Party Cake

There is one celebration cake that I have seen published numerous times on various food blogs.  Dorie Greenspan’s ‘Perfect Party Cake’.  In her book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie even suggests tagging the page so you know where to find the recipe in a moment’s notice.  (I think Dorie is on to something!)

This cake can be made with a multitude of flavour combinations.  Like my recent cupcakes adventures, I appreciate a recipe that you can tailor to make your own.

Even though I celebrated my own birthday recently, there was actually another in the family last week, too.  Assuming the role of ‘resident family baker’ for that celebration, there was no question which recipe to use.

I have never made a ‘sweet’ combining lemon and chocolate.  I have seen this flavour duo in a few places and incredibly eager to try it.  Given the versatility of Dorie’s recipe, I knew this was my opportunity.  So I made a zesty lemon cake (doubling the recommended amount of lemon zest), and paired that with a creamy chocolate buttercream frosting (similar to the buttercream frosting I made recently for my cupcakes here, here and here).

Which brings me to the photograph.  I believe I have successfully mastered coordinating my baking activities to ensure my tasty treats are ready for their requisite gathering, party or get-together.  What I have not quite mastered is extending that ‘timing plan’ to capturing a photograph or two.  In this case, the cake was set out….candles lit…..and subsequently (nearly all!) consumed before my camera was able to join the party.  So in this case, the photograph was taken après la soirée.  With less than half a cake left, I was limited in what I could capture.

If you have Dorie’s book, tag the recipe now (p250).  If you do not have the book, consider buying it.  Or bookmark the recipe here – I provide the standard recipe below.  Try this cake for your next celebration.  Create your own flavour, and make it your own.  You will not be disappointed.
{ Perfect Party Cake }

* Ingredients *
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

* Directions *
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 180 C or 350 F. Butter two 20cm or 9 in 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.  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.)

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.

{ Buttercream }

* Ingredients *
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

* Directions *
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.

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 is 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.