Cake: Heat 1/2 cup of the sugar in a heavy 8-inch skillet, stirring constantly,
until sugar is melted and golden brown.
Remove from heat; stir in boiling water
slowly. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar lumps are dissolved.
Add enough water to syrup, if necessary, to measure 1/2 cup; cool.
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch or three 8-inch
round layer pans.
Beat egg whites in small mixer bowl until foamy.
Beat in 1/2 cup of the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time; continue beating until stiff and glossy. Reserve
Beat butter, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, the egg yolks, and vanilla extract
for 30 seconds on low speed in large mixer bowl, scraping bowl constantly. Beat
for 5 minutes on high speed, scraping bowl occasionally.
Beat in syrup.
Beat in flour, baking powder and salt alternately with milk.
Fold in reserved meringue.
Pour into pans. Bake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean,
20 to 25 minutes.
Cool for 10 minutes.
Remove from pans. Cool completely on racks Fill layer(s) and frost with
Arrange pecan or walnut halves around top edge of cake if desired.
Caramel Frosting: Heat butter in a 2-quart saucepan until melted.
Stir in brown sugar, salt, and cream. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat; cool to lukewarm.
Gradually stir in enough confectioners' sugar until of spreading consistency.