Peanut Butter Caramel Popcorn Cake

Velvety, brown butter cake is filled and frosted with fluffy peanut butter frosting.  To top it all off, add a mountain of caramel popcorn and drippy caramel sauce!

Caramel Popcorn Cake Recipe with brown butter cake and peanut butter frosting.

Covered in drippy caramel and peanut popcorn, this cake reminds me of going to the circus, summer baseball games, and getting popcorn from an old movie theatre in red and white striped containers.  It is pure fun, whimsical, and packed full of nutty, caramely flavors.  And while I don’t frequent the circus much (or at all) as an adult, this cake instantly brings back feelings of nostalgia. 

Okay, if I am being really honest, I don’t attend too many baseball games (or even movies) anymore, but this cake still reminds me of those pre-baby years when I did.  My husband, Brett, is a huge baseball fan and before we moved to Vancouver, we used to go games in San Francisco whenever we could.  Personally, I am not a very big fan; compared to other spots, baseball seems rather slow to me.  Many of the games we attend were while we were just dating, so I still wanted to appear interested and fun – trying to impress my then-boyfriend with random trivia and feigned enthusiasm.  Really, I was just there for the snacks.  Peanuts and caramel popcorn, to be exact!

 

So this begs me to ask ­the question, “What’s caramel corn without peanuts?”  A pinch of cinnamon and molasses flavour notes from using golden corn syrup, along with the peanuts, turns regular caramel popcorn into homemade Cracker Jacks! 

Caramel Popcorn Cake Recipe with brown butter cake and peanut butter frosting.
Caramel Popcorn Cake Recipe with brown butter cake and peanut butter frosting.
Caramel Popcorn Cake Recipe with brown butter cake and peanut butter frosting.
Caramel Popcorn Cake Recipe with brown butter cake and peanut butter frosting.
Caramel Popcorn Cake Recipe with brown butter cake and peanut butter frosting.

A generous topping of peanutty caramel popcorn is the perfect garnish for the buttery cake underneath.  Made with brown butter, the cake layers are extremely moist and tender.  Browning the butter ahead of time makes it all caramely and delicious. You’ll know when it’s ready when the nutty aroma consumes your kitchen in the most beautiful of ways.  Trust me, this extra step is fairly simple and most definitely worth it!

And what better way to tie the flavors all together than a blanket of crave-worthy peanut butter frosting?  This frosting is good enough to eat off a spoon, but even more delicious when slathered between layers of brown butter cake. 

Carrying out subtle toasty, molasses undertones throughout is golden corn syrup.  While light or white corn syrup can get the job done alright, golden syrup adds and extra flavour element to the dish. The biggest difference I find when using Beehive Golden Syrup is the added caramel taste and increase in depth of flavour, instead of just sweetness.  Also, using corn syrup prevents the sugar from crystalizing when making caramel sauce – big bonus points for that!

Caramel Popcorn Cake Recipe with brown butter cake and peanut butter frosting.

Making homemade caramel sauce, caramel popcorn, and really anything that requires boiling sugar can always be a little nerve-wracking.  The biggest favour you can do for yourself is to have all of the ingredients pre-measured and ready to go.  When the caramel sauce reaches the correct temperature you will need to stir in the remaining ingredients immediately.  Having them pre-measured saves you from frantically trying to add the cream before the sugar burns or gets too dark (using a candy thermometer helps for this too). 

Likewise, when the sauce for the caramel popcorn is done boiling, you will need to work rather quickly when adding in the baking soda and then mixing with the popcorn.  For how hot the caramel is, it starts to seize and stiffen up fast so you will need to mix quickly in order to get all of the popcorn pieces and peanuts evenly coated.  A like when working with any type of boiled sugar, be extra careful!  That is a burn you definitely don’t want to experience. 

Brown Butter Cake
1 1/4 cups unsalted browned butter, chilled then softened
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½  teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup + 2 tablespoons whole milk

Brown Butter:
1.  Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until melted.
2.  Continue to cook, while stirring, until the milk solids on the bottom of the pan begin to brown and the butter is fragrant and nutty (about 5 minutes).
3.  Transfer the butter (including the browned bits at the bottom) to a glass bowl and place in the freezer for about 15 minutes, or until it just begins to firm up back up.

For the Cake:
1.    Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour three 6-inch cake pans and set aside.
2.    Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.
3.    In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the browned butter and both sugars on medium speed for about 3 to 4 minutes until light and fluffy.
4.    With the mixer on low, add in the vanilla and eggs – one at a time.
5.    In alternating batches (beginning and ending with the dry ingredients), add in the flour mixture and the milk while the mixer runs on low speed.  Be sure to incorporate each ingredient before adding in the next batch.
6.    Mix the batter on medium speed no more than 20 to 30 seconds once the last traces of flour disappear. 
7.    Evenly distribute between the pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (about 30 to 35 minutes).
8.    Cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

Peanut Butter Frosting
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
5 1/2 to 6 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 to 1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.     Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth.
2.     Add in the peanut butter and mix until smooth.
3.     With the mixer on low, gradually add in the remaining ingredients.
4.     Once incorporated, increase the speed to medium and mix until smooth.
5.     Add in more milk or sugar until desired consistency is reached.

Caramel Popcorn
about 5 cups popped popcorn
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup Beehive Golden Syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
extra sea salt for sprinkling (optional)

  1. Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Stir together the popped popcorn and peanuts.  Spread out on a parchment-line rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
  4. Stir in the corn syrup and sugar with a wooden spoon.
  5. Turnt he heat up to medium-high.  Stirring constantly, bring to a boil.
  6. Boil for about 4 minutes.
  7. Remove form the heat and immediately stir in the salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and vanilla,
  8. Quickly but carefully, pour the caramel over the popcorn mixture - taking care to stir and evenly coat the popcorn and peanuts.
  9. Spread out into an even layer and bake for about 45 to 60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
  10. Remove from he oven and let rest until cool enough to handle.
  11. Pile on top of the cake before serving,  Use salted caramel sauce to help stick together, if necessary

Salted Caramel Sauce (for drizzling and assembling)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Beehive Golden Syrup
1 tablespoon water
1/3 cup heavy cream,
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

1.    Place the sugar, syrup, and water in a small saucepan over high heat.
2.    Bring the sugar mixture to a boil and cook without stirring until the mixture reaches about 350 degrees on a candy thermometer.
3.    Once it reaches this temperature and turns a medium amber color, remove from the heat.
4.    Slowly (and carefully) whisk in the cream (the mixture will bubble up a bit, so use caution).
5.    Whisk in the butter until melted.
6.    Transfer the caramel to a heat-safe container and stir in the salt.
7.    Let cool until slightly thickened.

 

Assembly
1.  Once the cakes have cooled, trim to level off the tops if necessary.
2.  Place the bottom layer on a cake stand or serving dish.  Spread on about ¾ cup of the peanut butter frosting with a small off-set spatula.
3.  Top with the next layer of cake and repeat.
4.  Crumb coat the cake with the frosting and chill to set in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
5.  Frost the cake with the remaining frosting.
6.  Garnish the top of the cake with a generous amount of caramel popcorn.
7.  Once the caramel sauce has cooled and thickened (but not solid), use to help hold the caramel popcorn in place and let drip over the edges of the cake.
8.  To serve, carefully remove some of the caramel popcorn in order to cut the cake.   Serve with any remaining caramel popcorn, if desired.

 

NOTES:
– The cake layers are extremely moist and tender, especially straight from the oven.  To make them a bit more stable and easier to frost, wrap cooled cakes in a double layer of plastic and chill in the refrigerator for an hour or so, or up to three days.
­–  Caramel popcorn may be made up to a week in advanced.
–  Caramel sauce may be made up to a week in advanced and stored in the refrigerator.  Reheat before assembling the cake. 
­– Store any extra caramel popcorn in an airtight container for about a week.  The recipe may be doubled, should you wish to make a big batch (using half for the cake and the rest for snacking or gifting!)
–  Likewise, leftover peanut butter frosting may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a week.  Use to slather between cookies or graham crackers for a sweet treat!
–  Instead of using three 6-inch cake pans, the brown butter cake may also be baked in two 8 or 9-inch cake pans.  Bake times may vary.

Disclaimer:  This post was sponsored by ACH Foods  All thoughts and opinions are my own.  Thank you for supporting the brands that make Style Sweet CA possible.