Inspired by the response to Garden & Gun’s August/September cover, we challenged readers to a bake-off: Re-create Brian Noyes’s decadent caramel cake, and post the results with the tag #GGcovercake. Over the past few days, many beautiful bakes appeared, so we decided to check in with two of the Southerners who rolled up their sleeves to produce their own especially photogenic—and reportedly tasty—versions.
“I was really intrigued to make this cake, because I’ve never seen a cake recipe quite like it, with the apple juice and cream cheese,” reports Malinda Kay Nichols of Birmingham, Alabama. She whipped it up for a socially distanced patio dinner among friends, where the praise was lavish and the results didn’t last long. “But I did manage to save a slice for breakfast—for the last three days in a row,” she says. “It goes perfectly with coffee.” For Nichols, baking during the pandemic has become an escape: “It’s very calming to just go in the kitchen and get lost in a recipe, and come out later with something beautiful!”
Marianne Jennings of Knoxville, Tennessee—who says the Good Dog column hooked her on G&G, but that she keeps coming back for the recipes—had a similar experience: “The whole thing went that day,” she reports. She made the cake in an afternoon and shared it with patrons of a favorite local glassware shop, which provided the setting for her photograph. “Baking is my stress relief,” Jennings says, and reminds her of her mother, who passed away several years ago. “Whenever I bake, I feel her hands in mine.”
Both women appreciated the recipe’s inclusion of juice. The apple juice, says Nichols, “really does something to that final flavor, and the cake is so moist.” Jennings swapped the apple juice for a favorite of hers—blood orange juice—and loved the results of that, too. “You just want that little something tart,” she says.
The pecans made the cake remind Jennings of Charleston’s famous pralines. And Nichols liked that the recipe called for two layers rather than three. “It’s a rich cake,” she explains, “so two layers is just perfect, and I love the caramel in the cake.”
And as for the trickiest step: that same delicious caramel. “This calls for close attention; don’t wander off or you’ll burn the caramel,” cautions Noyes, owner of Virginia’s Red Truck Bakery, in the original recipe. Our two bakers agree: He means it! Jennings made the caramel twice—the first try came out a touch thin and light, so she let the second batch brown for a little longer to get the perfect color and consistency before mixing the two together. Nichols also took two attempts at the caramel after succumbing to the urge to post a Boomerang video of her bubbling first batch—still on the heat—to Instagram. “It was perfect. And two seconds later, after I posted, it was burnt,” she recalls with a laugh.
Though Jennings made a few more swaps and adds—a local buttermilk instead of whole milk, a touch of cream cheese to the frosting, and a baking temperature of 350° instead of 375°—both women agree on the answer to the million-dollar question: Yes, they will be making the cake again.
Nichols and Jennings weren’t the only ones to attempt to re-create the original. Here are some of the others that caught our eye:
Want to try it for yourself? Get the recipe here, and post a photo of your cake using #GGcovercake