Monday, March 31, 2008

The Perfect Party Cake

I give you: The lopsided pink snowball from planet delicious.

I hope will be forgiven for posting my Daring Bakers assignment a day late, but this chick aint got internet in her pad. Regardless, the Perfect Party Cake has been made, follwoing precise instructions and is waiting patiently in the fridge to be enjoyed by the office.

It started out pretty rough- An absent minded retelling of how I inexplicably failed to separate my eggs during my souffles last week lead to more INEXPLICABLE yolk in my eggs whites... This might be the first cooking technique I actually mastered, and here I am making modern art instead.
Now THIS is when you wish you had smell-o-vision: Sugar and lemon zest mixed by rubbing them through your fingers. It smelled so good my boyfriend had to come over and see what was going on.

Jumping ahead a bit- I baked the cakes in smaller cake pans (it's all I got folks) so they were done in about 15 minutes. You can see the perfect little bottom side of the first cake. I might also add at this junction, as many of the other Daring Bakers have said before, that my cakes didn't really rise either, but my little cake tins made for 3 cakes and not 2. So I just made mine a 3 layer cake without the hassled of horizontal slicing... please forgive :P You might also note that the raspberry preserves which were not so seedless... so a good sifting was in order.
I'll come out and tell you right now that the butter cream frosting was frightening. Sugar, 4 eggs whites, lemon juice, vanilla extract and about 18 pounds of butter.
Now the directions say to whisk the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl (and no, i didn't use this purple plastic salad bowl...) over simmering water until the mixture is hot to the touch. Then you remove the bowl and beat the mixture until cool. Then you add the butter and mix the butter cream for another 6-10 minutes just to make sure everything is nice and combined (and yes, this is exactly when my boyfriend's mom called- poor thing). You want your buttercream to be thick and shinny. Now, a weird thing happens about half way through beating the buttercream- it suddenly thickens and seriously turns into butter. Can you tell from the above pictures just how much the mixture beats down? I thought i'd done something wrong... But once you add your lemon lemon and vanilla extract you're good to go.

The real tricky but rewarding part of this cake is the assembly- I mean look at that monster! Maybe, just maybe I put too much raspberry preserves on each layer..... But i just can't help myself when I'm working with something so delicious. I would like to know from other bakers how the heck they managed to frost their cakes without turning it pink from the jam. Again, this might just have to do with the ridiculous amount of jam I layered on...
Or maybe the buttercream was *gasp* too thick! I mean, the piece i just ate right this very second as I write this, did have maybe 1/2 inch of frosting on the top.... I'm just saying...

In the end, the cake turned out wonderfully. I will definitely make it again, but only for a real special occasion because the sweet and thick butter cream frosting was beeeeeegging to be eaten with a glass of champagne.


From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours (pages 250-252)

Words from Dorie

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 (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

For the Cake
2 ¼ cups cake flour
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

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

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.Whisk together 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 more 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.

Playing Around
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 Party 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.


  1. I was probably too skimpy on my jam, and didn't spread it all the way to the edges to keep my icing from turning pink. Yours looks more fun to eat. :)

  2. Like the Carl's Jr. commercial, "if it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face." I bet it tasted great!

  3. Great job- it looks so yummy!

  4. You did a wonderful job on your cake. And the pictures are great too.

    Thanks for sharing the photos from your job. Pretty cool!

    Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

  5. Given the substitutions and *excellent* problem solving, it looks GREAT!!! It truly is a difficult cake the first time - hence why it was my reach recipe senior year :) But yay it looks very tasty!

    The last time I made this cake, I literally SLICED my thumb open when I was cutting one of the cakes (I have a brand new serrated knife and it was quite sharp). Jessica (my roomie) had to finish icing the cake.

    Can't wait to see you soon!!! Whatever shall we bake???

  6. Jenny- I totally had that realization half-way through layer three... I will keep it in mind for next time. Because we all know there WILL be a next time!

    Mother bliss- It sure did, it suuuuuure did.

    gabi and sheltie girl- thanks!

    JJ- you're the only person I know who would slice themselves while baking. My mom and I have done it while slicing onions

  7. Great job on your first Daring Bakers challenge. Messy or not, it looks delicious! Welcome!