Candy Cake

Craving something sweet… I mean really sweet? After someone posted a picture of Holly Hobby on the internet this morning, I was feeling nostalgic. I can’t just sit still and feel nostalgic, I usually get some food memories going on at the same time, which means I get cooking / baking!

To keep the story short and sweet, my sister had the Holly Hobby Amy doll when we lived in Lakeview in Calgary. At the time I would have nothing to do with my little sister, so while she happily played with Amy, I would plot ways to torment her play with my friends, one of them being Sheelah Taylor who lived a few blocks away.  It was the Taylor’s who introduced me to Candy Cake. They also introduced me to the idea that men could knit (Sheelah’s dad was a great knitter), and that some churches take you to Sunday school by bus and while in said bus you had to memorize little bits of scripture typed on small pieces of paper in order to recite it once in “school”. That part of my life didn’t last long. 8 year old Cathy had a difficult time (still does) concentrating on anything during the weekend.


Candy cake. It’s got this going for it – it’s the easiest thing to bake. It’s oats, brown sugar, butter and vanilla. When it comes out of the oven, it’s a molten pan of sugary goodness. Once cooled, it slices up into delicious squares of teeth singing sweetness. Out of the respect for the Taylor’s, I continue the tradition of adding a layer of creamy butter cream icing as well (although today I skipped the blue food dye which was happily added back in the 1970’s).

Curious? Have a sweet tooth? Try this:


1 cup brown sugar
2 cups oatmeal (large flake)
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients and press into a 8 x 8 pan. Bake at 400F for 15 minutes. Allow to cool and cut into squares.

If you dare to go there, before cutting, top with butter cream icing. I don’t have a recipe. All I do is mix together about a 1/4 cup softened butter, a few drops of vanilla and milk, adding a little bit of icing sugar and mixing.  I keep adding drops of milk and bits of sugar until it looked like a butter cream.



It all started with a solid block of brown sugar.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 10.23.58 AM

Here’s a link to the Kitchn’s site to read the article, A Simple Way to Soften Hard Brown Sugar in a Hurry.

A few spoons of the softened brown sugar were used for our morning bowls of oatmeal. You see, it’s getting chilly outside, and when the weather changes, we have the urge to eat hot, fortifying breakfasts like porridge…. and sweet things….

Which brings us to penuche. With having learned how to soften our old bag of brown sugar, we now had just shy of 2 kg of brown sugar. Friend Darlene mentioned on my post how her family uses up their sugar by making penuche (can’t pronounce it? think Italian, and say pannuchi! Say it loud and joyfully, with open hand gestures, tossing your head to one side).

Armed with Darlene’s family recipe, and a few internet searches gathered around me, I set out to make a batch of penuche. And no better day to make penuche, when it’s blustering outside, and my husband has become linked at a molecular level to the television to watch Ireland beat France (24-9) in the Rugby World Cup 2015.

As Darlene promised, the recipe is easy. The most important thing I learned from Darlene, is that there is no steadfast rule about how to make it. I love recipes like that, because it takes the pressure off. Don’t have vanilla? Don’t put it in. Don’t have cream? Use evaporated milk. Lactose intolerant? Use lactose free 35% cream (yes this exists, and you cannot believe how excited I was to find it – even though I seem to be able tolerate regular cream just fine, why risk it?).

The second most important thing I learned from Darlene is to use a cast iron pan. Honestly! I would have never thought of that, and used it today, and it worked great. Yes, there were moments I had concerns my boiling burbling mass of sugary goo would overflow the pan like lava and burn a hole to the floor below us, but that did not happen!

I used principles that I learned in a bunch of recipes. I don’t have exact measurements, and encourage you to look at the web yourself. The main ingredients are:

Brown sugar (2 – 3 cups)
Cream (or evaporated milk) (1/2 to 3/4 cup)
Butter (2 – 3 tbsp)
Dash of salt (a dash, to me, is two shakes of the salt shaker)
Little bit of vanilla (less than a 1/4 tsp)

The internet will tell you different things. For instance, add white sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar, nuts, less butter, more butter, less sugar, more sugar, no vanilla, more vanilla…. go with whatever you like.

Where things are the same is when it comes to the method:

Put your butter, cream, sugar and salt in a pot / pan on the stove.




Bring to a boil.

IMG_4593Reduce heat and continue to boil until it reaches the soft ball stage. This potentially is the trickiest part of the process. If you have a candy thermometer, that would be 235F. However, if like me you don’t have a candy thermometer, learn how to tell your sugary mass has reached the soft ball stage by watching this video:

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 11.57.22 AMWhen this occurs, then carefully remove the pan, and pour the molten mass into a heat proof bowl, add your vanilla if you are adding vanilla (or nuts, or whatever) and stir.

IMG_4596Stir some more. Keep stirring….. no a little more, keep going… Stir for about 15 minutes, until the stuff thickens and loses its gloss.

Then pour out into a buttered (or parchment lined pan).

IMG_4599Allow to cool, and then cut into tiny pieces:

IMG_4602As I write this, I have the jitters from sampling so many of those little pieces. 😀

Penuche is sweet and delicious. It is also used to ice cakes, but I am of the camp that thinks cake is overrated. Let’s get right to the icing!