Caramel cake, also known as a caramel custard cake or leche flan, is decadent. It’s a classic smooth and soft dessert—not too sweet, but rich in caramel flavor. The texture is a combination of cake and a crème caramel (thanks to the creamy caramel topping). The cake consists of three distinct layers, baked in the same pan, at the same time. The bottom layer is light, chiffon cake, while the top is a smooth caramel custard. There is a final, thin layer of caramel on top. Once you try this three-layer cake, you wouldn’t want to eat any other dessert!
You will need to caramelize sugar for this recipe. But before you stress, it’s really not that hard to do yourself! White sugar is most often used to make a caramel. Applying heat to the sugar allows the sugar molecules to break down into a liquid. There are two ways to make a caramel, a wet method and a dry method. For this recipe, we used a dry method. The advantage of the dry method is that the caramelization process happens very quickly. But this also means that it burns quite quickly, so make sure to keep an eye on it!
Start by caramelizing sugar. To do this, sprinkle the sugar in a single layer in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Allow the sugar to melt slowly, making sure to keep an eye on it the whole time. As it starts to melt, use a rubber spatula to gently move the sugar around, making sure all the granules melt.
Once the sugar melts, it will start to caramelize very quickly, turn the heat to low if necessary. Continue until you achieve a deep-brown color.
Pour caramel into a round 20cm (8-inch) cake pan, while swirling the pan around to spread caramel in a thin layer. Place the caramel in the refrigerator and allow to set.
In the meanwhile, prepare the custard. Simply whisk all the custard ingredients together until smooth with no visible lumps.
To make the cake layer, whisk together the orange zest with egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, vegetable oil and orange juice.
Combine flour, salt and baking powder in another bowl.
In the third bowl beat the egg whites with sugar until stiff peaks form.
Add the flour mixture into the egg yolk mixture and stir to combine.
Use a spatula to gently fold in the egg whites, trying to save as much air as possible.
Take the cake pan out of the fridge. Pour the custard layer over the caramel.
Add the cake layer on top of the layer.
Bake in a water bath for 45-55 minutes at 180°C/350°F.
Leave to cool down completely before removing from the pan.