March 30, 2008

Dare to Be Perfect

The March Daring Bakers host, Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts, chose Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake. The requirements were few: we had to stay true to Dorie's cake recipe and we had to make a layer cake. I was particularly pleased to see that Morven allowed us to be creative from there.

After pouring over the recipe multiple times and wanting so bad to come up with a unique flavor combination, I realized that I loved the lemon concept of the cake, which goes so well with the raspberry that Dorie suggests. Even though we had carte blanche, I followed the recipe almost verbatim, up until the finishing. We're not that into coconut in our house. Not wanting to take away from the simple elegance of the cake, I decided to continue the berry theme and garnish with some piping of raspberry whipped cream and top with a few fresh raspberries.

One of the benefits of waiting to later in the month to complete the monthly challenge (read procrastinate until the last possible minute) is that you are able to learn from the experiences of others who have already completed the challenge. Many Daring Bakers who attempted this challenge earlier in the month reported that they had difficulty getting their cakes to rise. At their recommendation, I used all-purpose flour in lieu of the cake flour, and used four tablespoons less than called for in the recipe. With so many people saying that the cake didn't rise, I panicked a little and doubled the recipe and divided among three round cake pans. I didn't slice the cakes before assembling.

I had serious issues with the layers of jam and buttercream in between each cake. The two kept smearing together, creating a big pink mess. It only really impacted the presentation, but I was envious over the perfect little layers in cake picture in the book.
All in all, this really is the perfect party cake and, as Dorie suggests in her notes, I have marked this one as something to refer back to often. See what the other Daring Bakers baked up this month. You'll find just about every flavor combination imaginable.

Perfect Party Cake

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.

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.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Your cake looks BEAUTIFUL! I am so impressed! You did a really great job.

Lesley said...

The raspberry whipped cream is so pretty on this cake, very nicely done!

Natalie said...

Very pretty cake!

Sheltie Girl said...

You did a fabulous job on your cake. The pictures and decorating are great!

Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

the AIRY FAIRY said...

i love your cake especially the swirls of raspberry cream...that look so perfect and elegant on top of the cake and round the edges. lovely!

Anonymous said...

Your cake is SOO elegant! The pink piping with fresh raspberries are quite appealing the the eye. I love it that you used 3 cake round without dividing the rounds - great minds....

xoxox Amy

Faery said...

Perfect cake...besides it looks sooo delicious

Astra Libris said...

Thank you so much for the lovely DB comment on my blog!

Your cake is incredibly beautiful! Wow! I absolutely love your whipped cream and raspberry decorations... So elegant!

creampuff said...

Hi Danielle,

You know that reminds me that I too had trouble layering the jam and buttercream. I made a huge mess. But your cake turned out so prettily and I love the pink piping!

Pixie said...

Your cake looks beautiful and smart thinking with using 3 pans!

Anonymous said...

your cake is gorgeous! I love the piping and raspberry decoration.

myriam said...

oh wow! just fabulous your cake!

Aoife said...

Your cake is so nice and high -- good call on doubling up. It looks beautiful!

Randi said...

Wow! gorgeous job. awesome decoration and perfect looking cake. i'm starving now :)

eatme_delicious said...

Your cake looks great! I love the pink icing that you set the raspberries on.

Tartelette said...

Fantastic job! Looks like you could have cut into those slices without a problem! Makes me hungry!!