pour equal amounts of batter into each of the cake tins. Make sure to give the tins a few taps on the worktop, as this will ensure that any air bubbles are removed. (If you would like to add an extra crunch to the cakes, you could sprinkle a few crushed biscuits over the cakes at this stage).
7. Pop the cakes into the centre of the oven. Bake for around 30 minutes, or until they are springy to the touch and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
8. Place the cakes on a cooling rack and leave aside until fully cooled.
For the caramel:
  1. In a heavy pan, mix together the sugar, corn syrup, butter and half of the cream until boiling. Then add in the remaining cream. Use the candy thermometer to heat this mixture until it reaches 116°C.
  2. Once this temperature is reached, remove the mixture from the heat. Add in the vanilla and stir well. Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish and leave to cool.
For the buttercream:
1. In a large bowl, cream together the dairy-free butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add in the vanilla extract and icing sugar bit by bit, mixing well as you go, until fully combined. If you find that the buttercream is too thick, just add in a splash of dairy-free milk. Equally, if you find that it’s looking a bit too runny, you can just add in a bit of extra icing sugar.
2. Ice the top of the bottom cake, then top with the next sponge. Continue stacking the three cakes in this way (filling each one with the icing as you go). Then, add a thin crumb coat of icing to the sides and top of the cakes. Pop the cake into the fridge for 20-25 minutes to allow this first layer to set.
3. When the crumb coat feels firm to the touch, add a thick layer of the frosting all over the cake. Then, using a cake scraper (with either a smooth or textured effect) or a large spatula, smooth down the buttercream to create a flawless finish.
4. Pour the caramel sauce into a piping bag. Snip the end off, and drizzle the sauce around the top edge of the cake, so that it drips down the sides. Then spread a thin layer over the top of the cake, too.
5. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe it onto the top of the cake to decorate (we’d recommend using a large star tip nozzle to create a cool decorative effect).
6. Dunk an apple into the caramel sauce and place it on the top of the cake. You could also insert a stick or paper straw into the base of the apple, to make it look like a classic candy apple.
7. Finish by decorating liberally with biscuit crumbs, a cinnamon stick and star anise.
We recommend serving the cake while it’s still as fresh as possible, then keep it stored in a sealed container in the fridge in between puddings. It’s best eaten within a few days.
What makes this cake extra-special is the fact that it’s completely vegan (honestly, your guests might not believe you at first). While still sticking to your ethos of eating well, this is a fantastic show-stopping cake that is guaranteed wow even your harshest critics, whether they’re vegan or not.
The flavours of spiced apple are absolutely synonymous with that cosy, comfy Autumn vibe that we all love at this time of year. The addition of a caramel apple cake topper is a really fun touch, which reminds us of countless Halloweens and Bonfire Nights back when we were kids.
If you’re feeling inspired by the spirit of the season, you can check out the rest of our Smarter blog, where you can also subscribe to receive our newsletter. We’ll send you regular recipes, updates, home tips and tricks and offers for our fantastic range of kitchen gadgets.
Image and recipe from The Little Blog of Vegan.