The Perfect White Layer Cake — Period.
When I read that we would be digging into one of Dorie Greenspan’s cake recipes, I couldn’t resist a smile. And as I read deeper into the recipe and saw the possibilities, I knew I’d enjoy imagining what could be done with this cake, the Perfect Party Cake: pure white, multi-layered, and frosting that hints of whatever I’d like it to…But then a funny thing happened.
I remembered a photo of a white cake covered with coconut and filled with lemon in my mother’s old cookbook — one that I’d imagined for years would be mine and never was. My heart was broken. *sniff* So I knew I’d most likely stick very close to Dorie’s recipe. The idea of the lemon and the coconut was more than I could resist, and I just happened to have some blackberry jam.
I’m not like many of the other Daring Bakers I come across, and goodness knows there are about ten trillion of them in FoodLand now. I’m always in awe of those who hop to each challenge, making it nearly before the web has cooled from its reveal to our masses. And some bake their hearts out more than once on a challenge, experimenting and diligently learning. It’s quite admirable.
I usually wait until the last minute. It’s not because I’m not interested. FAR from true. I seem to wallow in all the possibilities, imagining what each challenge might bring. Clearly I’m a process kind of person. But I’m proud to say that on this challenge, I actually finished the cake more than a week ahead of time and it’s been burning a hole in my pocket ever since. Or something like that.
I would trade my world for a piece of that amazing cake right now. And I don’t just say that about any cake. This cake was amazing. Period. And when I think back on all the Daring Baker challenges I’ve been a part of in the past year, this was the best. I loved making this cake. Okay, so peabody’s Strawberry Mirror Cake was a very close second. But still.
Maybe its wonderfulness was a reminder of childhood. You know — the long denied poor child whose mother never made that luscious coconut covered cake in the Betty Crocker cook book whose page I can no longer find because it was possibly drooled on into oblivion. Of course, I should mention that she gave in and did make the Baked Alaska once, perhaps as a consolation, and most likely because I’d brow beaten her for years over it all. But the coconut cake….with lemon filling between the layers. Mmmmm….
I’ll have to ask her why she never made it. Was it the coconut? Hmmmm…which finnicky family member may not have liked it and so I was forever denied?
So this was my chance. After all these years, I’d finally get to see what my taste buds would think. And yes, I do know that after our Lemon Meringue Pie challenge a few months ago, there’ve been quite a few confessions out there about people not particularly liking lemon. How sad.
It’s such a bright, clean, cheerful flavor. So fresh. So…but I do understand, because personally, I’ve never cared for beets. Ugh. They’re just so…red. And rooty. Except when they’re yellow. But they’re still rooty. Ahem.
I know. You’re so over this already and you have 8,000 other blogs to read and all you really want is to see the photos. You seriously want me to get on with it already.
But it’s my birthday! Well, actually, it’s my blog’s birthday. Sass & Veracity was one year old as of March 19th, and so clearly, getting to bake such an amazing cake was perfect! I can totally tell you’re bowled over with enthusiasm on this news. w00t? Think of how difficult it was to not post this cake on my bloggoversary. I was tempted. Really, I was. But the thought of the scandal was more than I could bear, posting ahead of the day…I’m such a rule follower. Well except for the Lemon Meringue Pie challenge when I cheated on the meringue.
Okay, I’ve blathered long enough. Credit — tons of it — for this fabulous challenge choice goes to Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts. There seem to be quite a good number of happy bakers in FoodLand about now. Nice. If you’re interested in the recipe for the Perfect Party Cake, consider purchasing Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.
And to keep in the spirit of challenge (because this cake was a delight to make) I’ve decided that since having read that Dorie admires a “neat cook” while skimming blogs one day, I vowed to keep my work area and kitchen clean while I was baking to my heart’s content this month just to see if I could. Although I usually begin in an organized fashion, by the end of whatever I’m cooking, disaster reigns afterward.
I do have to say in my own defense that we celebrated Easter on Saturday and although I did make the cake on Friday, I prepared the frosting and assembled the cake on the same day I was also baking a whole ham, with all the trimmings of a complete dinner and family arriving at about 2 PM. So please, at this point, notice my clean kitchen. I promise to show you the disaster at the end.
I also decided to experiment a bit with coconut, since I’m a big fan, and this was my chance. I was prepared with a bag of sweetened coconut, as well as two fresh coconuts just to see what the possibilities might be.
My Notes about the Perfect Party Cake
- I used the buttermilk because it sounded perfect with the lemon extract. I love tart things, and was not disappointed. The lemon flavor was quite subtle and very rewarding.
- I used cake flour as called for and caster, or extra fine sugar because I often do when I bake.
- I used 8″ x 3″ pans, and baked the cake at 350 degrees F on a convection setting, spinning the pans at about 20 min. into the cooking time, and removing them from the oven at 26 minutes.
- The layers were fragrant and came easily from the pans after cooling.
- The layers were baked the day before, wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature until assembly.
- The layers were sliced in half using a long serrated edge knife
- The frosting was made exactly as the recipe directed (I know this is difficult to believe…), beating for at least 15 minutes.
- Rubbing the sugar with the lemon zest was interesting — I loved the texture and fragrance.
- There was no separation during the beating, and the outcome was light, surprisingly non-greasy (for the amount of butter in it…)
- I’m not a frosting person, but this frosting is amazing. Really. I loved the silkiness, the lightness, the hint of lemon — very, very good. And it was so easy to work with which isn’t always the case with frosting in general. It covered the cake quite well, keeping the filling between the layers from oozing out when I least wanted it to.
- I used blackberry jam covered with frosting as the recipe directed on the bottom and top layer.
- For the center layer, I made my own lemon curd using one of Martha Stewart’s recipes, and topped that with a mix of heavy cream, whipped with mascarpone, sweetened with vanilla.
- The lemon curd was made the night before and stored in the fridge. It was stirred before using to get it to a more spreadable consistency.
- After much playing around with fresh coconuts, whacking them with my rolling pin and dropping them on the flagstones on my patio, I deliberated about whether to use a cheese slicer, a mandoline, or my potato peeler to slice the coconut. Although I tried all three, and sliced the greatest quantity with my mandoline, I ended up liking the potato peeler the most because the coconut curled a bit and was pretty.
- I decided to leave the brown peeling on the coconut because I used to eat it that way when I was a child, so why not? Besides, I liked the idea of the dark edge on the coconut and thought it would look nice on the cake.
- In the long run, I decided to go with the sweetened coconut on the sides, and the fresh as a garnish on the top. I enjoyed the rest of the shaved, fresh coconut a few days later as a snack that was quite enjoyable.
Storing & Serving…
- Against Dorie’s suggestion, I did have to put the cake in the fridge for a while after assembly. I knew I’d have to do this because of the lemon curd and the cream. I chilled it for only a couple of hours, and then took it out about an hour before serving.
- The cake definitely slides without refrigeration as I knew it would, but I had to find out what the combination of flavors would be like, so it was worth using the cream and lemon curd.
- The tartness of the blackberry jam and lemon curd was so lovely with the smooth flavor of the frosting and the crunch of the coconut, it will be a while before I taste a cake this good.
- I covered the cake with plastic wrap and had one more piece the next day before sending it home with one of my older sons so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat the rest.
Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake was a hit. My hunkster doesn’t like sweetened coconut, but admitted that this was good. Other family members said they enjoyed it as well, but I didn’t have to peel them off the ceiling, so I guess I’ll have to live with “okay.” When I asked my hunkster why he didn’t like coconut, expecting that he’d say he didn’t like the sweetness, he said it was stringy. Goodness. Now I’ve heard everything.
It speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Besides, I question organzied creativity.