Brownstone Front Cake

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
3 eggs
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.

  • Rossie

    July 7, 2009 at 11:12 am

    looks great! I’m going to add it to my recipes-to-try binder!

  • Amy

    July 7, 2009 at 11:13 am

    Looks fantastic!! Thanks for sharing!

  • farmgirlinnewmex

    July 7, 2009 at 11:38 am

    oh yum! and thank you!

  • amy h

    July 7, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Dang, that looks really good. Stupid gestational diabetes.

  • Peggy

    July 7, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    We’ve got a big gathering this Saturday, about 40 people, do you think three layers would be enough? You know, I wasn’t hungry until I saw this. Yu-um-my!

  • Missy

    July 7, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    The cake looks great, but what made me do a double take is the plate. Can you give me any info on it? My Mom used to have little bowls with that pattern. She died in 2007 and I couldn’t find the bowls while sorting through her house. Any info would be greatly appreciated!

  • melissa

    July 7, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    hmm. I love a good caramel cake. Whatever you call it, Caramel cake is love in the south.

  • Jan Morgan

    July 8, 2009 at 2:08 am

    Luscious looking cake – I’d love to make it. What’s a stick of butter? Aussies are not familiar with sticks of butter. Can you tell me what is the equivalent? Thanks!

  • Peggy

    July 8, 2009 at 5:17 am

    A stick of butter is 8 tablespoons, which works out to about 118 ml. I know 1 tbsp equals 14-ish ml, you can probably find something online that will convert tablespoons to ml, or whatever is you want to use.

  • Sarah

    July 8, 2009 at 7:49 am

    This sounds too delicious for words.
    I will have to try it as soon as I can make up a sufficiently grand excuse for baking something so decadent. Shouldn’t be too hard, I think.

  • erinvega

    July 8, 2009 at 7:56 am

    sounds amazing! i love your incredulous “!!” whenever you list the butter and sugar content. made me laugh! you are too cute! i have a pumpkin cinnamon chip cookie recipe that i always feel apologetic for the butter content as well.

  • neece clark

    July 8, 2009 at 8:48 am

    elie (our designated baker) is going to try this with spelt flour since she can’t do wheat. it sounds too delicious not to try!

  • Kate

    July 8, 2009 at 11:12 am

    That looks so delicious! I am always game for something that has this much butter in it…thanks for sharing!

  • blair/wisecraft

    July 8, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    OOO, let me know if it works, my readers would probably like to know that!

    Hope you guys are having a good weekend. Feels like Fall here all of a sudden, what about there?


  • neece clark

    July 8, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    yep it’s chilly here too! perfect for baking:) we’ll let you know how the spelt works…xo

  • Jan Morgan

    July 9, 2009 at 6:17 am

    Oh Peggy – it gets more complicated! Can you give it to me in ounces or grams? If not, I can measure out 8 tablespoons and see how the recipe works out. Thanks for you help, Jan

  • Stephanie

    July 9, 2009 at 7:08 am

    oh my this looks absolutely mouth watering! 🙂

  • Cele

    July 9, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Looks gorgeous must try this 🙂

  • lisa s

    July 9, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    omg that looks and sounds wonderful [esp. on that leaf plate. i will ALWAYS think of you when i see that pattern!]

  • Pam

    July 9, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks for sharing–you’ve made my mouth water! Can’t wait to try. Very pretty new banner too.

  • Carly

    July 9, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    Jan – 2 tbsp is an ounce. A stick is 4oz or 1/2cup (north american cup, not australian – sorry.). Hope that helps you!!
    PS Blair – can not wait to try this cake myself!! I am very thankful that you’ve shared the recipe and I think the special occasion will be “It’s the 10th of July – yay!” or “it’s a day that ends in Y – yay”. 🙂

  • Carrie K

    July 10, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    the cake looks amazing but the plate made my heart pitter patter 🙂
    those were my gramas plates when i was growing up! whenever i see them they bring a sweet rush of nostalgia…

  • cindy

    July 10, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    made it yesterday. delicious! gotta love a cake that you can eat RIGHT AWAY. and it was just as good today. the icing solidified. was that supposed to happen? I heated it back up and was able to spread it. not the prettiest cake I’ve ever made, but one of the most delectable! thanks for sharing a sacred family recipe!

  • blair/wisecraft

    July 11, 2009 at 7:39 am

    I'm so glad you made the cake Cindy! The icing definitely changes consistency often, and quickly at times. Its easier to spread if it is a little solid. But too solid wouldn't work, compare it to trying to spread a stick of butter. That's what it is essentially.

  • Mary Lee

    July 12, 2009 at 7:03 am

    I’ve had this recipe for probably 30 years–it was in the Farm Journal’s All-Time Favorite Recipes, but I’ve never tried it. (Not sure that’s the correct title but I never found a “dud” in it.)
    The timing for finding your blog is bad; I’m trying to psyche myself up for dieting (again) but you have made this look and sound so delicious!
    Hmmm…Brownstone Front Cake or the extreme cereal diet. . . !

  • blair/wisecraft

    July 12, 2009 at 8:56 am

    ooo, Mary Lee that is a tough decision, sorry to tempt you. I was in the same boat, just looking for a reason to make this cake (finally found one!)

  • amisha

    July 18, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    i cannot wait to try this blair! it sounds incredible. i had penuche icing for the first time the other day for a friend’s birthday– is this anything like that?

  • blair/wisecraft

    July 18, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    I do think its similar. The texture of the icing on the Brownstone front cake here has a sort of solidified or crystalized outside, and more creamy inside (after all has completely cooled). If you make it, let me know if you think they are the similar. xo

  • Emily Flippin Maruna

    July 20, 2009 at 8:12 am

    Just featured you yummy looking cake on my blog, The Handmade Experiment in a list of recipes I want to try. Thanks for the inspiration!

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