Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Perfect (Birthday) Party Cake adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”

         I was quite surprised to see that my Facebook Birthday reminders numbered 10 for this week.  It was by far the highest number I’d seen in a while and I wondered what on earth had caused this minor baby boom.  So I did some math.  It was then I discovered that if you’re born around this time, you were a twinkle in your parent’s eyes right around Christmas.  Apparently they seized upon the season to be jolly and you’re the living proof.  And to prove my point, according to Facebook, there another 16 September birthdays still to celebrate.  So I thought it might be fun to send you all a virtual birthday cake, something Andrew baked a little while ago that’s simply terrific.  With any luck, someone will take it upon himself or herself to bake you the real thing first chance they get.  This cake is truly worthy of any kind of celebration. 
         When Andrew bakes, I am always amazed at his scientific precision.  The perfectly measured cups of flour, the rigorous adherence to the teaspoons and tablespoons, the care that goes into every liquid measurement is astonishing.  When you are a savory cook, you have a lot more leeway than when you are a baker. I marvel at his meticulousness.  But that is what makes a perfect cake.  Take my word for it:  this cake itself is perfection. It’s a white cake with a light lemon-y flavor, three layers high with a wonderful texture or “crumb” as Andrew would no doubt say.
But as much as he is a slave to the dictates of the baker’s craft, his artistry emerges once the cake is baked and the frosting is perfectly made.  That’s what he did with Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for “Perfect Party Cake” which came straight from her wonderful book “Baking: From My Home to Yours” (Houghton Mifflin 2006).  He added a second flavor to Ms. Greenspan’s fillings using both Raspberry and Blueberry Jellies and he topped the cake in a way that was all his own.  He studded the rich coconut topped buttercream frosting with big beautiful Blueberries.  Hopefully you’ll have your own ideas how to top the icing on this cake.  But when you do make it, please opt for really good jellies—like Polaner All Fruit or Bon Maman--, they make all the difference in the final results  Here’s the recipe:

Recipe for Perfect Party Cake
From Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”
Makes 12 to 14 servings
         For the Cake: 
           2 1/4 cups Cake Flour
         1 tbsp. Baking Powder
         1/2 tsp. Salt
         1 1/4 cups Whole Milk or Buttermilk
         4 large White Eggs
         1 1/2 cups Sugar
         2 tsp. Grated Lemon Zest
         1 stick (8 oz.) Unsalted Butter at room temperature
         1/2 tsp. Pure Lemon Extract
 For the Buttercream: 
 1 cup Sugar
 4 large Egg Whites
 3 sticks (24 oz.) Unsalted Butter at room temperature
 1/4 cup Fresh Lemon Juice  (from 2 lemons)
 1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract
 To finish the cake:
         2/3 cup Seedless Raspberry Preserves, stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable and 2/3 cup Blueberry Jelly
        About 1 1/2 Cups Sweetened Shredded Coconut

1.            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.
2.            Make the cake: Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
3.            Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
4.            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.

5.            Add the butter and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, 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.
        6.   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.

7.            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.

8.            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.
9.            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.

10.        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.
11.        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. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.
12.       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 the 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.  You can stop here or you can stud the cake with blueberries or whatever your heart desires. It's your party after all!


  1. That is such a pretty cake and then the wonderful surprise inside, I absolutely adore cake! the cupcakes I have been recently been served everywhere, in general, have more frosting than cake. Thank you!

  2. Ana, this is a keeper. An absolutely delicious cake that's very versatile in terms of its fillings and decorative possibilities. Enjoy!