Hot stuff! Crème brûlée cake

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Crème brûlée… cake?

Isn’t crème brûlée that rich, inch-thick slab of vanilla cream covered with a crackly-crisp, caramelized sugar crust?

Yes.

So how does cake enter into this?

The King Arthur Flour Web team generates several emails to our customers every week. Some of them focus on merchandise, some on ingredients, some on a special offer.

Some feature recipes. Others, techniques – like the pre-Christmas “Freeze!” email that sent so much traffic to this blog, it actually crashed our site.

Thanks, all 71,000+ of you who visited that particular blog. We were happy to confirm that content does, indeed, generate interest.

Whatever the subject of the email, the recipe for the blog is supposed to match the theme. Some themes – e.g., chocolate – are quite broad, offering us bloggers lots of room to maneuver.

Others are more specific: “We’re selling our sourdough starter; do a sourdough bread recipe.”

And others are REALLY specific. Like the one we’re sending out this week: crème brûlée.

OK, crème brûlée. What goes with that theme?

Umm… crème brûlée, maybe?

Obvious, but unsatisfactory. Too simple; and besides, it doesn’t use my best friend: King Arthur Flour. Also, we sell THE BEST (and easiest) crème brûlée mix; call me lazy, but I just didn’t feel like dubbing around with crème brûlée from scratch.

What if… you put crème brûlée on top of cake? Now we’re talking.

What if… that cake was sandwiched around rich chocolate filling? (Chocolate, of course, being the perfect companion for vanilla.).

Golden vanilla cake, rich chocolate, vanilla cream…

Ah-HA! Reverse Boston Cream Pie.

Crème Brûlée Boston Cream Pie.

And another recipe is born.

Let’s have at it –

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If you want to make really good sweet treats, make sure you use really good extracts and flavors. Artificial flavors just don’t cut it, taste-wise.

Plus, buying in larger bottles makes economic sense. McCormick pure almond extract at our local chain supermarket is $5.69/ounce. Our Nielsen-Massey almond extract is $2.99/ounce, almost 50% less expensive. And our Sonoma Syrup Vanilla Crush – complete with shredded beans and seeds, for extra body and a gourmet “look,” as well as taste – is 33% less, per ounce, than McCormick pure vanilla extract.

OK, let’s go for it: Boston Cream Pie with attitude.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9″ round pan; or line with parchment, and grease the parchment.

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Put the following in a bowl:

2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional

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Beat till thick, and lightened in color.

Combine 4 tablespoons butter and 1/3 cup milk, and heat till the butter melts and the milk is very hot. Stir the milk to help the butter along. A microwave works well here.

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Add 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour to the egg mixture alternately with the milk/butter, beating gently just till everything is combined.

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Like this. The batter may be thinner than you’re used to; that’s OK.

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Pour the thin batter into the prepared pan.

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Gently shake the pan to level the batter.

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Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the middle springs back when touched lightly, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

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Remove the cake from the oven, and let it rest for about 5 minutes. See how the edges are pulling away from the sides of the pan? This is another sign the cake is fully baked.

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Turn the cake out onto a rack, and let it cool completely.

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When the cake is completely cool, cut it in half around its circumference, to make a top and bottom half.

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Like this.

Put one half, cut side up, on a serving plate.

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Next, make the filling. Place the following in a microwave-safe bowl:

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder, optional but good
1/3 cup heavy cream

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Heat the mixture till it’s very hot; the cream will start to form bubbles. Remove from the heat, and stir to melt the chocolate completely.

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Keep stirring till the mixture is smooth.

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Sift 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, and add it. Yes, you really should sift it; the filling will be smoother if you do.

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Pour the chocolate filling over the bottom half of the cake.

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Spread it to the edges of the cake.

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Center the other half of the cake atop the filling, pressing it down gently.

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This is what you have to do when, like me, you FORGET to put the cake on a serving plate before you start. Giant spatula to the rescue!

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Make the topping. A simple instant vanilla pudding, enhanced with some extra flavor, is super-easy.

Combine the following:

1 regular-size (not large) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

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Spread the pudding atop the cake.

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A bowl scraper does a good job smoothing the top.

Refrigerate the cake till just before serving time.

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Just before you’re ready to serve the cake (or up to an hour or so before), sprinkle it evenly with 1/3 to 1/2 cup coarse white sparkling sugar.

Oh boy, here comes the fun part… I’ve never used a chef’s torch before. First, I’d better practice on some leftover boiled sugar syrup.

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Yup, turns it brown all right.

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Look at that! I’m not even scared.

This torch is easy to use, and has all the appropriate safeguards to keep hesitant fire-wielders (like me) safe from harm. It’s currently on back order, but is supposed to be in on Friday. If you’ve ever considered buying a chef’s torch, I recommend this one highly.

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Then I decide to do a side-by-side test of regular granulated sugar (on the right), and coarse sparkling white sugar (on the left). The coarse sugar melts more evenly; the granulated tends to clump up in pools. Coarse sugar it is.

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As I run the torch along the edge, some of the sugar dribbles down the side of the cake – quite decoratively, I must say.

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OK, what if you don’t have a torch? You can still give this cake a crunchy caramelized sugar topping (top of photo); it’s just a bit more involved.

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And chunkier; like rock candy, rather than a crackly-crisp, ice-thin coating.

In retrospect, I should have crushed this sugar more finely. Do as I say, not as I did!

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Combine 1 cup granulated sugar + 2 tablespoons water in a small, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat till the sugar is completely dissolved.

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Bring to a boil, cover, and cook for 3 minutes, without stirring.  I didn’t have a cover to fit this pan; I think it would have been better if I did, because there was still some crunchy stuff on the sides of the pan after it had boiled for 3 minutes.

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Remove the cover, and continue to boil, swirling the pan regularly to prevent “hot spots.” If you need to stir, make sure your spatula has been rinsed clean; you don’t want to introduce any undissolved sugar crystals into the syrup at this point. Apparently sugar crystals – on the side of the pan, or on a spatula – can make your caramelized sugar lumpy.

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When the syrup is a light-to-medium golden brown, remove it from the heat…

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…and pour it onto a piece of parchment, or onto a lightly greased pan.

Allow it to cool completely, then crush it into small pieces, the smaller the better (without pulverizing it entirely). Placing it in a plastic bag and whacking it with a heavy saucepan or rolling pin works well.

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Uh-oh… Look what happened. This was another attempt at caramelizing sugar.

Well, I’m not about to throw it all out. Not yet, anyway. Let’s see what happens if I just keep stirring.

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HA! Everything dissolved. Must be beginners’ luck, because my fellow test bakers told me it was a goner.

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So here’s a darker version (the “mistake,” at left); and a lighter version of caramelized sugar.

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I prefer the darker version.

Hmmm… These sugar chunks might be just perfect in our sugar waffle recipe. Haven’t tried them, no guarantees, but they look like the right size and consistency. If anyone tries, let me know how the waffles turn out.

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Sprinkle the caramelized sugar chunks atop the cake. Obviously, these are much less delicate than caramelizing the sugar with a torch. But they’re tasty, nonetheless.

And these larger chunks do stay crunchy longer than the more delicate caramelized topping. In fact, while the “torched” sugar won’t stay crunchy under refrigeration, this one will – up to a point. (What point, I’m not sure; the cake didn’t last that long. I wouldn’t advise refrigerating this cake with the sugar topping more than 12 hours before serving.)

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Crème Brûlée Boston Cream Pie.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Lish

    Heaven, I’m in heaven. . . You just combined my husband’s two favorite desserts, and solved my problem of which to make him for Valentine’s Day! Genius, and looks amazingly delicious! I can’t wait to try this!!!

    Lish, caramelize the sugar just before, OK? It doesn’t make a thick, “crack it with a spoon” topping; it’s more delicate, and therefore softens more quickly. But – OH-so-tasty… :) PJH

    Reply
  2. TravelingAnn

    holy smokes, that sound fabulous!
    Do you have to use corn syrup for the filing? I don’t keep corn syrup in the house.

    Use some honey, Ann, if you have it – it just makes it a bit softer and easier to spread. PJH

    Reply
  3. Erin in PA

    This looks absolutely delightful! Once you get started caramelizing sugar, it’s hard to stop!! I made a caramel filling for a turtle cake this summer, and now I can’t stop myself — Caramel sauce, caramel candies, caramel for my coffee…. you get the idea.

    You’re my kind of gal, Erin – I know, I brought the torch home (and then could barely pry it out of my husband’s hands – he swore he needed it in his shop…) It’s really surprisingly easy to use. And yes, I’ve been known to make my own caramel sauce for ice cream… PJH

    Reply
  4. Jake

    I love creme brulee. I like cake. But holy cow! It’s one of those “you got chocolate in my peanut butter” deals, or maybe “you got your nutella-coated donuts in my peanut butter bacon”.

    Peanut butter bacon, eh? Hmmm… Well, I’m contemplating an apple pie with a lattice crust made of bacon strips, for this fall. How does that sound, Jake? PJH

    Reply
  5. YDavis

    That cake is calling my name! What a combination and it looks so delicious! MUST TRY CAKE, MUST TRY CAKE, MUST TRY CAKE…..

    AGREE, AGREE, AGREE… :) PJH

    Reply
  6. Kathy

    What a creative hybrid – kudos for your vision!

    Thanks, Kathy – I have the best job in the world, don’t I? PJH

    Reply
  7. Anne

    PJ-

    I don’t know how you don’t weigh 500 lbs! So you have convinced me to change my dessert tonight to this! We have a family night every Monday night and I was going to make my famous pound cake, but now I have changed my mind. This looks wonderful, and I am sure that my family will eat the whole cake! One thing I am wondering though is does the cake itself (without the frosting) freeze well? I thought that since I am making one I might as well make a few so when I make dinner for a friend, I have the dessert half way done already! Would you freeze it already cut or cut it after? I am thinking that cutting it after it has thawed a bit would be easier
    Thanks again PJ!. I would cut it afterwards, while it was still slightly frozen. Generally cake freezes well for about 3 months. What a good friend you are. I bet all of your friends count them selves lucky to have you as their friend.

    Reply
  8. Marianna

    PJ, I am going to admit to the whole world right now that I so envy you your job. I know you work hard but you get to BAKE and make yummy and lovely things for a living. That is a very good thing. I don’t get to do that but I do get to reap the rewards of all your hard work and knowledge. I bake for my family, friends, and even my clients and so all your hard work travels far and wide! :) I love everything about this cake! I adore vanilla and all things caramelized. I have all the ingredients including the torch so I may even do this tonight. Oh and btw, I am so so happy to see the new bowl scraper! My KA 200th anniversary scraper is looking very worn and a little sad. Still, I might have to keep it just for the memories. LOL

    Marianna, always nice to hear from you here. I’m betting you have some very happy clients – and friends, neighbors, family… You can retire the bowl scraper to a place of honor. Old bowl scrapers never die… (their writing) just fades away… :) PJH

    Reply
  9. maya

    oh wow. and here i didn’t even know that i needed a giant spatula, sparkling sugar and a kitchen blow torch! but i do need them! i really, really do!

    yum yum.

    Need and want somehow, inexorably blend, don’t they, Maya? :) PJH

    Reply
  10. Joey D

    Looking forward to playing with this one. I do a similar cake using chocolate-hazelnut spread in the middle, and toasted hazelnuts around the sides… never thought to caramelize the top with a bit of vanilla pudding/cream. Hmmm. Maybe a little vanilla sugar just to gild the lily? Yum.

    YUM is right, Joey – go for it! PJH

    Reply
  11. Anne W.

    I have a hard time with instant vanilla pudding (too many school lunches), but I see it called for in many otherwise wonderful recipes. Is the, uh, unique texture of instant pudding necessary, or would cook-and-serve (or scratch) pudding work, do you think?

    Any kind of pastry cream is fine, Anne – instant pudding, cooked pudding, “real” pastry cream, pastry cream mix… it’s just my nature to go for what’s quick and easy and tasty (to me). Each to his own – actually, cooked pudding, cooled, with whipped cream stirred in is lovely – PJH

    Reply
  12. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez - Petrópolis, R.J. - BRAZIL

    Hi, P.J.. I´m here again approving this new cake recipe. I´d never worked here with bruleé. But i´ll give a try. The cake basis is what we call here Pão-de-ló, and we cut here in half size with a help of nylon strip. Easy to cut!
    I loved this recipe, specially by the caramelized sugar.
    U with another nice recipe!!

    Thanks, Ricardo. By the way, your cheese buns have met with HUGE approval – they’re scheduled to appear here Feb. 21. And the “Jewish Strudel” (which I’m calling Tropical Sweet Bread at the moment; don’t want to confuse people with the strudel part when it’s challah dough) on March 5, barring any changes in the schedule… So, thanks SO much for your great recipes and for being connected here. PJH

    Reply
  13. AJ

    Hide the scales! I want this right NOW! I want the WHOLE cake…for me
    …ALL MINE!
    PJ, you are soooo…amazing!

    Awww…. sugar and butter and eggs and flour “bring good things to life,” don’t they, A.J.? PJH

    Reply
  14. Kiran

    Oh wow .. i just made a normal boston cream cake yesterday and this just looks amazing .. going to try it this weekend ..
    However, could you help me out with something? Products like pure vanilla, or even vanilla bean paste, or vanilla extract are not available in my country as far as i know .. so if i could ask a relative there to get me something from KAF .. what is like the best thing that i should get? i’m confused between asking for extract or vanilla bean paste and which type? i really want to use these ingredients coz i’m sure the taste is amazing..
    Thanks :)

    Kiran, I’d suggest the Vanilla Bean Crush – the perfect cross between vanilla extract, and vanilla bean paste. Full of shredded pods and seeds… I recommend it highly. PJH

    Reply
  15. Mari

    PJH,
    I’ve done the apple pie with lattice bacon on top… Oooohhh it’s so delish! It was such a big hit when I made it over the holidays. They haven’t stopped talking about it…

    BTW, this sounds good too…hmm just browsing now because I am trying to lose weight…so browse, drool, crave…. and wait for a perfect excuse to make it!

    Oh… my! Someone who’s actually experienced this culinary dream? I’m definitely on it, soon as good baking apples are at the farmstand… Thanks, Mari! PJH

    Reply
  16. Alison T

    You are now tantalizing us with your comment to Ricardo about Cheese Buns and Jewish Strudel on the way – can’t wait! :)

    Stay tuned, Alison – as I said, unless they get bumped by something else, they’re both on the schedule. PJH

    Reply
  17. sugar plum

    tHIS IS SO DIVINE….i dont own a blow torch yet but def a must try sooonnnn or maybe i’ll jus stop over at test kitchen for that perfect gorgeousness…….

    Reply
  18. Teresa

    Oh my goodness! This looks so delicious. I think I’ve found the dessert to make for the next get together of my craft group! That might be too far away. I think I have to make some practice ones!! Great idea and pretty easy execution, too!

    Practice makes perfect, Teresa. And the “mistakes” are so delicious! :) PJH

    Reply
  19. Lenore

    Wanted to let you know that I placed an order this week that included Bakers’ Ammonia, Crush and cookie scoops based on your blog recipes and demo’s. Keep up the good work!

    Thanks SO much, Lenore – need to keep the $$ coming in to support the work we do… Appreciate your business! PJH

    Reply
  20. Candace

    PJ, what’s a replacement for Bakewell Cream? I don’t use it enough to stock it. (BTW, this cake looks yummy!) Thanks!

    It’s cream of tartar, more or less. You use it with baking soda; 1/4 teaspoon baking soda + 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar (Bakewell Cream) + 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch = 1 teaspoon baking powder. That should work… PJH

    Reply
  21. Martina

    I LOVE your blog!!!
    I have tried several recipes and have LOVED them. The last I made was popovers. Awesome.
    Anyhow, is there a printable version of this awesome cake?
    Thanks!!
    Martina

    Thanks for your kind words, Martina. A link to the recipe is always at the end of the blog. Here it is again (without all those bothersome accents): Creme Brulee Boston Cream Pie. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  22. Mimi

    If I didn’t have a torch, I would take a chance and put the cake, quickly, under a hot broiler, watching it every second.

    I tried to do that, Mimi, but found out the broiler in my oven didn’t work!! I THINK it would work – just not sure… Hey, folks, if anyone tries caramelizing the sugar with a broiler, let us know, OK? Thanks – PJH

    Reply
  23. Tory

    I always check your emails for recipes and what’s up with products, but recently life has been ‘too much with me’ to spend time here at the blog. I DID take a few minutes today to pop in with a cup of tea and to enjoy the Creme Brulee Boston Cream Pie (who could resist??). What a great feeling! Just like stopping by an old friend’s house. Thanks, guys, keep up the great work! You’re the light in the window guiding me home to where I want to be!

    Tory, I hope our light guides you past “too much with me” very soon… We all have those times. But remember: change is a constant. And time heals. Safe travels home – PJH

    Reply
  24. Lucy

    I want to share a professional tip for the sugar topping for Creme Brulee. Mix equal amounts of white and brown sugar, i actually mix it by hand. spread thickly on a baking sheet and place in a warm oven to DRY OUT. This mixture should be recrumbled by hand while drying to make sure it is well combined. Stored in a tightly sealed container away from moisture, it will keep for a long time…unless you use it up real quick cause it is so great. It is the perfect texture for “torching”. Spread on a layer that is at least 1/4″ deep, yes, you do need that much. This combo has a wonderful flavor, makes a perfect breakable crust and colors beautifully. I save the mixutre and combine as needed with spices for other sugar toppings even without torching. I am going to make your lovely cake for Game Night next week, i know my friends will love it. Thank you always for your wonderful blogs.

    Reply
  25. Barbara W Sterling

    Umm, I have an idea, when you post these wonderful recipes, could you also make some to sell in the store. I drive past twice a day and would love to be able to buy this tonight, any night, always….
    Thai pizza for dinner and creme brulee cake for dessert!
    Thank you for the wonderful recipes.

    Reply
  26. Dina

    i am so totally in love with this cake — it looks so moist and delicious! Creme Brulee is one of my favorites and I will definitely give this recipe a try!

    Reply
  27. Penny K.

    Hi PJ,
    Saw this the other day and knew I had to make it for my DH for Valentine’s Day since any flavor creme brulee is one of our very favorite desserts. Ergo, I made it this a.m. before Heart’s Day brunch but was very confused when I got to the vanilla pudding topping. Did I understand correctly that it takes (2) pkgs. of pudding mix but only 1 1/2 cups milk (reduced to 1 1/4 cups)? I made the topping using both packages and only 1 1/4 cups milk–yes it’s extremely thick but I was able to spread it without difficulty. Since there are only the 2 of us, I plan to torch individual slices as I cut them. I love my mini torch–it’s way cool. We will share this hopefully yummy dessert later this evening. TIA for your help.
    Sincerely,
    Penny

    Whoops, I made a mistake – that should be 1 package of instant pudding and 1 1/4 cups of milk. It makes a very thick pudding, so that it’ll spread easily, hold its shape, and stand up to the torching. Good idea, torching individual slices as you serve them – in face, EXCELLENT idea. Thanks for sharing your inspiration here! PJH

    Reply
  28. Ingrid Hilton

    I have become a big fan and I am making this for Church Wed. evening. I also have been making a lot of bread and use yours and Jeff Hertzberg recipes. My question is in Jeff’s book there is a ‘Sunny-Sid-Up Apricot Pastry’ which has this wonderful Pastry cream recipe (milk, sugar butter vanilla bean, cornstarch, eggs) how would this hold up to torching as a topping for this cake instead of pudding? Thanks, love getting you emails just wish you weren’t so far away, I’m in California.

    Well, Ingrid, thanks to the “magic” of technology, we can all feel like we’re gathered around the same kitchen table… I’m quite sure the pastry cream you desribe would be fine for torching; don’t see why not, with the cornstarch to hold it together. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  29. Nicole

    Hello, hello! Thanks for this recipe :) I have a torch, but we don’t have the sparkling white sugar available in our country. Will regular granulated sugar work too? Thanks!

    Nicole, please see my answer to Jamie… PJH

    Reply
  30. Jamie

    If you don’t have sparkling white sugar, what do you use? Will brown or white sugar do? I don’t want to make caramelized sugar since I have a torch. Thanks!

    Jamie, scroll to the end of the blog and you’ll see what granulated sugar does; it clumps up. Brown sugar would melt and run, I’d assume. But you could just sprinkle some brown sugar on top of the pudding, without torching it, and it would be kind of the same effect… PJH

    Reply
  31. Janice

    Hi…Can u substitute u’r gluten free flour in this recipe?
    Rather than try to adjust this recipe, just use your favorite GF vanilla cake recipe for the cake. It should work out just fine. ~ MaryJane

    Reply

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