Happy Birthday Becky

With the experience I gained from making the 6 layer coconut cake, I decided it’s time to gain more experience making these “celebration” cakes. And what better celebration than a good friend’s birthday? After perusing RLB’s Cake Bible, I decided instead on a cake from Dorie Greenspan’s handy book. According to her, this is the “perfect party cake”… I had to find out if it could live up to its name!

Happy Birthday Becky!

Happy Birthday Becky!

The original recipe is actually not that complicated for a celebration cake (the recipe is included at the end of this post).  However, it IS time consuming.  Thankfully I had a great sous chef / photographer / rolodex working with me for this (thanks Carlos!).

The cake itself was simple, although the inclusion of buttermilk threw me off at first.  The buttermilk I purchased today at Kroger seemed thicker and more sour than normal, so I went ahead and returned it.  As usual, I prepared the wet and dry ingredients separately, then added them together once the sugar, zest and butter were fully creamed.  I alternated between the dry ingredients and the egg white mixture so the batter could keep the same consistency throughout.

Although I normally only mix the wet and dry until just incorporated to prevent too much gluten activation (which would dry out the finished product and make it chewier), that’s actually not a problem since I’m using cake flour (which has a very low gluten content).  Thus Dorie calls to continue beating the batter to properly aerate it.  Once finished, I divided the batter into two 8″ x 2″ cake pans by weight (I prefer smaller, taller layered cakes, personally).

Next up was the buttercream frosting.  Since I’m double boiling eggs and sugar, I had to mix furiously to prevent any curdling.  Even so, I strained the mixture just in case some stray egg whites curdled… you wouldn’t want boiled egg in your cake!  The rest of the steps to make the buttercream was simple (thank goodness for a stand mixer).

After the cake finished baking, I cooled the two layers then divided in two.

I then spread on the strawberry preserves and buttercream frosting between each layer.  I thought raspberries might be too tart in combination with the lemon, so I replaced it with strawberries instead… besides, who doesn’t like strawberries? 🙂

As I continued to layer on the preserves, buttercream, cake, repeat, the result took the shape of a sloppy stack of pancakes.  Weird.

After finishing all the layers, I proceeded to place more frosting on the sides and top.  Normally, I would put a thin layer of frosting on the sides and top then refrigerate to catch any stray crumbs (this is known as the crumb layer), but since I was going to place additional mixings to the cake, there was no need.

After the frosting was complete, I placed some coconut on the sides and strawberries on the top to go along with the white&red motif.

The cake is done, hopefully Becky will like it!

We unveiled the birthday cake after a satisfying meal at the Boiling Crab.  Other customers noticed and even wished her a happy birthday as well!

Becky and Tony

Becky and Tony

Group photo

Group photo

Yes, the layers are a bit uneven… By design, I swear!  It’s artsy like that 🙂

Hope you liked it Becky!  Happy Birthday!

Recipe as follows:

Dorie Greenspan’s 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.

Yield: 12-16 servings

* For the Cake:

  • *  2 ¼ 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

* For Finishing:

  • *  ⅔ cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
  • *  1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready

  1. Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9×2 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

  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
  6. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
  7. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
  8. Finally, give the batter a good 2— minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
  9. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
  10. 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
  11. 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.
  12. 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

  1. 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.
  2. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
  3. Remove the bowl from the heat.
  4. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
  5. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
  6. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6–10 minutes.
  7. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
  8. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
  9. 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

  1. Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
  2. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
  3. Spread it with one third of the preserves.
  4. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
  5. 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).
  6. Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
  7. 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.


4 Responses to “Happy Birthday Becky”

  1. December 7, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    wow, carlos’s process photos are REALLY good! you should hire him full time!


    thanks for the cake!

  2. 2 JK
    December 8, 2008 at 5:47 am

    😀 So PRETTY!!!

  3. 3 monica
    December 9, 2008 at 4:43 am

    ok, i hope you’re happy now that i’m commenting on your blog! 😛 so, my mom happened to be looking over my shoulder as i was scrolling through your photos and she was VERY impressed and even said “jin made that?! i didn’t know he baked!” haha. she also said your desserts looked very tasty – good job! i know you’re tired of baking so much these past few weeks, but i’m envious and wish i had as much time and “reasons” to make stuff… keep posting (and motivating me)! 🙂

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