This week I get to step up to the podium and host the recipe for the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group. When I first joined the group 15 months ago, I wondered how I would ever choose which recipe to pick, but when my name was called, it really wasn’t such a hard choice. I turned immediately to my favorite category of baked goods, cakes, and honed right in on the Perfect Party Cake. June seems to be a big celebration month with Father’s Day, graduations, and in my family there are lots of June birthdays, so a Perfect Party Cake seemed like a perfect choice.
This party cake was extra special because I made it for my mother-in-law, Phyllis, in celebration of her 80th birthday. A number of months ago she called to tell us she would like to gather the family from our scattered locations to celebrate her birthday in Las Vegas. David’s response was, “that sounds great, but there won’t be a cake.” I need to give you a little back story here. When David’s dad turned 80 our family got together to celebrate in Idaho, where they were spending the summer. I had the great idea to make him a cake and fly from Seattle to Idaho with it. David was sure this would be disastrous, but thanks to his expert skills of running blocker for me through the airports, we made it there just fine with the cake in perfect condition. Back to the phone call inviting us to Las Vegas, I grabbed the phone and assured Phyllis there will be a cake! This is a quick direct flight; of course I will bring a cake.
The big unknown with this trip were the new airport security rules. The cake isn’t liquid and can go through the scanner, so no problem, right? A little online sleuthing revealed that cakes getting through security can be hit and miss. If you happen to get a TSA agent in a bad mood (or maybe hungry?) the cake may just be denied passage. I am the eternal optimist and really didn’t believe there would be any issue. As the cake is being scanned, the agent behind the machine asks me in a friendly, just curious manner, “Is it a pie or a cake?” I answer, and then she asks, “What kind?” I tell her it’s a lemon cake with a raspberry filling and she smiles. The agent on my side of the scanner turns to me and says, “Raspberry filling is a gel and we can’t let that through.” I am sure I turned as white as the layers of cake, yet I assume he is joking, but I’m also thinking if he’s joking he may not want me to know that right away. There is also the chance that he is completely serious! My brain is about to short out trying to decide if I should just laugh it off or play into it. I go with the play-into-it strategy and deliver a stunned “No! Please tell me you’re kidding.” This went back and forth a few times and finally the agent holding my cake hostage in the x-ray machine sent it through and they started laughing. Really not so funny from my perspective, but if it lightened their day and I get to proceed with my cake, I’m happy.
The cake arrived mostly unscathed. The thing about jam fillings is they are slippery. Had I been thinking I would have stuck a few chop sticks or straws through the layers to pin them together. The top two layers slid off one side crushing a bit of the piped edging, but a tilt of the box slid them right back on. Once we arrived in Las Vegas we delivered the cake to the Grand Lux Café at the Venetian Hotel, where the whole family was having dinner that night. The Grand Lux Café was so gracious and accommodating. They took the cake early in the day and kept it in the refrigerator for us. Once we arrived for dinner two different people came out to talk to me about how the layers had slid off and offered to have one of the chefs try to fix it up. They smoothed out the icing and piped on a new bottom boarder and made it look great. Then they added birthday candles and presented the cake to Phyllis. Thank you to the staff at the Grand Lux Café! We had a great dinner and fun time that night.
The cake was tender, light, lemony and perfectly accented by the lush raspberry jam. I will admit that my first attempt flopped. Not that there were difficult techniques, it was more about mixing finesse. Knowing this was a big-deal cake; I turned right around and made it again with much better results. As I looked at the cake layers, I decided they weren’t grand enough for an 80th birthday celebration, so I made the cake a third time. The third time was even better and I think the difference was in letting the batter beat exactly as described in the instructions. It was noticeably more aerated and the baked cakes were much lighter. Rather than cutting the two layers to make four, I left them whole and added a third layer from the previous batch. I wanted the cake to be tall and I thought cutting the two layers, just wouldn’t be enough. From previous experience I know it’s difficult to spread buttercream over a layer of jam, so I reversed the steps and put the buttercream down first, chilled it so it was set, and then spread the jam on with no problems.
This was a Perfect Party Cake for a great celebration. Happy Birthday Phyllis!
Over 350 baking bloggers are baking our way thorough Dorie Greenspan’s book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. 80 recipes completed 141 to go!
As the recipe selector for the week, I have the honor of posting the recipe. Here is Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake from her book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. Here are a few additional tips from Dorie on making this cake.
Perfect Party Cake
Stick a bright-colored 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 come 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 flavored 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 perfect cake not just perfect , but also versatile.
For the Cake
2 ¼ cups cake flour
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) 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
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.
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.