When my father was a young boy growing up in depression-era Indiana, his favorite dessert was chocolate cake with caramel icing. His mother made it every year for his birthday. He always loved the combination of caramel and chocolate – and I inherited that addiction!
Fast forward to my youth. I learned the fundamentals of cooking and baking from Mimi (Dad’s mother), standing beside her as she made us snacks, meals, desserts, and candies. She showed me how to read a recipe correctly, measure accurately, and how to pull taffy! Unfortunately she passed away when I was 10, but she had laid the groundwork for my lifetime infatuation with food. I taught myself how to bake bread, cakes, cookies, and pies. Eventually I got good enough to take over the family baking. Every Thanksgiving I was in charge of desserts and reveled in the praise from the family. I was in love with baking. Now not only could I make delicious treats, but as the youngest of four children, it garnered me rare and much appreciated individual attention.
Every year on their birthdays, I made each of my brothers their favorite desserts, pecan pie for the eldest, sugar pie for the middle boy, and cherry pie for the youngest. My mom got whatever she was in the mood for (she liked a variety of desserts), and I made my father his chocolate cake with caramel icing. This is not the first frosting that comes to mind when you think of chocolate cake, but it is absolutely addictive. You can use this icing with the Ultimate Chocolate Cake. That’s what I am making today for my birthday – it is heavenly!
Jane Evans Bonacci, modified from a Joy of Cooking recipe
Yield: enough icing for a 9-inch double layer cake or 9×13-inch sheet cake
4 tbsp butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup evaporated milk or whole milk
2 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
1/2 tsp lemon juice, vanilla, or rum (see Note)
In a heavy saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, salt, and evaporated milk. Stir over medium heat until smooth and sugar is dissolved, about 5 to 8 minutes. Cool slightly and pour into a small mixing bowl.
Using an electric mixer beat in powdered sugar, using as much as needed, until it reaches your desired spreading consistency. Add lemon juice, vanilla, or rum. Immediately spread on warm cake, working quickly because frosting hardens really fast. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.
NOTE: Using lemon juice helps cut some of the sweetness, children will probably prefer vanilla, and use rum if you want a more adult flavor.