The first thing I thought of upon seeing this month's Daring Bakers challenge was that it could not have come at a more opportune time. Morven, of Food Art and Random Thoughts chose Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake and as luck would have it, I was about to throw a Birthday party for my best friend who had just flown in from Holland. You see, she had already ordered me to make her favourite Chili con Carne and Patacones and we were still debating over the dessert when I discovered our new challenge. We both agreed this was it (and well, I had to make it anyways). How much more fun can you have than a day spent in the kitchen with your best friend, swapping stories, drinking wine and licking buttercream off of the spatula?
Dorie's cake is scented with lemon zest and the buttercream is brightened with a splash of the juice. Though we were allowed to play around with the flavourings, we both adore lemon and decided to stick to the original recipe for both the cakes and buttercream. Both the cakes and the buttercream were a breeze to whip up - no curdling involved! Though Dorie uses raspberry preserves for her filling, I knew I wanted to make the most of the gloriously ripe Florida strawberries I had on hand. After slicing the cakes in half I began to assemble the masterpiece. I spread a thin layer of strawberry preserves on the bottom layer, followed by the buttercream and slices of fresh strawberries. This was continued until the last layer was set on top and the entire cake was enrobed in the snowy white, glossy buttercream. We then liberally pressed on shredded coconut, stepped back and admired our work. It was done - a masterpiece of a cake stood before us basking in its perfection. But even though she was a sight to behold, being beautiful on the inside is what really matters. So when at last it was time for dessert, we lit the candles and sang the tune and my friend made her wish and blew out the candles.
She also blew off a good amount of coconut! Hmm...we hadn't really considered that being an issue but hey, we all had a good chuckle!
But boy was she beautiful on the inside! The cakes were moist yet fluffy, with the most delicate a crumb - almost dissolving on your tongue. The scent of lemon worked beautifully with the strawberries, balancing their sweetness with a hint of tart. The coconut added a note of the tropics and a slight chew to the texture. It was unanimous - everyone agreed it was indeed the Perfect Party Cake! It is such a versatile recipe that you really can have fun with the flavour pairings. Be sure to check out the Daring Bakers blogroll to see the creativity in action.
Perfect Party Cake - adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours (makes 12 to 14 servings)
- 2 1/4 cups cake flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cups whole 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
- 1/2 cup seedless strawberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
- sliced strawberries
- 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Butter 2 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the buttermilk 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 buttermilk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the buttermilk 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.
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. 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 a layer of buttercream. Layer the sliced strawberries in concentric circles. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and strawberries and then do the same with a third layer. 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 shreds into the frosting, patting it gently.
Storing: 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.