Brown Sugar Penuche Cake

Yesterday was my sister Julie’s birthday so I made her a Brown Sugar Penuche Cake.  It’s her favorite cake. It’s also my mom’s favorite cake as well as a long list of others in our family. The moist, light Brown Sugar Cake filled with the rich,  sweet Penuche Filling and Brown Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC) is a sure pleaser.


In our family, we call this Caramel Cake, but there really is no caramel in this variation so I did not want to be misleading. Even so, this cake has a very caramel-like flavor that is warm and appealing.A-front-standweb

The Penuche Filling is really what puts this cake over the top. If you have not had penuche, it is like brown sugar fudge with a firm texture and buttery sweetness. If you do not like foods very sweet I suggest you skip this filling and fill with extra Brown Sugar SMBC. This filling is ultra sweet and not for the faint of tooth, but it’s so delicious!A-back-standweb

This cake is lighter in texture than some of my other cakes which provides nice contrast to the dense filling. Here are some of the features of this Brown Sugar Cake:

  • Using oil as the primary fat keeps the cake moist and allows for nice volume.
  • A little butter aids texture, provides flavor and allows for some aeration.
  • Extra egg yolks help emulsify the batter which helps with rise and moisture and the yolks add flavor.
  • Brown Sugar increases the cakes moisture.
  • Sour cream adds moisture and flavor without weighing down the cake.


The Brown Sugar SMBC has only the change in sugar from traditional SMBC, but the brown sugar adds great depth of flavor. It is a perfect compliment to the cake. Starting this buttercream in the microwave makes this icing super fast to make.a-front-webThis cake is wonderful as it but you could also modify its basic form by adding spices, chopped apples, pears or peaches or fold in some chopped nuts. If you truly would like a caramel cake you can also replace half of the brown sugar with caramel sauce that is homemade or purchased.

I hope you have fun with this cake and embrace its inner sweetness!

Happy Baking!

Brown Sugar Penuche Cake


  • 12 ounces (340 grams) brown sugar-1 ½ cups
  • 5 ¾ ounces (163 grams) granulated sugar-generous ¾ cup
  • 2 ounces (57 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ounces weight (113 grams) vegetable oil- ½ cup
  • 2 large eggs plus 3 large yolks
  • 14 ounces (396 grams) all-purpose/plain flour-2 ¾ cup
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 ounces (wt.) sour cream
  • ¾ cup whole milk (6 ounces vol./0.18 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) vanilla extract
  • For the Penuche:
  • 4 ounces (1 stick/113 grams) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces (1 cup/227 grams) brown sugar-1 cup
  • 5 tablespoons (75 milliliters) milk
  • 14 ounces (397 grams) powdered/confectioner’s sugar-3 ½ cups
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • For the Brown Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) egg whites from whole eggs or a carton
  • 16 ounces (454 grams) brown sugar-2 cups
  • 16 ounces (454 grams) unsalted butter softened but not warm-2 cups
  • 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) vanilla extract


    For the Cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (177 C) and spray three 8-inch (20 cm) round cake pans with Baker’s Joy or grease and flour.
  2. Beat brown sugar, sugar, butter and oil on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and then beat for 1 minute. Sprinkle in dry ingredients and mix on low until moistened. Add sour cream, milk and vanilla and stir on low to combine then increase speed to medium and beat for 1 minute.
  3. Pour batter evenly into prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Rotate pans half way through baking time. Cool 10 minutes in pan and then turn out to a cooling rack. Cool completely if using immediately, or wrap in two layers of plastic wrap if using later. Fill the cooled cake with Penuche Filling and frost the cooled cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream or buttercream of choice. Enjoy!
  4. For the Penuche Filling:
  5. Heat the butter and brown sugar over medium-high heat in a medium sauce pan; stir and cook until the mixture boils over the entire surface and appears lighter in color. Remove from heat and stir in milk. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. I often use my emersion blender to smooth the icing out. Let cool slightly before filling cake but not too much or the filling will become solid.
  6. For the Buttercream:
  7. Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a microwave-safe bowl; Make sure the mixture is well mixed so the sugar can protect the eggs from cooking. Heat the mixture in the microwave for 2-4 minutes on high in 30 second intervals whisking well after each 30 second heating. Heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 160 f/72 C. Pour the syrup into a cake pan or shallow metal bowl (straining the mixture if any lumps are present) and chill in the freezer for 15-20 minutes until it is cool.
  8. Meanwhile, beat the butter in a mixer for 2 minutes on high until the butter is lighter in color and aerated. Add the cooled syrup in two additions to the butter beating 1 minute after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat 30 seconds until smooth; use immediately.
  9. You can store this buttercream at room temperature for 2 days, in the refrigerator, tightly sealed, for 2 weeks or in the freezer for 2 months.











26 thoughts on “Brown Sugar Penuche Cake”

  1. Omg Summer, you are killing me here. I love the taste of brown sugar, butter, caramel etc so, this really had me drooling here!! — I wish I had more hours in the day to try ALL your recipes, ha! Thank you so very much for your kindness and for such an awesome blog!! When I try this recipe I will come and report here…although, I already know is wonderful!!! lol 🙂

  2. I made this for my dear friend’s sister, to celebrate her 85th birthday. In their home, as in mine, we made penuche icings and candy. So when I first saw your recipes for this cake, I knew that this was the one! I made the cake, penuche filling, and buttercream per your recipe. I made the buttercream ahead of time and froze it. After thawing it and re-beating it, I think it was even better. Bottom line: the cake was a big hit! The combination of textures and flavors were amazing. Everyone thought the cake was very moist, although I personally thought it could have been more so. Maybe next time I will sprinkle the cake with a little flavored syrup (caramel?) to moisten it just a bit. This is definitely a cake that I will be making again! Thank you so much for the recipes and all your technical information, too! I feel that I learn something each time I read your blog and recipes.

    1. Hi Yvonne, I am so glad that this cake was a hit! I wrote an article once on the best way to add moisture to a cake and I found that adding liquid was the best way followed by adding sugar which attracts and holds onto water. I don’t suggest adding more sugar to this very sweet cake but you could increase the milk to 1 cup if you would like to add a bit more moisture. Syrups can sometimes cause a crumb to seem wet rather that moist and for that reason it is not my favorite way to moisturize a cake. I generally try to fix the recipe rather than aftermath. 🙂 I hope that with this change the next time it is absolutely perfect for you. Best of luck!

  3. Hi Summer, I want to use SMB in between layers of a wedding cake. The cake will then be covered in ganche and covered in fondant. It will take me approx 3 days to bake and decorate this cake and on the 4th day be delivered to the venue. As the cake will not be kept in a fridge due to the fondant. Therefore my question is how stable is SMB and how long will in keep – or should i revert back to butter cream.


    1. Hi Jacqui, The standard for SMBC is usually 2 days at room temperature. I would stretch it to 3 if it is inside of a cake but a fourth at room temperature is questionable; not so much for safety but just taste quality. I refrigerate my fondant cakes all the time and even freeze them from time to time. Have you ever tried refrigerating them? It can bring up issues with condensation but if treated carefully you should have no problems. Just something to consider. 🙂 Best of luck on this cake!

  4. Wow, I’m so glad I found your site…I like the way you write and your recipes sound fabulous! I am definitely trying this cake, among others! Just for arguments sake….what would happen to a cake batter if I replaced ALL of the white sugar with light brown sugar…? Do you need to keep some white sugar in there for textural reasons? I’m talking about a vanilla or white cake, not like a gingerbread cake or loaf cake.

    1. I think that it would be just fine. I am a huge fan of brown sugar so the more the merrier. Plus it will add a touch more moisture. Good luck!

  5. I’m making a cake for Christmas and would like to use this for one of the carved cakes, do you think this cake would hold up? I’m going to make it look like a package but one that is tapered from a 6″ square down to the base of 4″ square. It will be covered in fondant or I may use modeling chocolate panels. What do you think?

  6. Hi! I am baking some of your cakes for my kids’ birthdays and I’m wondering if you use a whisk or the flat paddle for mixing this cake? Looking forward to trying this one!

  7. Hi Summer! I just made this cake and it is absolutely delicious. However, we didn’t care much for the brown sugar frosting as it really didn’t have any taste other than making it sweet. So, I understand where you could sati might compliment since it doesn’t compete but it was just there and didn’t enhance the experience – in our opinion. Any thoughts as to a different frosting? I had vanilla bean SMB here, but that didn’t go- too sweet without enhancing. Question #2- The penuche- does it need to be refrigerated if not used up or made ahead? Maybe then just warm it up slowly on stove or low MW? Can I freeze any leftovers? This is my 1st time making it. All this being said- the flavor of the cake is fabulous as is the texture ( I used 6″ rounds with parchment collars at 325 degrees) and add the penuche to it – just amazing! Hah- my raspberry extract just arrived as I write this. Will try the rasp. pinot next.
    I just need to figure out how to finish the outside of this cake. THNAK YOU so much. Another great recipe.

    1. When I made it, I filled & frosted it with brown sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream with a little cinnamon. Also added some caramelized apples in between the layers. It was delicious.

    2. Hi Summer, Well I made a light maple SMB to frost this cake and it was to die for! So Good! Tasted like pancakes to me:)- it was warm. Delicious. Thank you.

    3. It is very sweet! You do not have to refrigerate the extra frosting (all that sugar preserves things!) if it is for a couple of days but for longer storage I would. You would need to warm it and perhaps add more liquid too. 🙂

  8. Can I convert this recipe into cupcakes? What would I need to change? Also, can I use the simple silky buttercream and add brown sugar? Thanks so much for your feedback.

      1. Thank you for your feedback. I appreciate it. How much brown sugar should I add? And do I just melt the brown sugar and then pour into the buttercream?

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