Toffee Vanilla Bean Bundt Cake with Caramel Sauce


Toffee Vanilla Bean Bundt Cake with Caramel Sauce and Sea Salt, to be precise.

The annual bake-off for the Digital Group was upon me, and this year I wanted to really make something special. I’ve taken up baking pretty heavily since the last one, but I mostly do everyday baking: breakfast muffins, cookies for the kids, etc. The bake-off is another story.

It’s also a culinary highlight of the year, because you get to walk around the table and take a piece of tons of different, delectable homemade desserts. So this time around, I wanted to make something worthy of the occasion. Thus, this crazy-delicious-looking bundt cake.

Things started traditionally enough, with the cake. All purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and a whisk.


Next stage: butter. Lots of it.

butter, lots of it

I beat that until it was smooth, then gradually added 1 3/4 cups of white sugar.

adding sugar

The key to getting the right texture in this cake, I think, is the way ingredients are added carefully and individually. Next up, three eggs, beating after each one.



Next was the vanilla bean. I did have a small obstacle here. I decided to check out a YouTube video on how best to use the vanilla bean, and in my research I discovered that you want your vanilla bean pods to be thick, and not dry. Sadly, mine were skinny and very dry. I did the best I could to scrape out the seeds from a few of them but it was rough going. I decided to supplement the bean with some vanilla extract, being careful not to overdo it.

vanilla and vanilla bean

Once that was blended, I started to add the flour mixture and the (light) sour cream alternately, mixing on low speed as I went. The texture just seemed to get better and better.


perfect texture

Beautiful, isn’t it? I poured half the batter into my bundt pan, then sprinkled the surface with Heath toffee bits.

toffee bits

Then I poured on the rest of the batter and smoothed it out.

smoothing batter

That went into the oven, and I turned my attention to the caramel sauce.

A week ago, I had my lovely friend Marcie come by and back seat drive me through making caramel sauce. She’s my go-to on about a million different things that come up in the course of daily life, and of course, she knew how to make caramel sauce. We made a batch the weekend before, but the rules of the bake-off are that you have to do everything yourself, so it was time to whip up another batch.

I couldn’t photograph every stage, as a lot of this is about timing, but I started off by pushing the sugar around in a saucepan, on medium/low heat.

sugar in saucepan

Eventually it starts to get crispy and brownish.

crispy and brownish

And then it starts to turn to liquid.

caramel turning into liquid

liquid caramel

And then, things didn’t go so well.

Once it was all liquid (and the color of a dirty copper penny, per David Lebovitz), I added the butter and whisked it in while it fizzed and bubbled. (I quickly learned to wear an oven glove while doing this as it’s messy and incredibly hot.) But when I added the heavy cream, I ended up with one giant hard piece of caramel floating around in a caramel soup.

I poured it all out. I figured that what had gone wrong was temperature; the heavy cream, having just arrived from the grocery store via Dave, was too cold. I poured out some more and while that sat, I checked on the cake. With 20 minutes to go, I figured I was better off waiting for it before I restarted the caramel. I didn’t want to be worrying about the timing of two items at once.

The cake was done at about 50 minutes, with a toothpick coming out perfectly clean. I let it cool in the pan for ten minutes, then took it out.

cake in pan

cake on rack

Then back to the saucepan. This time I let the sugar heat up a little more slowly, and after the butter was whisked in, I added the (not-too-cold) heavy cream gradually, whisking furiously as I went.

caramel on stovetop

This time, no big candy lump! Just delicious hot caramel sauce. I poured it into a jar, and then waited an hour for the cake to cool completely.

Once it was cool, I put the cake on a rack with a parchment-lined cookie sheet underneath, and poured, poured, poured.

adding sauce

When that was done, I poured the sauce from the sheet back over the cake, repeating this until I had covered every inch.

Once that was done, I gently sprinkled some Maldon sea salt on top.

sea salt on top

And then I stopped.

I was done.

There was nothing left to do.

I let it sit out on the counter for a few hours and then covered it in an airtight container. And then I waited.

In the interest of full disclosure, for last year’s bake-off I made chocolate whoopie pies with peanut butter filling. I thought they tasted pretty great, being a peanut butter junkie, but I confess they didn’t look very pretty and bigger confession, I came in LAST. I didn’t just not win; I got last place.

Since then, I’ve actually taken up baking as a hobby. I always baked at Christmas and sometimes made cookies for the kids, but it was about a month after the bake-off that I took it up in earnest.

But the bake-off crowd is a talented one, and I figured that as long as I didn’t come in last, I’d feel good about my effort.

Well guess what?

I came in second!!!

First prize, deservedly, went to something called Heavenly Caramel Supremes, and they were both heavenly AND supreme, so I can’t feel bad about that.

Second place made me very proud.

And you know what made me prouder? Heading back to the conference room to bring home the leftovers for Dave, and finding nothing left on the plate but crumbs.

Awesome recipe. The cake itself was perfect: moist, light, fluffy, with a creamy, vanilla taste and a lovely toffee surprise in the middle. The sauce was exquisite, the sea salt the perfect accent. Could not be more worth the time and effort.


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