Sunday, March 30, 2008

An Affair to Remember

On a Friday afternoon of May last year, I came down with the flu. I was really looking forward to a date with this guy I liked, but at almost the last minute I had to break it as the miracle recovery I was fervently praying to all the saints for just didn’t happen. Now you must know that when I am down with the flu, I am truly down for at least seven to ten days. On the fifth day my mind was active but my body was still frail. My constant companion during the next few days was not the date I called off (sniff, he didn’t even call me!) but rather my trusted laptop computer with all its wonderful internet capabilities.

I was looking for a recipe for a vanilla thyme martini, the delicious drink my date and I had had on our first evening out. Scouring the net for this, I was introduced to many an interesting blogger. One blogger led to another and another and eventually led me to favorites such as my dear daring bakers and Dorie Greenspan. You can imagine my delight when I found out that Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts had chosen Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake for March’s challenge! And what an honor for us all I when Dorie herself wrote us and gave tips and suggestions!

Since my more recent love affair with bread, I have not baked a layered cake in many, many years. Easter was a pretty good time to renew an old flame with cake along side my catholic faith…

As I gathered my ingredients and started off, I could not believe how wonderfully fresh-perfumed the sugar was after mixing it well with the lemon rind. I knew right there and then that this cake was going to be good---not a yeah, it’s good cake but rather a wow, this rocks cake!

I used cake flour as specified but I was only able to fill half of two 9” round tins. My cakes didn’t rise much which could have been because of old baking powder or perhaps the local cake flour could be of an inferior quality. Dense though the cakes seemed there was a curious lightness to them that made the lemon flavor so delicate and heady at the same time. I almost could not wait for the buttercream, I just wanted a slice. I was hooked. I was in love again with cake.

I had a lot of frozen egg whites from making tons of ice cream and I tried making the frosting with them. On the first attempt, my sister-in-law was talking to me and I thought I may have heated the whites too much. Into the bin. I had exactly four egg whites left. I tried it again watching the temperature as if my life depended on it and this time it was just to the right degree. A watched pot never boils? It never whips! Into the bin! Tired of manually beating my whites over a double broiler, I conceded that frozen whites don’t make buttercream and bowed to fresh eggs. Third time’s the charm!

Initially I had wanted to put an apple pie type layer in between the two cakes and top the cake with thinly sliced apple crisps. It was Easter and I was tired from the brunch I prepared for the family so an easy jar of strawberry jam was emptied on top of one cake. Buttercream was smeared over everything else.

My family loved the cake and they want me to try it with orange next time. With the million flavor permutations on this cake, this will obviously be a lifelong affair. Ditto on the date---Jay loved the cake too!


For the Cake
¼ 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
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. 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.

Thanks to Morven and Dorie for a great choice and challenge!


Anne said...

The cake is simply beautiful! Well done!

Joy said...

Your cake looks delicious. How do you pipe so neatly? I'm envious.

L Vanel said...

Your cake turned out really beautifully! I hadn't thought of freezing egg whites. You mentioned that you had only 4 left, do you freeze them seperately? How? Quite a lovely cake!

Pixie said...

Hiya Pixie, I'm a pix too! Your cake looks wonderful, well done!

Claire said... sweet! I'm glad he stuck with you. I was honestly wondering about that more than the cake! Glad it turned out well. Looks great!

kellypea said...

A lovely cake. I don't have the patience to pipe as well as that. It really makes the cake look finished. Cheers!

jasmine said...

What a good post. No, I don't think it was a problem with your levener. Your bit on feezing egg whites intrigues me...and makes me think I should do that the next time I make a curd...


pixie said...

Thank you Anne, Pixie (kindred spirit!)and Claire! Joy, Kellypea, if you look closely, my piping isn't all that even! I'd love to take a course on cake decorating but I have never found the time. I vanel, Jasmine, yes, I make a lot of ice cream so I get stuck with so many whites and I hate waste so I have tried freezing them (usually 4 whites at a time) in plastic containers that I label and date. However, they don't seem to do too well with baking. I use them for white omelettes and glazing pastry or bread.

Anonymous said...

Your cake is beautiful... but so many of the DB cakes didn't rise. Still, always fun to get cake done to consume.

Ritsumei said...

I love the way you tell your cake's story - and the combed frosting is just pretty; what a good idea. I agree, this is a recipe I'll be making again too.

Marye said...

Beautiful job!

PAT A BAKE said...

Hi, nice cake..surely an affair to remember :). Ha ha .. frozen egg whites are the #^@%@%... (that read pits) fresh ones do the trick :). Look forward to see you for the next challenge..hope its gonna rock :).

Aamena said...

pretty pretty :)

Ann said...

Nice finishing work!
Ann at Redacted Recipes

Anonymous said...

Ooooh! I love a happy ending! Great cake, great story!

xoxox Amy

P.S. I have that same trifle bowl & love filling it with seasonal objects too.

Big Boys Oven said...

so neat and simple! lovely!

Lunch Buckets said...

Nicely done! Good story too :) Of course I want one of those martinis now...

HoneyB said...

very pretty!