Boy did the end of March sneak up on me! It's definitely going out like a lion here in Las Vegas, with overcast skies and strong winds, but I can't recall if it came in like a lamb. This was the perfect morning for me to stay indoors and work on my second Daring Bakers challenge, Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake. This challenge was hand picked by my fellow Daring Baker Morven from New Zealand. Morven, thanks for selecting such a fun, springtime-appropriate recipe. My husband's office will be thrilled when he brings in this lightly lemon-scented treat tomorrow (minus the one piece for the photo and sampling of course!).
As suggested by the recipe title, this is now going to be my "go-to" white layer cake. I have been searching for quite some time for a version that is light, moist, and doesn't fall to pieces when you ice and assemble the layers, and eureka!, this is that cake. The directions I found to be very straightforward, and, although it requires several different bowls, the entire thing came together in just over 2 hours, start to finish (and besides, you can have the lucky people who get to eat the cake wash the dishes, right?). I have been making real meringue buttercreams for many years now, and this one was by far the easiest that I have worked with--no curdling, no separating, and a smooth, velvety result that didn't taste like I had just whipped a stick of butter. As far as variations on the written recipe, I didn't go too crazy, only substituting the large flake coconut for the shredded type--maybe next time, for this recipe is a keeper! I'm looking forward to seeing what the other DB's have baked up and of course to next month's challenge.
Thanks again Morven--this challenge really took the cake!!
Here are a few tips for making this special occasion cake along with a few things that I did that differed from the directions below:
- Although this cake is best eaten the day that it is prepared, it can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 2 days. Bring the cake to room temperature prior to serving. The cake layers, after cooling, can be wrapped and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months.
- Instead of using shredded sweetened coconut on the exterior of the cake, I opted to toast a few cups of the large flake coconut for a bit of a color contrast. I coated the sides of the cake with the coconut and left the top clean. This might be a better decorating option if you intend to write a message on the cake.
- If you intend to serve the cake the day that it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries, matching the preserves to the fruit. You can also replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of fresh berries or use both coconut and berries.
- Although the buttercream can be replaced by firmly whipped sweetened cream in this recipe, if you have never made a true meringue buttercream before, this is a great first-timer recipe. It comes together beautifully with little to no separation or curdling.
- A few substitutions that I made: Instead of buttering the cake pans, I always use Pam for Baking. This stuff works like magic! Nothing ever sticks to the pans and I am a huge believer in the product (and no, they do not pay me to say that!). I also replaced the lemon extract with Fioro di Sicilia (see picture), which I buy from the King Arthur's Baking COmpany Catalogue. It is a citrus-flavored extract that I like to add to vanilla or white layer cakes, pound cakes, and sugar cookies.
Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 cup sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup raspberry preserves, stirred until spreadable
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
Prepare the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350F degrees and place a rack in the center. Butter two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and 4 egg whites until combined. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together the sugar and the lemon zest until well-combined and fragrant.
Switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter, beating at medium speed for 3 minutes, until very light and fluffy. Beat in the extract and then beat in one-third of the flour mixture. Beat in half of the buttermilk mixture and then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until well incorporated. Add the rest of the buttermilk mixture, beating until the batter is homogeneous, and then add the last of the dry ingredients. Give the batter a good 2 minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center emerges clean.
Transfer the cakes to a cooling rack and cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them onto the rack, and peel off the parchment. Cool completely.
Prepare the buttercream: Place the sugar and egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer or another large heatproof bowl. Fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the sugar dissolves and the mixture feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat.
Using the whisk attachment, beat the mixture on medium speed until it has cooled, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter, one stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all of the butter has been added, beat 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 and then add the vanilla. The buttercream should be smooth, velvety, and pristine white.
Assemble the cake: Using a sharp serrated knife, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer, cut side up, on a cardboard cake round or cake plate. Spread it with 1/3 of the raspberry preserves. Cover the jam evenly with 1/4 of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with the preserves and the buttercream, and do the same with a third layer. Place the last layer, cut side down, on top of the cake. Use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and the top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently on the sides and the top. Serve at room temperature.