Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Perfect Party Cake

Another birthday on the list! This was a very special opportunity for a very special cake as this one got to have 30 candles on it! For an occasion like that, I decided to whip up ‘The Perfect Party Cake’ for my very own special Aussie in the house.

The cake came along with the cutest little elementary-style birthday surprise party. The boy was turning 30 after all, he had to reminded that he’s really still just a big kid. So out came the helium balloons, banners, stringers, confetti, paper plates and cups a la Winnie the Pooh…(there may have even been a race car-shaped Pinata filled with 30 different things)… and a GORGEOUS looking cake! The birthday boy was landing in Cape Town the evening of his birthday and had no idea of the surprise awaiting him. The loud surprise was timed perfectly, no one yelling it out too early or making any obnoxious noises to give it away. ‘Great Success!’  and a BIG smile on the birthday boy’s face!

The cake…it looked beautiful. Picture-wise, it doesn’t compare with Dorie’s cake slice image in her baking book (Baking From my Home to Yours) but taste-wise it was y-u-m-m-iiiiiiiiii! The subtle marzipan flavour of the moist sponge cake mixed with the fresh raspberries and butter cream…divine as people day here in South Africa!

The recipe:
For the Cake
2 ¼ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk 4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg wites
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: Center 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 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 will aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30 to 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, unmold 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 2 months.)
To Make the Buttercream: Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan 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 the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6 to 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 left over). 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.
Makes 12 to 14 servings
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 2 days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slice 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 flavor, 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 Party 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 in the refrigerator-let it sit for about 20 minutes at a cool room temperature before serving.
Candied Lemon Party Cake: Make a batch of candied lemon slices (page 468) to slip between the layers. Spread each of the bottom 3 layers of the cake with preserves or marmalade, then buttercream; pat some lemon slices dry, slice them into small pieces and arrange them in a single layer over each layer of buttercream. Omit the coconut, or not, and finish the top of the frosted cake with lemon slices or with one decoratively twisted candied lemon slice in the center.

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