Sunday, March 30, 2008

March Daring Baker Challenge: Perfect Party Cake

Yes, I finally took the plunge, Daring Baker-style. I mean really, how could I not? I love to bake, and obviously need more excuses to do so. Also, my co-workers aren't fat enough yet. That's totally an excuse in and of itself. To that end, I presented them with this – Dorie's Perfect Party Cake. This choice made me start laughing the minute I saw it. As you saw in the previous post, Dorie is the one who got me started on food blogging, with Tuesdays with Dorie, and here we are again. Not only that, it's pretty difficult to mess up a Dorie recipe, so I felt safe doing the whole daring thing.

As far as the cake baking went, things went off without much of a hitch at all. I had noticed with previous cakes from this book that they tended not to rise much at all. This distressed me, as I felt that cakes should be high, fluffy, and moist. Those are my hallmarks of a good cake. To help with that, Christine and I (yes, I team-baked this one) decided to toss in a teaspoon more leavening in hopes that it would help. In the end, it didn't do much, so our next idea will be to bake them in 8-inch pans instead of 9-inch, just to keep them a little taller.

While they baked and cooled, we assembled the buttercream. I hadn't made buttercream before, so this was a little nerve-racking for me. Horror stories of curdled or separated buttercream haunted me for weeks prior to this, so I was just a wee bit nervous that it would all go terribly wrong. Luckily, nothing went wrong. It separated just a wee bit while it was being whipped for 6-10 minutes, just like Dorie said, but came together and looked just as pristine, white, and fluffy as promised. In went the lemon juice and vanilla, followed by more whipping. Then, right on schedule, a hitch. Christine and I taste-tested it. Oh dear God – BUTTER. That was all we tasted. No lemon, no sugar, just butter. We should have expected it given the three! sticks! of butter mixed with only one measly cup of sugar, but we were hopeful. Instead, we were confronted by a buttery spread that we couldn't in good conscience spread on a cake. What to do? Scrap the ¾ of a lb of butter and go with a nice cream cheese frosting, or try to salvage it? We ended up going the salvage route, adding two more cups of confectioner's sugar just to try to make it sweeter and to try to cover up the butter taste. After 10 minutes of worried and frenzied beating, we re-tasted and pronounced it "edible." Here, at least, was something we could actually bring into work without fear that no one would like it.

Cake assembly went relatively smoothly as well. I used my standard trick for halving cake layers – take a sharp knife and cut around the circumference of the cake just into break through the crisper outside edge, then take floss and fit it into that cut so that it just has to go through the softer insides of the cake. Even though the layers were thin, they divided quite easily and we were on to the layering. The amount of raspberry preserves, in my opinion, was a little skimpy compared to the amount of buttercream on the cake, but since I didn't have any extra I was stuck with the proportions called for in the recipe. Aside from some smearing together of the buttercream and preserves, they played together quite well.

On to the actual taste-testing! After the cake chilled in my fridge for the rest of the weekend, it was time to face the music, slice it, and pass it off to my hapless co-workers. It sliced easily, showing off a pretty set of layers with stripes of bright red separated by fluffy white cake and creamy white frosting, and my anticipation and hope increased exponentially. Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't taste solely of butter. After a few quick snaps (with an awesome cardboard box background – hott!), I set it out for the masses. And within 15 minutes, I had four people stop into my cube and tell me how good it was! Seriously! They picked up on the lemon, loved the brightness of the raspberry, and proclaimed it a winner! As Christine said, "I think people are enjoying it, but mainly because they do not know what is in it. Hopefully people are at least taking small pieces."

So there you are, my first DB challenge. Enjoy!

Dorie's Perfect Party Cake (from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

For the Cake
2 ½ 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.
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.

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 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.


CB said...

Your cake looks awesome. Its a true testament when your CWs tell you so. Congrats on your first challenge! Great job!
Clara @ I♥food4thought

chelley325 said...

Looks wonderful! I am going to have to try the floss trick for separating layers, as I've seen it a few times now. I went for a cream cheese frosting because we're a house that loves sugary frosting! Not much of a fan of the buttery or whipped cream ones.

April said...

Your cake looks great! very yummy!

slush said...

Love the floss trick! Your cake looks perfect! So glad your coworkers liked it too. Because you'll have to make it again. :P

Erin said...

Your cake looks so pretty! I am the one always trying to fatten others up too! :) Glad everyone liked it, but it'd be hard not to!

Nikki57 said...

Looks great! I'm glad you were able to salvage the frosting. I was a little worried so I put in extra vanilla from the get go and it was A-ok

Engineer Baker said...

Chelle - cream cheese frosting was the way to go IMO, so good idea from the get-go
CB - I then had 3 people stop by my cube at work on Wed and ask where the cake was! I asked them to begin subsidizing...
Nikki - Extra vanilla would definitely have helped. Lemon juice would have worked too, but I ran out. Oops!

Anne said...

You did a fabulous job! Welcome :)

Ann said...

Welcome to Daring Bakers! Your cake looks wonderful!
Ann at Redacted Recipes

~Amber~ said...

Congratulations on your first challenge! What a beautiful cake.

Lori said...

I too was a bit horrified on the amount of butter in this recipe. By the time I was done I had used a full pound a half of butter!!! It sure does taste good though :)

Tartelette said...

Lovely job on the cake! Cream cheese frosting sounds good for sure but there is something about homemade buttercream I can't resist...slathering myself in butta!!
I sent the book your way on friday so hopefully you'll get it soon!

Deborah said...

Beautiful cake! Welcome to the Daring Bakers!

Dolores said...

Great job on your first challenge. And thanks for the floss tip. Welcome to the daring baker madness!

JMom said...

:) those three sticks of butter in the frosting was kind of scary to me too. This was my first challenge and I really liked this cake recipe and the frosting. But I think for my next attempts I'm going to try and cut some of the butter out and see how it works. ~ JMom

Jenny said...

You know, the first time I made this recipe I didn't like the icing either, tasting only butter. Ignorance seems bliss for this though as no one else tasted butter.
This time I could taste the lemon though, so I suspect it really depends on your lemons actually and how flavorful they actually are.
Your cake looks amazing with those great layers.

Miss Ifi said...

Congratulations on your first Daring Bakers challenge!!! your cake looks wonderful and I am glad that you were able to rescue your butter cream!. Welcome to the Daring Bakers, it is a pleasure having you baking with us!! ^_^

Sweet and Savory Eats said...

Way to stick with it. Sounds like it turned out well in the end.

Claire said...

I totally agree about's like eating butter! Your cake looks great...glad you joined!

Gretchen Noelle said...

What a great story! I love that you got to bake with someone else, that you messed with the buttercream frosting and in the end, everyone just loved it. And I had no idea that you started foodblogging because of TWD! Adorable! Great job! Welcome to Daring Bakers!

BC said...

I used the floss for separating layers and it was amazingly easy.