“Vintage” burnt sugar cake with maple cream cheese frosting updated with pecans, salty chocolate

Michelle recently picked up a copy of Julie Richardson’s Vintage Cakes from a bookstore remainder table. Richardson, a baker in Portland, Oregon, based many of the book’s recipes on a trove she found when taking over the 50-year-old bakery building she now occupies. Others come from old cookbooks and corporate marketing departments. It’s a charming book.

Burnt sugar cake

This particular burnt sugar cake dates from “before the days of vanilla and almond extracts, gaining its deep flavor from burnt sugar syrup.” Richardson paired the cake with maple syrup-flavored cream cheese frosting, but after consulting with Steve, Michelle decided to add layers of salted chocolate ganache. She also threw in some chopped pecans for a bit of extra crunch and nuttiness.

Burnt sugar cake

Both of us enjoyed the deep, caramel flavor of the cake and the subtle maple sweetness of the frosting darkened with some espresso powder. Michelle initially thought the cake’s crumb was a tad too heavy, but it grew on her. Steve enjoyed both the banana-bread-ish cake and salty chocolate, and continued to eat it long after Michelle deemed the cake’s day to be over. While we can’t say it is our all-time favorite dessert, we did find it delicious enough for several after-dinner slices (as we said, Steve more than Michelle). Plus, we enjoyed imagining a time before there was vanilla extract.


  • Servings: makes a 3-layer 8-inch cake
  • Print

(cake and icing adapted from Julie Richardson’s Vintage Cakes/ganache adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets)


  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. hot water


  • 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1-3/4 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup
  • 1/3 c. canola oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 c. whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1 c. pecans, toasted, chopped and cooled


  • 6 oz. bitterweet chocolate
  • 9 TB cream
  • 2-1/4 TB butter
  • 1/4 tsp. finishing sea salt (such as Maldon)


  • 1 c. butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
  • 1 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 tsp. instant espresso powder
  • 1 TB vanilla extract
  • 2/3 c. maple syrup

Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350° F. Grease three 8″ cake pans and line bottoms with waxed or parchment paper.

Make the burnt sugar syrup:   Put the sugar in a small saucepan. Swirl (do not stir!) the pan over medium heat until the sugar has melted and becomes caramel-colored.  Remove from heat and add the hot water a few drops at a time, watching for spattering. After the water has been added, cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Remove syrup from the heat and allow to cool.

Make the cake:  Add the milk to the cooled burnt sugar syrup and stir.  Sift flour, baking powder and salt together into a small bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and maple syrup on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Stop frequently to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the mixer on low speed, drizzle in the oil and vanilla until incorporated. Add eggs and yolks one at a time.

Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the batter and mix in. Then add about 1/2 of the milk/burnt sugar mixture. Repeat process until both mixtures are incorporated. Stir in nuts, using a rubber spatula.

Divide the cake batter among the prepared pans and smooth tops. Bake until the cakes are springy and a tester comes out clean, approximately 25-27 minutes. Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Then remove from pans and continue cooling on the racks.

Make ganache filling:  Place half of the cream in a small bowl and refrigerate.

Place chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (or in a double boiler). Warm until it is partially melted. Stir and remove from heat.

Heat remaining cream in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over the chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and then gently whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the butter and salt and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes.

Whip the chilled cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold into the chocolate mixture. Chill. Stir every few minutes until it is spreadable. Fill between the three cake layers with the ganache.

Make frosting:  Beat butter with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed for about a minute until smooth. Add cream cheese and continue to beat until smooth and lump-free, about a minute more. Dissolve espresso powder in vanilla, then blend mixture into frosting. Blend in maple syrup. Mix on medium-high speed until frosting is smooth and firm. Ice sides and top of cake with the frosting.

Cake should be stored in the refrigerator, but brought to room temperature before serving.


  1. I have a delicious caramel cake recipe which I haven’t made in ages, thanks for the reminder. I like the idea of caramel, chocolate pecans and caramel together, very tempting indeed…

  2. That looks divine! That thick frosting is calling out to me. I love vintage cookbooks and recipes too. I recently picked up a copy of Paula Peck , without a clue to who she was initially, and I love it to bits. No coloured pictures, just hand drawn illustrations and very detailed instructions. Again, that cake…

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