Burnt Leather Cake (1914) ★★★★

Burnt leather cake. At first I thought it was a strange name for a recipe, and kind of unappetizing actually. And then I realized that this was just a caramel layer cake with a funny name. Further research showed that this cake goes by many names - brownstone front cake, burnt sugar cake, and other regional names derived from the caramelized sugar that flavours both the cake and the filling (although brownstone front cake often uses chocolate to deepen the brown color of the cake). I found some modern versions of the recipe, sometimes with only minor differences from this version. In fact, here's a version by another blogger, using a recipe from 1938. And if you're nervous about eggs in the filling, you could try a modern butter-based version, like this one.
By the way, I'm not sure how exactly I did it, but one of my layers turned out like the death star, which I thought was hilarious.

Original Recipe:

The Verdict:
In the end, my cake wasn't very "burnt" looking. I even used brown sugar in my filling and it wasn't very dark. Mr. Man liked the cake and the flavour, but he hates meringue-type things, so he wasn't a big fan of the filling. He rated it 3 stars with the filling, but 4-5 stars without it. I liked it because it was like caramel marshmallow fluff. The cake was good, but was actually quite mild in flavour. It was a tiiiny bit eggy, so I wonder how just 2 egg yolks would be. Ironically, the egg filling masked most of the cake's flavour anyway. Overall, this was good, but I probably wouldn't make it again because it was very time consuming making all that caramel. It's also FULL of sugar, so pretty high in calories. I would eat it again, however, and we'll likely finish off the rest of it.

 Modernized Recipe:
(Adapted from The Neighborhood Cook Book)

2/3 cup SUGAR
1/2 cup WATER

1 1/2 cups SUGAR
1/2 cup BUTTER
3 EGGS, separated
1/2 cup WATER
3 tablespoons CARAMEL
2 teaspoons VANILLA
3 teaspoons BAKING POWDER
2 1/2 cups FLOUR

1 1/2 cups SUGAR
2/3 cup WATER
2 EGG WHITES, beaten
1 tablespoon CARAMEL
1 teaspoon VANILLA

1. Make caramel by browning the sugar in a small saucepan on medium-low heat. Eventually the sugar will melt and turn brown. Next, add the water, being very careful because it will splutter and puff up. The sugar will harden, but continue to cook it for about 20 minutes and it will melt. Let it get to the thickness of very soft honey and remove from heat. Don't be afraid to let it get dark, but be careful of burning. Keep the heat at medium or less. It will become thicker as it cools.
2. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour two nine inch cake pans. Separate the eggs and beat the whites until stiff.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, water, caramel, and vanilla. Add the baking powder and the flour. Gently fold in the stiff egg whites. Divide between the two prepared pans and bake for about 20 - 30 minutes. Let cool.
4. To make the filling, beat the egg whites until stiff. In a small saucepan, boil together the sugar and water until a small amount drizzled in cold water forms thin threads (225-235F). Pour the cooked sugar over the stiff egg whites. Add the caramel (I added mine to the boiled sugar so it would melt) and vanilla and beat until slightly stiff and shiny. Let the filling cool in the fridge before use.

Anje graduated with a Honours Bachelors degree in History with a minor in Museum Studies. She currently lives and works in Japan's least populous prefecture as an assistant English teacher.


  1. It may not look 'burnt' but it certainly looks tasty

  2. It's interesting that the old recipe states "be careful of burning" because in my experience with this cake, that is exactly the point. Our family recipe says cook til "dark brown and smoky" It really is burnt. You have to turn off the smoke alarms before making this. the resulting burnt sugar syrup gives the cake a unique flavor you can't get from ordinary caramel.