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A Perfect Party Cake - Daring Baker Challenge March 2008

Posted Sep 15 2009 4:47pm

Welcome to the third edition of the Daring Bakers challenge on this blog. Yes, it is that day of the month when Daring Bakers all across the world get down to the business of posting about the challenge of the month.



I really wanted to do this challenge despite the fact that we were very busy this month. I am posting this from my sister-in-law’s computer as all our stuff has been packed and we will be shifting to Goa tomorrow. It will be a couple of weeks before we settle in and I’m back at the computer. So I shall not be able to come over to visit your blogs immediately and admire those all the lovely cakes I know are out there. But I shall come over as soon as I can, that’s a promise.

This month’s host, Morven of Food, Art and Random Thoughts, announced we were to bake a party cake using a Dorie Greenspan recipe. The thought that came to mind was Queen Marie Antoinette’s (of France, long ago) supposed remark on being told by her ministers that her subjects didn’t have any bread to eat. She apparently said, "Then let them eat cake!" In a take off on this remark, I thought, "If I can’t bake good French bread (my previous challenge), then I shall bake cake!!"
I have baked plain ordinary cakes many times but never tried to cut them up into layers. And I have never, never made buttercream or decorated cakes. I don’t know why, but I have always been hesitant to venture forth in this direction.
So with this challenge I had to bake two cakes and cut each in half so that I would have a total of four layers to my cake. Then I had to make Swiss meringue buttercream and sandwich the cake layers with this and fruit preserves and finally cover and decorate the cake. I did want to attempt this challenge if I could as this would be the perfect opportunity for me to deal with my nervousness about buttercream and cake decorating.
The recipe the Daring Bakers had to use is below and my experience baking it follows the recipe.

March Challenge -
Dorie's Perfect Party Cake
PERFECT PARTY CAKE
Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours (page 250).

Introduction from Morven
I wanted to pick something that had potential for putting your personal stamp on. Although this is essentially a white cake I know there are some lemon haters among us so feel free to use your imagination. If you inner chef tells you that you need to make a chocolate layer cake then by all means do so. See Dorie’s words on playing around below for some flavour combination ideas.

Update on playing around.
Yes you do what ever you want with this cake as long as you promise to use the basic cake recipe and the basic buttercream recipe. The filling/frosting flavours are completely up to you. If you don't feel like using Dorie's buttercream recipe (flavoured as you wish) she says whipped cream will do for the filling and I say... go for it.
I can't wait to see what combinations people come up with. You can leave out the lemon, put different flavours of preserves in the middle, leave off the coconut - it's your cake.

Words from Dorie
Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless opportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

For the Cake
2 ½ 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
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature½ 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.

Serving
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.

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.

Playing Around
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.

Fresh Berry Cake
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.

My Cake Making Experience:
The recipe for the cake didn’t look too difficult. We needed to make two cakes but I didn’t have two cake tins of the same size. This problem was taken care of as I bought a tin to match one of mine.
The recipe called for cake flour. Now, the only flour I get here is all purpose flour. The DBs came to the rescue with a suggestion that that 1 cup cake flour = 1 cup all purpose flour – 1 tbsp flour. So this is what I did.
Other than this, I stuck to the recipe and instructions and baked my cakes at 190C. At the end of the evening I had two lovely looking cakes to work on. I am assuming these cakes would not rise as much as many other cakes but I felt my cakes could have risen a little more. At least enough for me to get reasonably thick layers after cutting them into two each.
As it was a little late to start on decorating, I let the cakes cool down overnight.

Making the Buttercream:
Making the buttercream was the best part of this challenge for me. It was perfect, no curdling, just lots of butter and a great buttercream. My buttercream was pale yellow though because the butter I used was yellow and not white.

The Filling/ Layering:
I cut the first cake horizontally into two and as I was transferring the top layer onto a plate, it came apart in my hand!! It was like magic. One minute there was this lovely layer and the next minute I had 3 irregular pieces. No fault of the cake, just sheer clumsiness on my part. I was more careful with the second cake. So as I had three intact layers, I ended with a 3 layer cake.
The fillings suggested were raspberry, cherry, strawberry, plum or blueberry preserves or any other dark colored fruit preserve that would contrast with white cake and buttercream. None of these are available where I live, though I do occasionally get strawberries and cherries at the market. So I used some lovely deep purple grape preserve I had left over from making Cardamom Flavoured Grape Mini Pies.


Layering the filling was easy as the cake had a tight texture. Putting on the buttercream was bit trickier as there was a tendency for the filling to stain the buttercream. So I plopped the buttercream in little bits all over the filling and gently spread it out before placing the cake layers over it. I didn’t have the neatest layers but that was the best I could do.

Decorating the Cake:
The recipe suggested using sweetened coconut flakes to decorate the side of the cake. It was at this point that I figured out that this form of adorning the cake was a great thing for people like me. This is really the perfect way to cover up all those imperfections resulting from "buttercreaming" a cake!


I wasn’t sure what sweetened coconut was, probably coconut to which powdered sugar is added. I thought that this could make the cake too sweet and this was something I did’nt have anyway. I had plenty of fresh flaked coconut. So I lightly toasted some on the stove top till golden brown and used this to decorate the sides of my cake.
I wasn’t sure as to how to decorate the top of my cake. As I mentioned earlier, icing/ frosting or any form of similar decorating was new to me. I decided to give it a go anyhow and coloured the remaining buttercream a light brown by beating cocoa powder into it. Then I dug out some icing nozzles I had. I didn’t have any piping bags, so I used a ziplock bag, fitted a star nozzle to one end of the bag (which I had snipped off) and tried my hand at piping some stars. They came out quite well, to my surprise, so I went crazy piping out stars to cover the top of my cake and voila, I had my perfect party cake!!


Verdict:
We didn’t have a party to take this cake to but we enjoyed the cake all the same. A large portion of the cake was sent over to my husband’s brothers and sister and families (they live close by), who all did justice to the cake.
This cake wasn’t difficult to make at all. Most of all, what I liked was the tight texture of the cake. This made it easy to cut the cakes into layers and there were hardly any crumbs. The toasted coconut balanced out the sweetness of the cake and the buttercream was quite tasty.
I shall use this recipe for cake (leaving out the lemon as we are not very partial to it) and the buttercream again. And I have conquered my cake decorating fears because of this challenge. In fact, I think I now have the courage to be more daring with cake decorating in future. I also feel confident about the promise I made to my daughter to decorate her birthday cake later this
year.


Please do step across to my fellow Daring Baker blogs to see some really mouth-wateringly beautiful cakes. You can’t afford to miss them, believe me.

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