Mar 30

Let them eat cake!

in Daring Bakers, Dessert, Recipes by Type

Whether or not Marie Antoinette said it, "Let them eat cake!" is the perfect title for this post.


This month's Daring Bakers challenge was Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake recipe from her book, Baking from My Home to Yours (page 250). This cake is essentially a white cake with a buttercream frosting, though there is tons of room for variations. I decided to follow the recipe as closely as possible. I did this so that I could get to know the "basics" of this recipe and so that in the future I would know better which variations would work well, and which variations might not be such a hit.

As far as what I chose to do, I went the buttermilk route (actually, milk with lemon juice added because you can't find buttermilk here in Japan). I couldn't find any seedless raspberry preserves, so I used strawberry preserves instead. I had read other peoples' notes about making this cake, and so knew to expect the cake to not rise as much as you would expect, but not to worry. This did in fact happen, and even though I was expecting it I kept worrying that it wouldn't turn out!


Despite everything, it did turn out. I always worry when making a layered cake that I will screw up when it comes to cutting the cakes for the layers. This cake was surprisingly easy. My long serrated bread knife did a superb job of slicing through the middle of each cake to make 4 beautiful layers. The cake itself was moist and flavorful, and the strawberry preserves were the perfect compliment to the light lemony taste of the cake and buttercream. I am usually a chocolate cake kind of gal, but this recipe is a keeper. It had so much flavor and great texture that it didn't matter that it wasn't chocolate. (Gasp! I can't believe I just actually wrote that!) Unfortunately I made the cake in the late afternoon, so by the time it was frosted and had sat for a time and was ready to be cut, all natural daylight was gone, and so my pictures just don't do it justice. I took the cake to a meeting and it disappeared quickly! If you don't believe me, try it for yourself!

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

For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or 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

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
1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
2. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
6. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
7. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
8. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
9. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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, however Morven, the hostess of this challenge suggested letting 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.

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.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

L Vanel March 30, 2008 at 9:03 am

A very beautiful cake indeed!


Jean March 30, 2008 at 9:31 am

YUM! It looks so good, I’m practically ready to lick my computer screen. :)


Jerry March 30, 2008 at 10:46 am

Beautiful caked! Didn’t know you couldn’t find buttermilk, but it doesn’t look like it changed anything!


Bobbi March 30, 2008 at 11:15 am

Yum! Panda has a birthday today (30th in the US)…maybe this will be the cake for tonight!


Jackie March 30, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Can I place an advance order for my birthday cake? I am drooling over your cake, especially the coconut! Alas, my hubbie decided long before I ever knew him that he didn’t like coconut and I am finding it a hard habit to break him of. But it looks so beautiful and I think I’ll give it a try!


Melanie Gray Augustin March 31, 2008 at 12:03 am

Ohh… I’m drooling! Seriously, next time I’m in Tokyo I’m just going to invite myself to your place for afternoon tea ;)


SaraLynn March 31, 2008 at 7:29 am

Your cake is lovely!


Tartelette March 31, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Smacking great job! Glad you could work out a substitute for the buttermilk!


Lunch Buckets March 31, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Nice job! We’ll just forget that little bit about the chocolate…


Melissa Hodgen April 1, 2008 at 5:34 pm

You know how they say don’t go grocery shopping when you are hungrey…I think that needs to include “Don’t look at this blog unless you have a full tummy, because you’ll be prone to cravings after.” Now I want cake!

It looks delicious…another month of sweet success!


Sheltie Girl April 5, 2008 at 8:39 am

You did a fabulous job on your cake!

I enjoyed your Where in the World trip too.

Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go


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