This month the Daring Bakers tackled Dorie Greenspan’s beautiful Perfect Party Cake (p. 250 of Baking, recipe below). As soon as I flipped through the book, I knew I wanted to attempt this cake some day. I rarely have had a white cake come out completely white — there’s always some ‘golden’ edge, much as I’d like mine to turn out like Glenna’s, it never does. So, while I admired Dorie’s cake, I doubted mine would look much like it. However, I was pleased with the final result.
I baked this for Easter dinner, starting it the night before. My first run through, being quite distracted with making dinner, cleaning the house, kids running around, and not having a functional timer, I overbaked the cakes by 10 minutes. 10 MINUTES on a white cake. No, it wasn’t close to white. After the kids were in bed, I started over. The Husband helped me keep track of the time. It wasn’t completely without a little color, but it was probably the whitest cake I’ve made and it didn’t dome at all, which was nice. It did seem particularly thin; I was hoping it would make thicker layers but I knew as I spread it in the pan that it wasn’t going to be very high. The second one was higher than the first and I think the amount of whipping the butter and sugar was the critical difference. Warm butter, lots of whipping, and mine still never achieved a ‘light and fluffy’ stage, but more is definitely better here.
After the cakes were baked, The Husband convinced me we should go to bed and ‘get up early tomorrow to finish’. These are always famous last words in this house. It never works out quite like he plans. I woke up an hour later than ‘early’ and as I scrambled to make the buttercream I realized that I didn’t have the needed *3* sticks of butter. I had one. Boo. And I wasn’t about to run out to the store b/c I didn’t have time for that. So I punted and made a cream cheese frosting with lemon flavor. It was very good. I think the buttercream would have held the structure of the cake much more firmly and the next time I make this I’d like to try that, but I wasn’t going to bake another this week to experiment. Also, Dorie notes that this cake is best served at room temperature, and I can’t stress enough how significant that is. I regrettably served mine from the fridge, but the next day I ate half a slice before a prayer meeting and finished it afterward and the flavor was *SOOOO* much better after it was warm. So, really, serve this at room temp! It makes a difference.
With the first round of overbaked cake, which was still lovely on the inside, I went with an old standby for ‘ruined cake’ and made trifle from it. I used both strawberries and raspberries and it was especially good with a little blueberry syrup drizzled on it.
Thank you Morven for the excellent challenge! Recipe after the jump.
For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour (updated 25 March)
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).
To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.
To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.
The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.
The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.
Fresh Berry Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.