Sometimes magic happens in the oven and the cake that emerges has a crunchy, crackly top that takes it from good to great. But you don't have to rely on wishes or wizardry to make it happen — the blog Ideas in Food has a simple way to add a crackly, lacey top layer to any cake or quick bread.
The secret is to brush on a paste of sugar, water, salt and vanilla during the last 10 to 15 minutes of baking. As the cake finishes baking, the paste forms a delicate, sugary crust over the top that adds flavor and textural contrast.
Generally speaking we stir together 1 tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, a few grains of salt and 3 tablespoons of water to make about ¼ cup of paste. Then we use a pastry brush to coat the entire surface of the cake about 10 minutes before the cake is done and return it to the oven to finish baking.
I've often glazed cakes after baking, but never thought about baking on a glaze for added crunch. This method seems open to a lot of experimenting with flavor, such as using different extracts, adding spices, or using other liquids in place of water. (A mixture of coffee and whiskey, perhaps?)
→ Check it out: Crackling Crust at Ideas in Food
(Image: Dana Velden)