It truly is a perfect cake for a party or any gathering. Flavorful, luscious, and relatively easy to make. Morven of Food, Art, and Random Thoughts chose Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake from Baking: From My Home to Yours for The Daring Bakers March challenge, and it was a most delicious challenge. I couldn't keep my fingers out of the buttercream, and I had taste testers of all ages willing to lick the bowl, spatula, and paddle or suck the remaining buttercream straight out of the piping bag. The kitchen smelled like a lemon orchard, and we could hardly wait for dessert.
As with every challenge The Daring Bakers tackle, there are strict rules as well as allowed modifications. This month the rules were less strict in keeping with Dorie's description of the cake:
"...because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile."
Basically, we could choose whatever we wanted to do with the cake, provided we used the basic cake recipe and the basic buttercream recipe. Flavorings and decorations were left completely to each Daring Baker's imagination. Though experimentation was allowed and encouraged, I thought the original recipe sounded like something I would love: white cake with lemon, lemon buttercream, raspberry preserve filling, coconut flakes for decoration. I modified the decoration a bit by combing the sides of the cake and sprinkling coconut flakes and strips of lemon zest on top of the frosted cake and piping some rosettes along the top and bottom edges. For the preserves I used a Wegman's triple fruit preserve with strawberries, plums, and raspberries. When berries are in season, this cake would look gorgeous with a pile of fresh berries on top.
I had planned to make this month's Daring Baker challenge with my mother during our recent trip, but she had the wonderful inspiration to make an Easter bunny cake with the boys, so instead I saved it for this weekend to coincide with a visit from Michael's parents. I invited his mother to help make the cake, and she seemed very happy that I asked her. She prepped pans, zested lemons, and even helped with clean up. After we got the cakes in the oven, I kept an eye on them because I had a nagging thought that these weren't going to rise. I had read reports from other DBs that they had trouble with the cakes rising, and I hoped that mine would not suffer the same fate.
"A watched pot never boils," she warned as I obsessively peered through the oven glass.
"I don't think they are going to rise," I muttered.
I kept checking, but there was no big rise, just a mound in the middle of each. They had not risen enough to slice them in half for four layers, and I was afraid any attempt would leave me with just a bunch of crumbs to frost. I sampled the crumbs from the pans, trying to decide if I should give it another go, but a glance at the clock told me I didn't have enough time. I needed to start work on dinner soon, and this was dessert. So we went with two layers.
After cooling, I tackled the frosting, which came together very well. I took Dorie's notes to heart about the buttercream curdling or separating, and I just continued on, letting the mixer work it's magic. When it was all finished, the buttercream was thick, rich, velvety, and fragrant.
With the buttercream finished, I was ready to assemble and decorate, and Michael's parents watched me as I worked. I was a bit nervous, I confess, and I worked even slower than usual trying to make sure it looked perfect, or at least held together well enough for the photos! A few toothpicks kept the top layer in place, and even though I got a little exuberant with applying the preserves and they started squeezing out the sides, it cleaned up well and a fine crumb layer of the buttercream hid all the imperfections.
The cake was rich and light at the same time, even if the layers didn't rise as I had hoped. The lemon flavor was wonderful, and I would not hesitate to make this again for a party or other type of gathering. Thanks again to Morven for selecting such a delicious challenge for us this month! Make sure you visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll to find many more versions of Dorie's cake!
The instructions I have written below are based Dorie's original instructions plus how I finished the cake. For the original recipe, check out Dorie's book.
Perfect Party Cake
- stand mixer with paddle and whisk attachments
- 2 (9-inch) cake pans, buttered and lined with buttered parchment
- large baking sheet (half-sheet pan or similar)
- medium heat proof bowl
- small pan that will hold the bowl (use as a double boiler)
- long serrated knife
- 9-inch cardboard cake round, covered with aluminum foil
- serving plate or cake stand
- wax paper
- offset spatula
- decorating tip, #32
- plastic bag
- cake comb
- bartender's lemon zester
- 2¼ cups cake flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1¼ cups buttermilk (buttermilk substitution: 2 tablespoons lemon juice + milk to equal 1-¼ cups, or whole milk)
- 4 large egg whites (room temperature)
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
- ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 large egg whites (room temperature)
- 12 ounces unsalted butter (room temperature)
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅔ cup seedless raspberry preserves (stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable)
- ⅓ cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 2 tablespoons thin lemon zest strips
- Place rack in the middle of the oven and preheat 350° 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.
- CAKE: In the medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the sugar and lemon zest in the mixer bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg whites and buttermilk.
- Add the butter. Using the paddle attachment, beat at medium speed for 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the lemon extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the buttermilk and egg white 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 toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool in the pans for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the parchment. 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).
- BUTTERCREAM: Put the sugar and egg whites in the medium heatproof bowl and fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water. Whisk the the mixture constantly over medium 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, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment 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.
- ASSEMBLE: Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on the prepared cake round. Place it on the cake plate with pieces of wax paper between the cardboard and the plate.
- Spread one third of the preserves on the cake. Cover the jam evenly with a thin layer of the buttercream.
- Add another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer. You will have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover.
- Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and frost the sides and top. Put the remaining buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a rosette decorating tip. Pipe rosettes along the top edge and around the bottom edge of the cake.
- Sprinkle the coconut on top of the cake and add the lemon zest strips. Carefully remove the wax paper and serve.