Begin With The End in Mind

I have followed Ina Garten as a role model for cooking and entertaining for a number of years.  She makes everything look effortless and she gives the host/hostess permissions to cook and bake but also to purchase great treats...

I have followed Ina Garten as a role model for cooking and entertaining for a number of years.  She makes everything look effortless and she gives the host/hostess permissions to cook and bake but also to purchase great treats to add to your meal!   Ina, the famous Barefoot Contessa, also has been  known to say, always remember to create a big finish with any dinner party as your guests will always remember the dessert!  After years of entertaining, I cannot agree more.  Take the time to make the last course a memorable one!  Some would suggest we should start menu planning around desserts. The spirit of Stephen Covey would concur that we must begin with the end in mind!

Caramel Cake
Caramel Cake

This past weekend we gathered with friends and did something that Ina would approve, we combined our efforts and even purchased some of the meal.  I like entertaining where everyone contributes something to the fare.  We started with appetizers from the area Farmer’s Market in three fresh Goat Cheeses and Stuffed Olives along with Roasted Tomatoes served with fresh Mozzarella and Basil.    A fabulous Italian Spot provided take-out and we brought home Sorrento Lemon Traditional Chicken, Diavola Specialty Chicken and a Pasta dish finished with homemade Italian Sausage and basil all served family style.  Thank you Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano in Atlanta, Georgia!    We created a big Arugula salad to go with these treats and Garlic Bread.  It was a perfect meal, but this was only the beginning!

Dessert was a treasured confectioner’s treat in Caramel Cake, a hallowed Southern tradition.  These layers of perfection were crafted in Georgia and previously frozen and thawed for this celebration.   We have enjoyed this Caramel Cake and an Italian Crème Cake, with promises of a Red Velvet Cake and a Simple Yellow Cake with Chocolate frosting in our near dessert futures.   A neighbor recently purchased a second freezer to hold these layers of specialty order cakes from a baker in Dewey Rose, Georgia.  The recipe is a family secret, but here is a photo to capture the layers of moist goodness.

There are many things that make this cake so special, but I think that the caramel is the secret ingredient.   It is smooth and rich and a velvety finish to this very moist buttermilk cake.  This is a very Southern dessert and one that is a labor of love.

Caramel is the secret ingredient
Caramel is the secret ingredient

Here is a recipe I could find with Southern roots from the Bulloch House in Warm Springs, Georgia.

The Bullock House Restaurant’s Caramel Cake


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract



  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Heavily grease 3 8 –inch cake pans.  Suggestion is to also line the bottom of each cake pan with parchment paper and grease this again for insurance that these cakes will release.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat sugar and butter until well incorporated.
  5. Beat in eggs one at a time.
  6. Add in half of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk beating for one minute.
  7. Then add the remaining flour and buttermilk along with the vanilla and beat for another minute.
  8. Divide this batter evenly between the thee pans.
  9. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes or until the cakes are cooked through.
  10. Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks for five minutes.
  11. Turn cakes out of the pan, removing parchment paper and cool completely.
  12. Wrap each layer in plastic wrap and freeze overnight or up to one week ahead.
  13. When ready to assemble, remove layers from the freezer
  14. Unwrap the first layer and arrange on a cake plate
  15. Make the icing.  See recipe below.
  16. Working quickly, spread the first layer with about ½ cup of Caramel icing.
  17. Unwrap the second layer and place on top of the first.
  18. Spread with about ½ cup of Caramel icing.
  19. Unwrap the third layer and place on the top.
  20. Use the remainder of the Caramel icing for the top and sides of the cake.

 The Bullock House Restaurant’s Caramel Icing


  • 8 tablespoons margarine
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 1/3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ¾ cup evaporated milk ( about ½ of a 12 ounce can)


  1. In a large saucepan, heat margarine and butter over medium heat until almost completely melted.
  2. Add brown sugar and evaporated milk and turn heat to high.
  3. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil.
  4. Once it reaches a boil, turn heat to medium and continue cooking until the temperature reaches soft ball stage or 240 degrees.
  5. Stir frequently to prevent scorching.
  6. Remove saucepan from the heat and pour into a separate bowl to cool.
  7. Allow this icing to cool until it reaches a spreading consistency, beating occasionally and more as the icing cools.
  8. Use immediately.

*** Caramel icing can be tricky!  The secret shared on the icing is to cool the frosting until the temperature is just right.  Not too cool, but not too hot!  If too warm, the icing will flow off the cake, if too cool, the icing will freeze up and begin to crumble.  Having the cake layers cold helps to achieve good results!

I think our guests would agree, our meal was fabulous, but the dessert was more than memorable!

Always begin with the end in mind!

What is your favorite dessert to finish a great meal?