Sunday, March 30, 2008

Party Time with the Daring Bakers

It's the end of the month, which means it's time for another Daring Baker's challenge, the monthly food blogging event that keeps from completely falling off the face of the blogosphere. This month's host was Morven from Food Art and Random Thoughts. The recipe she chose was the Perfect Party Cake from Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours. This was a great recipe, and probably one of my most successful Daring Bakers Challenges yet. It was not very difficult, and because Morven was kind enough to allow us to play around with flavors and decorating, I was able to just relax and have fun with the baking. And I must admit, the final result was stunning!

With the help of my beloved KitchenAid, I was able to whip the cake up pretty quickly. Dorie's original cake recipe is for a lemon flavored cake with lemon butter cream and coconut. But, since we had a fairly recent lemon-themed DB challenge (and since Psycling won't eat coconut), I decided to go with one of my favorite tried and true flavor combinations: Cherry and Almond. So I replaced the lemon zest and lemon extract with ground almonds and almond extract respectively. Once the batter was whipped up, I divided it between my two cake pans, and was amazed at how white the batter actually was. I could tell it would make a beautiful cake! After the baking, I pulled the cakes out to cool, and it was time to start working on the butter cream.

We were given the option of using a stiff whipped cream for the filling in place of the butter cream. But I've never been one to shy away from rich desserts and decided to go for the butter cream all the way. I'm glad I did :-). Again, I omitted the lemon juice and used almond extract in place of the vanilla. I also made some extra butter cream, just to make sure I'd have enough for some decorative piping when I was done frosting the cake.

It was time to start layering. I used cherry preserves for the cherry part of this cherry almond cake. On top of the preserves, I spread a nice layer of butter cream, then repeated the process with the remaining layers. Then, it was time to frost the cake with the butter cream. I decided to garnish the sides of the cake with sliced almonds in place of the coconut. Psycling doesn't like coconut, and even pregnant, I don't need to eat an entire cake by myself! After the sides were covered with the sliced almonds, I piped some shells along the top edge. The cake was looking good, but it still looked a little naked to needed a little something else to be just right. That's when my dad came to the rescue! He was on his way over to our house anyway to help out with some home repairs (and because I'd promised him some of this cake), so I asked him to pick up a jar a maraschino cherries along the way. When I added the cherries to the top of the cake, it was perfect. It was exactly what it needed!

After working on our nursery for a little while, everyone came upstairs for a slice of cake. It was a hit! The cake had a wonderful almond flavor, the cherry preserves were just right, and the meringue-style butter cream managed to be both light and rich at the same time. There was not a crumb left!! I took the remaining cake to work the next day and it was a big hit with my coworkers. I got a flood of compliments from all over the office, with everyone being impressed by the taste, texture, and presentation of the cake. While I have no doubt that the original lemon cake would have been wonderful as well, I must admit to feeling really good about so successfully putting together this cherry almond flavor combination.

To sum it up, this was an amazing cake that really lived up to it's name. The cake itself is a real crowd pleaser, and the white cake with white butter cream leaves it a blank canvas for any sort of decoration. It truly can fit in with any party!

Below is Dorie's recipe. It's worth making. I've included my modifications in italics, but I have no doubt that making this cake as written would also be delicious!

Perfect Party Cake
Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours (page 250).

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 1/4 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 (I used 1 Tbs. of ground almonds)
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract (I substituted almond 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) (I omitted the lemon juice)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I used almond extract instead)

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable (I used cherry preserves)
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut (I used sliced almonds. I'm not exactly sure of the amount, but enough to cover the side of the cake)

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. 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.

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.

This cake is definitely worth making. Go give it a shot.

And don't forget to check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see how the other DBs interpreted this recipe.