Sunday, March 30, 2008

Daring Bakers challenge: perfect party cake

I’ve just finished (of course, just under the wire) photographing this month’s Daring Bakers challenge which was “Dorie’s Perfect Party cake” from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours. Some challenges are about technique, others about presentation. This cake falls into the latter category. There was nothing new or challenging about the cake except if you’ve never made a Swiss meringue buttercream. Swiss meringue buttercream is my favorite frosting: it is far superior to the confectioner’s sugar and milk concoction that too often is used to frost cakes and cupcakes.

What I loved about this challenge is the specifics of decorating and frosting were left up to us, although I chose to adhere to the lemon flavored frosting and cake, filling of buttecream and raspberry preserves, and coating of coconut flakes. That sounded like a winning combination to me and I saw no reason to fiddle. What I did do, however, was make individual layer cakes instead of one large one, thinking that they’d be easier to share and consume over time. I used a half sheet pan to bake the cake in, and a round cookie cutter to cut circular disks that I used as the layers. After making four little 3-layer 3-inch diameter cakes, I used the remaining cake to make a dainty rectangular version. I topped each with raspberries brushed with egg white and rolled in dusting sugar.

I don’t know how to wax more enthusiastic about this cake except to say that it was absolutely divine. It turned out an elegant pure white cake with a moist, delicate crumb. The lemon flavoring was subtle and a perfect complement to the raspberry. The buttercream was perfect. It was the first time I ever added lemon juice to buttercream and was so suspicious of how it would absorb ¼ cup of liquid that I almost skipped it, but it worked perfectly and I’m glad I stuck to the recipe as written.

This is indeed the perfect party cake – I will keep this recipe on hand and use it again.

Thanks for the challenge and the recipe!

Dorie’s Perfect Party cake from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours (printed exactly as provided to us)

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)
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

Center 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.

Serving

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.

Storing

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 flavor, 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.

49 comments:

Aran said...

I'm glad you were able to post it. It is gorgeous and you should be very proud of yourself. This was my first DB challenge and I had so much fun. Next time I will add my own spin to the recipe though. Your photos are always so bright and colorful... Well done!

Ann said...

Love your little cakes!

Kate said...

Your little cakes are super cute! What a great idea to use cookie cutters to make them, I'm going to try that soon!

Claire said...

Your picture is awesome! I love it. Great job on your mini cakes.

Peabody said...

Swiss buttercream is my all time favorite too!
Cakes look great, I went the mini route too.

Snug said...

so cute! :)

Lynnylu said...

I love the mini cakes! Good job on the challenge!

Sweet Tooth said...

I prefer your size of the cakes so much to the original! Also so much nicer to look at.

Thanks!

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Terrific idea to make mini-cakes! They look really pretty. I stuck with the lemon/coconut combo too. If it ain't broke...

Julius said...

Loved what you've done!

Julius from Occasional Baker

Lesley said...

I love the idea of individual desserts. Yours are so pretty!

kitten said...

great idea about making the cake in a sheet form, then cutting out little circles for the perfect little adorable cakes !

kimberleyblue said...

Really beautiful cake! You did an awesome job.

Scuttle said...

I really like the idea of smaller cakes. Your pictures are wonderful almost real.

mimi said...

i love your mini cakes, they look so delish with the fresh raspberries!

Nan said...

Your tiny cakes are adorable. Thanks for sharing your lovely photography!

Meeta said...

Sabra, they look fantastic. I made minis too and I agree about the photography but you've portrayed them picture perfect. Nice job!

pixie said...

beautiful individual cakes!

Sarah said...

I love your mini cake idea! And your photography is gorgeous . . .

Best,
Sarah

Gigi said...

Your mini cakes are adorable! They scream "perfect party cakes", just lovely!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A perfect cake! Very well done!

Cheers,

Rosa

Tarah said...

Such gorgeous little cakes :]

Do you have a certain pan that makes them that small?

linda said...

Your mini cakes are very cute!

~Amber~ said...

Your cakes are adorable! Wonderful job.

Amy J. said...

Love your baby cakes! They are adorable and yummy-looking!

Zoe Francois said...

Really lovely! I must try this recipe.

Thanks for the inspiration, Zoë

Namratha said...

Simply fabulous, love the decorations and the picture..stunning!

Claire said...

so sweet...I also love the cookie-cutter idea. I wondered if it would be harder to frost without the crispy sides, but yours came out so nice I imagine it wasn't an issue!

amy said...

The cake looks scrumptious. Your photos make me want to devour the delicacies depicted. It is bad to look at them on an empty stomach!

Deborah said...

Your cake looks just perfect!

Meena said...

Those cakes are just too cute, makes me wanna grab a few and run! I love a moist cake, but sadly, don't really have the patience to bake. Cooking is usually what I do best, so I'll leave all the baking to pros like you. Now if only I could find a way to convince you send me a box of baked goods every now and then! :)

catchall fan in brooklyn said...

Sounds lovely, beautiful photo.

verO frOm delimOOn said...

These little perfect cakes are so lovely.
As swiss an living and switerland I don't know why you call the buttercream "swiss buttercream". Could someone explain me this ? Here in switerland we know buttercream, sure, but it's no more so usual in the kitchen because it's contains to much calories.
But I would love to have a part of your cake.
Have a great day
verO

michelle @ TNS said...

i love that so many people did mini-cakes, they're super duper cute.

truly, swiss meringue is the king of cake frostings.

skrockodile (sabra) said...

I am absolutely loving all your comments! Thank you so much. Am enjoying seeing your creations as well.

Tarah: just used a 3 inch cookie cutter to cut the size/shape out of the cake that I baked in a half sheet pan (buttered, covered with parchment, then buttered again).

Claire: No issues frosting at all.

Delimoon: In the U.S., when we say "buttercream" it can simply mean butter, confectioner's sugar and milk (what I refer to as not so great). Swiss meringue buttercream refers to using egg whites and sugar (heated), combined with (lots of) butter. You can read more here.

Merav said...

Your presentation is stunning! Love the mini layer cakes!

Hannah said...

Your photography is positively drool-worthy... I love how you made the cake into individual servings too!

Candace said...

Fantastic cake and photos!

Coffee & Vanilla said...

Hi Sabra :)

Just a short note to let you now that you have been nominated to April IFP :)

http://www.coffeeandvanilla.com/?p=2009

Margot

Tartelette said...

You did a fantastic job! Minis are harder to decorate than large cakes, IMO, but you did a smashing great job!

sunita said...

What beautiful cakes...great job!

bombshellwithin said...

Seems you accomplished the presentation wonderfully! I was also suspicious with the amount of liquid but it was nice to see how well the frosting held.

Patricia Scarpin said...

I have to try that recipe, too!
Your cakes are beautiful.

Jerry said...

Beeeeautiful cakes!

Jenny said...

I agree that this cake is definitely worth repeating. Love your little cakes!

Nemmie said...

Beautiful mini cakes! Love the berries, too.

the AIRY FAIRY said...

this is beautiful! i also made little cakes but using cupcakes rather than cookie cutters! also congrats on your nomination for inspiring food photography! really deserved! your photos are beautiful!

Lunch Buckets said...

Oh my goodness, they look so sweet!

Jaime said...

your mini cakes are beautiful! i will have to remember your trick for making mini ones - in my mind i was thinking i'd need mini pans if i wanted to do that.

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