The last couple weeks have been the busiest I've been at work in a very long time. I mean, I'm always fairly busy and I never have enough time or staff to finish everything, but we had a deadline to meet and a product to launch. In addition, our company was in the process of moving from one office building to another. Even though our new office is a million times better than our old office, my commute now has me driving on the parking lot more commonly known as Highway 101 instead of the wide-laned, rolling-hilled Interstate 280. I sound like a total whiner and I know that this month's Daring Baker challenge recipe was fairly straightforward, but I wasn't sure if I had the time.
I'm aware that my situation is not unique. Whether it's your job, commute, children or household chores, there are not enough hours in the day for all that and "personal" time too. But it is exactly during these busy, stressful times when taking a moment for a "breather" is so important. A pleasant distraction (like taking a walk or baking a cake) can de-stress and refresh the mind enough so that it can continue working.
So I took a break from my desk and headed into the kitchen to bake the cake. This month's hostess Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts chose the "Perfect Party Cake" from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home To Yours. The cake is a white cake flavored with a hint of citrus. The frosting is a Swiss meringue buttercream and the cake can be filled with whatever we like. It sounded, well, perfect.
I was unsuccessful the last time I made a Swiss meringue buttercream (for the Daring Bakers' yule log challenge) and I was not sure if I would be successful this time around either. My buttercream curdled a bit so I added a bit of cream cheese to help smooth it out. Using cream cheese was a much better solution than adding more sugar to bind the frosting (which is what I did for the yule log frosting) and the frosting turned out surprisingly well. But it seemed more like a cream cheese frosting now than a buttercream.
I don't usually have any trouble making cakes and that was pretty much true this time. However, I realized that the flour I purchased was not cake flour but actually pastry flour. Now normally I would just use about 1 tablespoon less of pastry flour than I would per cup of cake flour. (FYI: Pastry flour has a higher protein content than cake flour but still lower than all purpose flour.) But this pastry flour was not the fine textured ivory pastry flour that I usually buy, but a slightly coarser light tan pastry flour. Stupidly, I went ahead a used it for the cake anyway. What I should've done was use all purpose flour. (FYI: One cup minus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour = one cup cake flour.)
My cake looked far from perfect. My cake was not snow white like the cake shown in the cookbook. My cake was beige and I'm sure it was because of my pastry flour. Even though my cake rose in the oven and was fluffy, my cake tasted very "whole grainy". I think that my pastry flour was a whole wheat pastry flour. The package read whole grain pastry flour and I'm not quite sure if that's the same as whole wheat. Generally speaking, I am not opposed to whole wheat, but it's just not appealing when you're expecting a light, delicate and tender white cake.
I did some calculations and determined that the King Arthur pastry flour I usually use has 8 grams protein per 100 grams (8%) and the pastry flour I used for this cake had 11 grams protein per 100 grams (11%). I'm not sure if the label on my pastry flour package is correct since 11% is as high as the content in all purpose flour. (But protein content was not the major issue with my cake. The major issue was the flavor. But it's my fault for using the wrong flour. I'm sure the recipe is a good one. I just messed up.)
I had no time to make the cake again before the posting date so I just continued with the recipe. I cut my cakes horizontally to make 4 layers, and then using a cookie cutter, I cut out 4-inch circles for mini cakes. I filled them with Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) and my buttercream, frosted the sides and top and then snapped some quick pictures.
The Nutella and frosting helped to hide some of that whole grainy taste but I felt my cake was beyond salvaging. I wanted to toss the whole thing into the compost and just get back to work. My husband said it was not horrible and I should just bring it to the office and see what my coworkers thought. Some really liked it, some thought it was a bit strange but still good and others felt it was not my best work. My coworker JC did say that my worst is still better than most people's best. Thanks JC -you made my day! And thanks to hostess Morven and all the Daring Bakers. When I have some more time, I will definitely try making this cake again.
My changes to the recipe:
I filled my cake with 2/3 cup of Nutella instead of fruit preserves.
I used orange zest and orange oil instead of lemon zest and lemon extract in the cake.
I use orange juice instead of lemon juice in the frosting.
I added some cream cheese to the frosting (when my buttercream frosting curdled).
I omitted the shredded coconut.
I cut my split cake layers with a 4-inch diameter cookie cutter to make mini layer cakes.
PERFECT PARTY CAKE
(From "Baking from My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan)
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Filling and Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut
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 pan 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 buttermilk 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 well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
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
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.
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
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.
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 in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 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 leftover).
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.
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.