Sunday, March 30, 2008

I dare to make cake!

It took me until today (life's been a bit challenging recently), but I've completed my first Daring Bakers challenge! This month's recipe is Perfect Party Cake, selected by Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts.  The recipe is from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours.  As a member of the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group, I'm quite familiar with this particular cookbook, but I hadn't had a chance to make any of her layer cakes.  Based on past experiences, though, I figured the recipe would be straightforward to follow and the end result would be delicious.  Right on both counts!

I've made cakes before, but this particular challenge prompted me to try a few things that I haven't done before.  Although Morven did give us the option of selecting different flavorings, I stuck pretty much with the recipe as written.  I did substitute a teaspoon of vanilla extract for the lemon extract in the cake batter, though I did leave in the lemon zest.

The batter was easy to make.  I made sure that all of my ingredients were at room temperature before I started, which I think helped.  I chose to use buttermilk rather than milk, to complement the lemon flavor.  I divided the batter between the two pans and ended up baking them for 30 minutes.  (And hey, I had an excuse to use my cool new giant sheet pan!)

The cake layers didn't turn out too tall, but they were certainly thick enough to slice into two layers each.  That's one of the new things for me--I don't think I've ever made a cake with more than two layers.  Fortunately, the cake was really easy to work with, and I had no problem slicing the layers in half.  

I chose to fill the cake with raspberry fruit butter (like jam, but not as sweet) along with the lemon butter cream.  That was another new one--I've made buttercream frosting, but it's been years, and the one I made before was based on egg yolks, rather than whites.  I really enjoyed making this one.  The recipe warned that the mixture might curdle, but I didn't have a problem with that.  Again, I think I managed to have the ingredients at the right temperature for things to work well.  

Even though it was down to the wire, I really enjoyed making this cake.  It has a nice flavor and it comes across as very light, despite the fact that there's so much butter in it.  Now I just need to work on my decorating skills.  =)

Perfect Party Cake
Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours (page 250).

Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless opportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation, making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon) (I used the buttermilk)
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 (I substituted 1 tsp vanilla extract for the lemon)

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

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable

Getting Ready
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.

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.


  1. Your cake looks so lovely. I almost skip this challenge too.

  2. I love how you decorated your cake! Beautiful!

  3. Beautiful cake, you decorated it wonderfully!

  4. Great cake! Congratulations on your first challenge and welcome to the Daring Bakers :D

  5. welcome to the db! glad you were able to finish, your decorating looks so pretty!

  6. You cake looks absolutely lovely :)

  7. So white and beautiful! Great job :)

  8. Yours looks so tall!
    Beautiful cake Di, congratulations.

  9. Looks great! Well done. I had many similar thoughts to you. I love the way you decorated it.

  10. Well done on your first Challenge and welcome to the group!! Your cake looks just superb!

  11. Di, your cake looks wonderful - so light and fluffy. Great job!

  12. Great job on the first challenge! It looks beautiful, and I love your decorations!

  13. `This cake has been my first challenge too¡¡¡¡
    Your cake is lovely, and your bresentation beautiful, Congratulations¡¡¡


  14. Congrats on your first Daring Bakers challenge! Your cake is beautifully finished!

  15. oh my, i dream of having a perfect cake like this!! great great job for this month's challenge!! this cake is definitely beautiful :-)

  16. A beautiful cake! Great job here!



  17. Wow! It turned out lovely! Your decorating is fantastic!

  18. The cake looks lovely! Great job!

  19. I love the decordating - I have no skill in this area, but perhaps DB will inspire me! Welcome to DB

  20. Its lovely!


  21. Your cake looks fabulous!! I Love the polka dots. They are my only weakness!!

  22. Beautiful cake and lovely decorated finish

  23. I'm so glad you got the opportunity to participate in the March challenge -- your cake looks GREAT. I hope life calms down a bit for you soon!

  24. mmmm your cake looks delicious!! Congratulations on your first challenge and welcome to the Daring Bakers I hope you have lots of fun baking with us!!!

  25. I love the dots on the cake! You did a great job.

  26. Incredible that in the midst of everything going on, you baked a four layer cake! I hope it helped you to relax and enjoy! It looks great and I am intrigued by the fruit butter. Great job on your first challenge! Welcome to the Daring Bakers!