When I was growing up, February 14th wasn’t significant solely for the fact that it was Valentine’s Day. No, it was also important because it marked the day-before-my-half-birthday. Half birthdays are a big deal to kids as a whole, but they are an even bigger deal to kids who were born during the summer, at least those who attended Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart during the 80s.
In my third-grade mind, summer birthdays were a sure thing, a sure thing that I wouldn’t need to go to school on my special day. The problem was, I wouldn’t get to go to school on my special day, which meant that I wouldn’t get to bring cupcakes to class, and have everyone sing “Happy Birth-day dear Ju-lie!”, and avoid getting called up to do word problems on the blackboard….because it was my birthday. Teachers never made you do word problems on your birthday. That was pretty much the only downside of a summer birthday, but it was a big enough downside to matter.
Fortunately, Sister Magnetti, our Headmistress, was aware of this majorly pressing issue. Perhaps this was because she too had a summer birthday, and she didn’t want us to suffer the way that she had suffered. I can’t say for sure. Whatever the reason, she instated a rule that allowed any student with a summer birthday to bring cupcakes to school on their half-birthday instead. There was even a “weekend clause”: If said student’s half-birthday falls during a Saturday or Sunday, then the celebration will occur on the following Monday. I’m telling you, this lady thought of everything. Yeah, Sister Magnetti was pretty much the bomb….or I guess she was “rad” back then.
So Valentine’s week was always a busy one for me. Not only did I need to fill out Valentine’s Day cards for all of the kids in my class, I needed to tape some little conversation hearts to each card (everyone knew that the best Valentines were the bumpy ones–they contained candy too.) Not only did I need to make cards for my family, but I needed to locate an empty shoebox in my mom’s closet, out of which I would fashion a hot pink Valentine receptacle. Well, most times the shoebox would be full, but I’d empty it…..sorry mom.
Not only did I need to make heart-shaped sugar cookies for (ironically) my Brownie troop, I also needed to make some really yummy cupcakes to bring to school on the 15th. I’ll tell ya, the life of a third grader is nothing if not hectic.
One year, I brought in those cupcakes that were baked in an ice cream cone, because those were de rigueur with all the hip eight-year-olds. Unfortunately, they are also impossible to transport, with most of them tipping over by the time I arrived at school. Other years, we just did (gasp!) boxed cake mix and sprinkles. It’s not like I was serving them to Jacques Torres. Kids aren’t really that discerning when it comes to cupcakes.
It probably won’t shock you to know that I no longer celebrate my half-birthday, which usually creeps up on me. These days, I just try to ignore it, hoping that it will go away. On the other hand, why not still acknowledge the inevitable with a cupcake? Or better yet, a cupcake and a cake?
I love anything butterscotch, which is fairly obvious from the composition of this recipe. Butterscotch cake. Butterscotch buttercream. Butterscotch sauce. Yes, its trademark salty-sweet-creamy flavor is everywhere. The recipe is incredibly rich. Try to avoid adding up all of the butter in your head–trust me, it’s a lot. My original plan was to only make the heart-shaped cake from this recipe, but I had quite a bit of batter left over, enough to make a dozen cupcakes. Voila! Cake for Valentine’s Day. Cupcakes for half-birthday. You can skip the singing though. Here are a few extra tips for making this sinful sweet for your sweetie:
- The finished cake will keep for up to two days, covered and chilled in the refrigerator. Allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to serving. The cupcakes are best eaten the day that they are prepared.
- If you don’t have a heart-shaped pan, you can prepare the cake using a deep eight-inch cake pan. You can also make a (very tall!) 9-inch cake by dividing the batter among three 9-inch cake pans. In this case, there will not be enough batter to make cupcakes too.
- If you don’t have two ovens, bake the cake first at 325F. Then raise the temperature to 350F and bake the cupcakes.
- When preparing both the buttercream and the butterscotch sauce, be sure to stir constantly until the brown sugar has dissolved. Otherwise, the mixtures will have a very grainy texture.
- Consider doubling the butterscotch sauce recipe. The sauce will keep well, refrigerated, for up to one week, and it will make great ice cream sundaes!!
Triple Butterscotch Heart Cake (and cupcakes!)
Makes enough for 1 heart cake and 12 cupcakes -or- One three-layer 9-inch cake
For the cake layers
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) butter, softened
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans
For the butterscotch buttercream
1 pound butter, softened
2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoons dark rum
2-2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
For the butterscotch sauce
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Garnish: 2 cups chopped pecan pieces, lightly toasted
Prepare the cake: Preheat the oven to 325F degrees (if you have two ovens, preheat the other oven to 350F degrees). In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in th oil until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and stopping to scrape down th sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the rum and the vanilla.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the batter in two additions, alternating with the sour cream. Mix in the chopped pecans, and continue to beat at medium speed for one minute more.
Spray a heart-shaped baking pan with nonstick spray and line a 12-cup cupcake tin with paper liners (see notes above for other options.) Divide the cake batter among the pan and the liners, filling th pan about 2/3 full. Bake the cake at 325F degrees for 40-50 minutes, until it is golden brown and a cake tester inserted emerges clean. Bake the cupcakes at 350F degrees for 18-22 minutes, until puffed and golden. Transfer both the cake and the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
Prepare the buttercream: Melt 8 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it turns deep golden brown and fragrant, about 6 minutes. Add the brown sugar, cream, and salt, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and cook for 3 minutes longer. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat it at high speed until the bowl feels cool to the touch, 8-10 minutes. Beat in the rum.
With the mixer running on medium speed, add the remaining butter, one tablespoon at a time, beating until incorporated. Continue to beat the mixture until it is smooth and creamy. Add enough confectioner’s sugar to the mixture to achieve a thick and spreadable consistency. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Prepare the sauce: Place the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove the mixture from the heat and mix in the cream. Return the saucepan to the heat and cook for 2 minutes more; let cool to lukewarm.
Assemble the cake: Cut the cake into 3 equal layers using a serrated knife. Spread one of the cut sides with about 1/4 cup of th butterscotch sauce and top with a layer of buttercream. Top with the second layer, sauce, and buttercream, followed by the final layer. Coat the cake with a thin layer of buttercream and then refrigerate for one hour.
Add a second thicker layer of buttercream to the top and sides of the cake, swirling decoratively on top. Press the chopped pecans into the sides of the cake. Chill until ready to serve.
Top the cupcakes with the remaining buttercream, using an offset spatula or a piping bag. Drizzle the remaining butterscotch sauce over the tops of the cupcakes and sprinkle with any excess chopped pecans.