Veronica Morris holds one of her homemade caramel sheet cakes at her home Dec. 15. The local nurse's flexible work hours make it possible for her to fill a limited number of requests for her specialty cake. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
December 21, 2017 1:28:48 PM
Veronica Morris has "zero cooking background," but the Columbus nurse seems to be making up for it now. Caramel cakes have become her specialty, and that is largely a matter of serendipity.
"I just happened upon this recipe," Morris said. "The mother-in-law of a good friend of mine, Donna Manning, used to make them, and Donna passed it on to me." Success didn't come readily. "I tried and tried, and I finally got it," Morris smiled.
Making a caramel cake is often described as "a labor of love." That's because caramel can be tricky to conquer.
In a 2013 article on epicurious.com, Matt Lee and Ted Lee of The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen said, "Ask any Southern baker: Caramel cake can reduce a fully grown adult to tears -- and we don't mean happy tears, either."
Icing is the hurdle. It has to be just the right temperature -- warm enough to be pourable, but cool enough that it sets in place when spread with an icing spatula.
"It can be hard to get it real smooth and easy to manage and spread," Morris said. "You've got to be real careful when you're browning your sugar." She uses a cast iron skillet. "Yes ma'am, it's real easy to burn."
The LPN tested her first cakes on family and, before long, friends. Soon requests were coming in for cakes.
"I did take a lot of orders, but I have a regular-size oven, and it was overwhelming," she said. She's found a happier balance now, although holidays keep her oven at capacity.
"Oh my goodness, at Thanksgiving I think I did about 20 cakes," she said. She also makes one or two caramel sheet cakes weekly for Brother's Keepers Barbecue in Columbus. Morris has some help in the form of her 15-year-old son, Myles, who attends Columbus High School. When mom is baking, Myles often helps get supplies together and makes deliveries. In a way, he is responsible for inspiring his parent to recently branch out into birthday cakes.
"He wanted a birthday cake with a Polo symbol on it, and it was priced $100!" said Morris, who decided to make one herself.
While she isn't ready to divulge personal caramel cake secrets, Morris does share a couple of suggestions when using your favorite recipe.
She uses extra caramel icing as decorative trim on top of her iced cakes. If you'd like to do the same, the baker advises being sure to make enough icing for both jobs with one batch, because shades of caramel can vary due to slight variations during the sugar-browning process. "The color can be different on every batch you make," she said.
And the most useful tip she can pass on? "Always use real butter."
(Editor's note: For more information about Morris' caramel cakes, email her at [email protected])
LEE BROS. CARAMEL CAKE
Total time: 2 hours
For the cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pans
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk
For the icing:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
4 cups sugar
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
(Source: The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, Matt Lee and Ted Lee)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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