Sunday, March 30, 2008
I had a great time with this recipe. It was simple, straightforward, and most importantly, delicious. The cake itself was light and buttery, with the gentle whisper of vanilla and lemon. The swiss meringue came together beautifully. It was rich but not cloying, silky on the tongue, and sweet on the palate. I made some alteration to the original recipe and those are in parenthesis.
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.
Perfect Party Cake
For the Cake:
2 1/4 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt (omitted because of the salted butter)
1 ¼ cups whole milk
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature (salted butter because that was all I had)
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract (omitted and replaced with vanilla extract)
For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
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 frothy and 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 best eaten at room temperature a few hours after assemblage, since it loses all subtlety of flavor if eaten cold. If you used whipped cream, store in the refrigerator and bring it out to warm to room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.
Originally I had planned to use freshly whipped cream for the layers and frost the outside with the buttercream, but somehow my whipped cream refused to stay stiff and fell apart in a liquidity mess (not very appetizing). Since I only made half the buttercream recipe, I had to skimp a little on the frosting. I also layered in sliced fresh strawberries and covered the sides of the cake with shredded coconut. Another thing to note is that the cake does not rise very much. When I went to slice it in half horizontally, I was met with complete disaster. I already knew I pretty much suck at doing that, but I tried anyways, and ended up with a hole in one layer and too much cake in the other. So I did some patchwork and used those as the middle and the top layer. I intelligently decided to not slice the other cake, and used that as the bottom layer.
All in all, it was a successful challenge. The cake was well-received and I had a great time.