Friday, January 29, 2016

Comfort Cake

by Sheila Connolly

Winter has finally found us, and newscasters are calling this past weekend’s storm “The Blizzard of 2016.” New England, particularly the northern part, got lucky: the storm stopped at Boston. We won’t complain—we had more than our fair share of snow last year.

We stocked up early, before the snow started, and were happy to hunker down in a warm house (with power!) and three cats and the Patriots on the telly. But being snowbound, even voluntarily, brings out the urge in me to cook something. I pulled out a couple of standby recipes—gingerbread and Irish stew (both of which have appeared here), and made both.

Then I decided to think about what said winter “comfort food” to me, from my childhood. There were always cookies on hand (mostly Toll House, from the recipe on the bag), and stews (most often beef). Soups usually came from a Campbell’s can or a Lipton packet. (Sorry, Mother, but you really weren’t into the whole cooking thing, although to be fair my sister and I were always well fed, with healthy fresh ingredients and plenty of vegetables.)

As an experiment, I pulled out the tattered Fanny Farmer cookbook my mother used when she was newly married, and looked to see where it fell open (or more accurately, where most of the stains were). Funny how many of the recipes that were used most often were for desserts—my mother didn’t like desserts, but apparently the rest of the family did! So I looked at Cakes and came upon Snow Cake. Nice in spirit, but kind of boring. But the alternative recipe that came with it was for Burnt Sugar Cake, which sounded much more interesting.

Burnt Sugar Cake with Penuche Frosting


3 Tblsp Caramel Syrup
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup coffee
1-1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melted sugar
Now caramel (wonderful color, isn't it?)
First you have to make the caramel syrup. Melt 1 cup of sugar in a pan until it turns a dark brown. Slowly add 1/2 cup boiling water, stir to dissolve, then simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool a bit.

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Add half the sugar and set aside.

Cream the butter and add the rest of the sugar gradually, beating steadily.

Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the butter-sugar mixture, alternating with the coffee. Mix in the caramel syrup.

Fold in the egg whites. (The original recipe suggested adding sliced nuts—up to you.)

Eek! Nowhere in the recipe does it say how large a pan to bake this in! (Or whether to grease it.) Looking at the volume of the batter, I took a wild guess and used a 9” springform pan, liberally greased. A 9” x 13” pan would probably work as well.

The recipe said to bake for 45 minutes. Mine took closer to an hour.

Now for the good stuff: frosting! This was possibly the most-used section of the cookbook. My family loved penuche frosting, which is very simple. Even my non-cooking grandmother made it.

1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
A few grains of salt
1-1/2 Tblsp light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream

Here’s the entire recipe as given:


Cook to soft ball (234 degrees F—helps to have a candy thermometer! But my grandmother taught me how to test for the soft ball stage.)


Add 1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat “until of right consistency to spread” (which is whatever you think it is)

Frost cake. Done!

Think that's enough frosting?
All right, I confess. I adore frosting. My grandmother also adored frosting—she thought cake existed only to provide a base for it. I made a double recipe of frosting and used all of it on the cake. You can’t have too much!

Coming next week: A Turn for the Bad (the 4th book in the County Cork Mysteries). It involves smuggling in Ireland. But there is no frosting in the book, although smuggling does support a number of other vices.

Find it here:


  1. The cake looks so yummy. Thank you for the recipe.

  2. A slice of that yummy looking cake would go good right now. So would the book. I have it on pre-order.

  3. I"m sure the ginger cat helped the project.
    This does sound comforting and yummy.

    1. Yes, he's very helpful. He doesn't eat frosting, though--he prefers chicken and pork chops.

    2. By the way, penuche icing was my favorite recipe from my childhood cookbook: Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys and Girls.

    3. It still tastes great. And now it's all gone, sigh.

  4. The first cake I made was from my mom's old copy of the Fannie Farmer Junior Cookbook! Looks like a comforting dish for a chilly day.

  5. Nancy R, posting from Halifax, NS:
    I still have my 1960's vintage Fannie Farmer and use its recipes - especially the ones for Yorkshire pudding and for Hard Sauce for Christmas pudding. My 93 year old Mum also uses hers, definitely for the desserts which my Dad loves. Thanks for the reminder about these delicious "Comfort Cakes."

    1. Hard sauce! That was one of our go-to recipes. I used to hope that there was some left over, so I could eat it with a spoon.

  6. Yum! It reminds me of a recipe that I sometimes use for brown sugar cookies. And you're right, it's very comforting! :-)

  7. This looks fabulous. I think it's the perfect choice for those of us who are still looking at snowy vistas. Cut me a slice, will you?

  8. That looks so delicious. I have a birthday cake to make and I think they will love this.