Oh dear! I’ve not had a chance to blog about my own birthday. Guess that’s what Gynae&Obs does to you when you’ve been in it for too long. Well, I’ve always had grand parties and events lasting well over a week to celebrate my birthday. While this year’s celebrations have not been as high profile as I used to plan, I’ve not been skimpy when it came to my birthday cake. I decided to take up the March 2008 Daring Bakers’ Challenge – hosted by Morven of Food, Art and Random Thoughts – who picked Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake from the bestselling Baking: from My Home to Yours .
Dorie’s cake is a breeze to bake and assemble plus it tastes just as special as you would expect a birthday cake to be. The light snow white cake is moist and tight-crumbed with a faint hint of lemony freshness. It bakes up perfectly and slices into tall, beautiful wedges for serving. After smothering the layer with a generous dollop of berry jam and silky hot-meringue buttercream, I skipped the coconut flakes topping as I could not find a single coconut seller on that day. Anyway I would urge you to keep this bookmarked for special birthdays or whenever you have a reason to celebrate as it is THE perfect cake for any party.
DORIE’S PERFECT PARTY CAKE
For the Cake
2 ¼ 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
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut
- 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.
- Whisk together 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 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 more lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Perfect Party Cake Tips From Dorie
Just to be sure that everyone gets the perfect Perfect Party Cake, I asked Nick Malgieri, who created the cake and gave me the recipe for my book, to help me put together a tipsheet for us.
- Make sure the butter is VERY soft, the consistency of mayonnaise, before mixing.
- Have the egg white and buttermilk at room temperature too.
- If there is grated lemon zest in the batter, makes sure it is very finely grated as with a microplane, not a box grater – large pieces of zest can weigh down the batter and prevent full leavening from taking place.
- Use buttermilk instead of milk (the acidity promotes faster setting during baking and also weakens the gluten in the batter)
- Buy a fresh can of baking powder.
- Use bleached, not unbleached, all-purpose flour (If you’re using cake flour, make sure it is NOT self-rising).
- Test the layers for doneness with the point of a knife or a toothpick rather than relying on a timer to determine doneness – if the layers are over baked and a little dry, the texture could seem rubbery.
- Wrap and chill or freeze the layers as soon as they cool – leaving them uncovered at room temperature for a long time could also dry them out.