Saturday, April 2, 2011

Oma's Burnt Sugar Cake

Sometimes memories smack you right in the face.  This happened to me; twice this week.  I was re-reading a beautiful cookbook from my heritage with stories of the past and the present.  And then, once again, I was reading on the Internet, the hometown weekly newspaper where my friend, Barbara, reminded me of the cakes that were always baked by certain cooks.  My grandmother was mentioned for her special cake, Burnt Sugar Cake. 

I remember this cake so well.  My father's parents lived downstairs in our home, and my Oma was a wonderful baker.  When I was asked which cake I would like, I always asked for the Burnt Sugar Cake.  And Oma would always bake it in her heart-shaped pans.  I wonder if that is why I have always loved heart shapes?  Or perhaps this is why I have always loved this special cake.

So today, I simply had to bake this special cake.  Besides, I have my Oma's heart-shaped pans.  It doesn't matter that it is not Valentine's Day.  Hearts are special every day. 

Thankfully, I asked my Aunt Louise, my Oma's daughter, to write down the recipe for me back in 1976.  Otherwise, I would not have it today.  Of course, something always gets lost in the translation, so instructions like "bake until done", or "beat until just right", and "a little butter" for the frosting, just made me chuckle.  It also brought on some "angst" or anxiety, because I really wanted to get this right.
I had also promised myself back in 1976, that I would bake this cake when I had extra retirement.  Well, we have been retired for almost 12 years it really is time to bake this cake.  It is tricky though.  In fact, The Trout entered and kitchen and proclaimed that it smelled like burnt sugar.  My thoughts were that I was on the right track.

In the Amana Colonies in Iowa, whenever there was a wedding or a funeral, the ladies of the villages would bake their cake specialties to take to the receptions.    Marie would bake her marble cake, my Oma's sister, Tante Kätchen, would bake Mystery Cake or known by it's second name, Lady Golden Glow.  That cake is an interesting story which I will have to share, along with the recipe, someday soon.   Then there was always a contest as to who could bake the best nut cake.  Hickory nuts and black walnuts were always available as the trees grew either in our yards or in the neighboring woods.  Hickory nut that was very, very good.  I can't imagine where I would go to find hickory nuts now.  Of course, big competition on the Feather Cakes.

Burnt Sugar Cake
from my Oma Susanna Kippenhan...1940-1950's

First:  1 cup white sugar.  Pour into a cast iron skillet.  Place over moderate heat and stir while it is melting.  This will take a few minutes.  As it starts totally melting, stir in 1/2 cup warm water and stir until smooth.  I did have some sugar crystallize and I merely fished them out to leave a smooth liquid.  Set this aside.

In a mixer, cream 1 cup sugar with 1/2 cup softened butter.  Separate 2 eggs.  Mix the egg yolks into the creamed sugar and butter.  Add 2 tsps. vanilla.

Sift together 2 1/2 cups flour and 2 tsps. baking powder.  Add alternately to the butter mixture with 1 cup milk.  Beat until smooth.  Now beat the 2 egg whites until stiff and set aside. 

Now pour the burnt sugar mixture, which has cooled some at this point, into the cake batter.  Stir until smooth.  Then fold in the stiff beaten egg whites.  Bake in greased 9 x 13 or 2 round cake pans.  Bake 25-30 minutes.  Be sure to check to see if the cake is done.  Do not over bake this cake.


1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
1 Tblsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Cook in the skillet where you burned the sugar.  This gives it the color and flavoring.  Cook this frosting until it begins to thicken, but don;t cook too long.  Everything should melt together and then beat it, off the stove,  until it is thick enough to spread.

My first suggestion would be to not use this frosting.  Unless Oma had some culinary skills or unwritten directions, this frosting simply does not work.  I would suggest the following instead...

Caramel Frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place butter and brown sugar in a saucepan and heat, stirring constantly until mixture bubbles.  Cook for 1 minute.  Stir until mixture cools and add 3 cups powdered sugar gradually with milk, beating well after each addition.  Add more sugar if needed to preferred consistency.  Add vanilla.

I am really hoping that if someone from Amana is reading this and knows the secret to this frosting, that they contact me.  The cake was perfect!  Very moist and the flavor I remember.  Being that Oma passed away when I was 13, I did not spend a lot of time in the kitchen with her.  That is very sad for me.  I could have learned so much.  After all these years, I still miss her terribly.  I sure could have used a lesson in frosting today.


  1. angie4:32 PM

    Wish your grandson's were there to try it today. Sounds delicious.

    love ya,

  2. Susan, I love recipes with wonderful memories attached. I enjoyed the story as much as the recipe. Thank you.

  3. What a deliciously wonderful memory! How special to be able to recall the tastes and events from one's childhood.


  4. This sounds like a delicious cake, and that you have so many wonderful memories to go with it just makes it that more tasty!

  5. What a wonderful story!

    I wish I had some of my husband's grandmother's recipes - she was such a great cook and baker. Oma's cake sounds delicious!

  6. Thanks for sharing this lovely recipe -- one, thanks to you will bring smiles to so many more families and friends. Thank you, I can't wait to try this recipe.