My First Daring Bakers Challenge: Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake
One of the very first things I did when I began this blog back in January was to join the Daring Bakers — a group of talented bloggers who, every month, take on a different challenging baking recipe. The idea is to make the recipe as is, resisting the temptation so many of us have to fiddle with ingredients, and to go outside our comfort zones a bit: baking something that we might not normally choose. All the members post their results on the same day at the end of the month, and it’s always so much fun to see all the variations that arise when a large number of people take on the same baking task!
I actually first noticed the Daring Bakers in January, when their challenge was Lemon Meringue Pie — I kept seeing all these pictures of beautiful pies smattered across Tastespotting and thought “hmm, there must be some kind of lemon meringue event going on!” The group has been around for a little over than a year, and what was started as a fun experiment between a small handful of bloggers has now turned into a group with over 700 members!! Wow!
I was so excited to make this cake — so excited, in fact, that I made it the very first weekend after we got the information on what this month’s challenge would be. There were a few reasons I was itching to start: this was a recipe that (though you know I adore BFMHTY) I hadn’t actually flagged to try — so already, I knew I’d be making something a little outside of the realm of what I’d normally choose on my own. The second reason I was excited was due to the fact that the cake has a meringue buttercream, and this was something I’d never made before. New techniques to try and new culinary things to learn always excite me!
The cake itself is a lemon-flavored white cake, filled with raspberry jam and frosted with a lemony buttercream. Morven was nice to choose a recipe that lent itself well to playing around a bit — the version in BFMHTY has shredded coconut pressed all over the outside of the cake, but I really dislike shredded coconut on things, so I opted to skip that and just crown the cake with a ring of fresh raspberries.
I chose to make a 5-inch cake, rather than the 9-inch one in the recipe. I’ve written before about how much I love our 5-inch cake pans; I find the conversion in ingredient amounts is usually pretty straightforward, too — for this recipe, I just halved the amounts for the cake batter but made the same amount of frosting (always better to have a little leftover than to be short and have to skimp on frosting, right?)
The cakes baked up beautifully — nice and golden and plump.
Now it was onto the meringue buttercream. For this step, Dorie has you heat some sugar and egg whites in a heatproof bowl over simmering water, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture turns shiny and white — like marshmallow cream. I used the bowl of my stand mixer for this step. Here’s how thick it was when it reached that point:
After it’s thickened up, I removed the bowl and used my stand mixer with the whisk attachment to stir the meringue mixture, so that the motion would cool it down. It took me about 5 minutes to get the mixture cooled down so it was no longer hot, during which time it really thickened up a lot — now it really looked like marshmallow creme:
Was this okay? I wasn’t sure. But I proceeded onward, adding 3 whole sticks of butter, and beating the heck out of it. I was getting excited at this point, because it was starting to come together and look like pillowy mounds of creamy buttercream clouds. After adding some lemon juice and vanilla extract, I beat it some more and here’s what it looked like at the end:
Now, onto frosting the cake.
The cake layers split easily for me. I spread some raspberry jam on top of the cake layers, then some of the buttercream. Note to self: this was a big mistake! I should have spread the buttercream first and then the raspberry…the buttercream was slip-sliding all over the raspberry jam and made more of a mess than I would have liked (my inner overachiever envisioning perfectly smooth, flat, separated jam-and-buttercream layers like in the book photo!) But I just proceeded carefully on, finishing all the layers and then frosting the outside of the cake with the buttercream.
When it was finished, I crowned the cake with some fresh raspberries and let it chill.
The verdict: I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, seeing as I love Dorie recipes so much, but this was not one of my absolute favorites from her book. The cake was a bit too sweet for my taste, though it did have good lemon flavor. And the buttercream….sigh…oh, the buttercream. Maybe this was just me, but I thought it had a slightly heavy or greasy taste to it. I could have very well done something wrong; this was my first time with a meringue buttercream and perhaps I beat it too much? too little? but it wasn’t my favorite. If I were to make the cake as is again, I would opt for the freshly whipped cream that she suggests, instead.
The other thing is, I think I may have been slightly biased against the cake from the beginning. I’m not normally a huge layer cake fan, and if I am going to choose a cake to have, it’s almost never a white-on-white cake. If I were to make the cake again, I would probably try to do a chocolate cake with a chocolate buttercream — or, if I stuck to the lemon cake, maybe I would try to incorporate lemon curd into the layers (since I love it so!)
In any case, it was a really fun challenge and I can’t wait to see what the other lovely DB’ers do for their Perfect Party Cakes! You can check out the blogroll of DB participants here. I can’t wait for next month’s challenge!!
Perfect Party Cake
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours
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 (updated 25 March)
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
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut
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.
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.