Brownstone Front Cake
You folks are special. You should know that, because I would not give this coveted family recipe to just anyone. All clever, pun-filled catchy blog titles aside, this is a cake worthy of its own post.
First, a tiny bit of personal history about this cake. Most of the bigger family get-togethers we had when I was growing up (“bigger” could mean 40 people at times) often, but not always, included a Brownstone Front Cake on the dessert table, (and lots of card tables for extra seating, and my Dad’s favorite chocolate meringue pie, but that a dessert worth its own post too). There would be side mumblings as we arrived at the house, “did you see that there is a Brownstone cake?”. It was actually not much to “see” at that point, usually completely covered with aluminum foil, ominously fruitcake-like in its covered state. Some of us would gauge our servings at mealtime specifically to leave adequate room for a big slice of that cake…or two, if you were sneaky, because there was rarely any left.
My sister-in-law’s mom, Doris, was the person who introduced these cakes to my family. Over the years Doris has probably made a hundred of these, each with a zillion layers, sandwiching the amazing carmel-y icing. It assures you’ll get the best of everything in every single forkful.
The exact origins of this cake are unclear (some history here), and there are many versions of this cake. The name explains the color, and perhaps the endless layers of the version from my childhood, which is where the recipe I’m giving you today comes from. The “icing” can best be described as a form of caramel, in color and taste. The cake batter turns a beautiful tan color from the addition of the 3 tablespoons of cocoa. There are moments when I was creating this cake, for a July 4th gathering, that I thought I was screwing it up, but the next step always proved I was still on track.
The disclaimer ~ I will not deny, this recipe has a ton of butter. Its beyond rich, as I think cake should be. It really is a once a year cake in my opinion. Its memorable, and its worth every minute it takes to stand over the stove and cook the icing (for there was no “frosting” on my childhood cakes, only icing). My version makes 3 standard-sized layers. You could easily make this 6 layers by slicing each one in half, so you choose.
Brownstone Front Cake
3/4 cup warm water 1 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. cocoa 1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups sugar 1 cup buttermilk
1/2 lb. of unsalted butter, softened 3 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put cocoa in warm water and set aside. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix well with each addition. Add vanilla to cocoa and water and add to mixture. (At this point, my cake batter looked curdled, but don’t dismay, it will change.) Add soda to buttermilk. Alternate adding flour and buttermilk mixture to bowl, mixing only to combine with each addition. I ended with buttermilk, made sure all was mixed. At that point I has gorgeously smooth batter a beautiful golden brown color. Pour equal amounts into 3 buttered and floured cake pans. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before icing it.
3 1/2 cups sugar (I know!) 12 oz. Carnation evaporated milk
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (!!) 1 1/4 tsp. vanilla
Cook sugar, butter, and evaporated milk in a heavy bottomed pot on stove top. Bring to a bubbling boil, then lower the heat to a bubbly simmer, stirring often and adjusting heat as necessary. Cook 35 to 40 minutes. Add vanilla, beat mixture in bowl of electric mixture until creamy.*This icing needs to cool down quite a bit before spreading it on the cake, so you could start it while the cake is baking. Spread a generous amount of icing between each of the layers, then spread the remainder of the of the icing over the cake. If icing still seems to be running, put everything in the refrigerator to cool down.
Serve at room temperature.