Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cakes Have Layers...

I just beat 9 cups of sifted powdered sugar into 3 cups of butter.  I am a menace to society.

Instead of eating the rest of the frosting that's left in the bowl, I'm taking a break from it all to eat grapes.  Sweet, crunchy, non-frosted grapes.  Later I'll be eating cake, so I should eat grapes now (duh).

This morning I woke up at 7:30 am to finish the cake I'd started last night.  Generally speaking, I don't wake up before 9 unless I'm working super early, so it speaks to the dedication I have to this cake.

This also takes dedication.  TELL ME that's not catchy.  I dare you.  Also, props to the SNL cast at 4:30 in the morning for making this.  You've given me a bag full of reasons to love you even more.

Okay... back to cake, yes?

Baker's Tip:  Place cold butter in hot/warm water for 10-15 minutes = Voila.  Room temperature butter.  BAM.

I've tried making this twice, with the second time being the success.  You'd think making something twice isn't that big a deal... until you realize how much flour/sugar/butter/time you've seen go down the crapper (or in this case, into the sink).  You guys... I dropped one of the cake layers in the sink.  A sink full of water and grossness.  And on top of that, I was originally making it gluten-free, so it didn't exactly rise like it should have.  AND ON TOP OF THAT it was split into 4 different layers to create the-super-popular ombre effect.  This meant the layers were thinner.  And if that all wasn't enough reason to chuck the cake right into the bin, I didn't have my 8 inch cake pans (see: storage unit); I had my 9 inch pans.

This is why we don't want to upset the spirit of Martha Stewart, y'all.  THIS IS WHY.

*Yes... I realize she's not dead.  But I believe her spirit travels the world, cursing foolish bakers like myself who shun her recipes in the name of trying to be original.  The woman is a multi-million dollar (fact check, anybody?) home-making tycoon... who am I to reckon with that mess?  I'll eventually create my own cake recipe, but until then... Ms Stewart has got my vote on the best vanilla cake ever*

This cake is for my dear friend, Angie, whose birthday was yesterday.  I've been planning this cake for awhile now and am ridiculously excited about it.  Unfortunately, the majority of the cake-making bit was done at night.  I've sworn to never take crappily-lit shots with incandescent lighting.  I just can't do it to either of us.

So instead, I took pictures of the more attractive parts:  the icing of the cake.

You're on board.  I can tell by your face.

Things I've learned while making this cake:

1. It's okay to use 9 inch cake pans as long as you don't split the recipe in half.  You'll end up with tiny layers that may or may not be level.  Use your 9 inch cake pans... just double the recipe next time, doofus.

2. Cake is adorable in graduating shades of pink.

3. Frosting is too easy to make.  WAY TO EASY.  So is caramel.

4. If you're out of light corn syrup and all you have is dark "full flavor" molasses on your pantry shelf, it's okay.  Use it.  Trust me.  It will taste so. much. better.

5.  I need a real rotating cake stand.  This glass one is just ridiculous.

For the cake, I decided to do a basic vanilla.  It's dense, flavorful without being overly sweet, and easily stacked.  Since I was stacking 4 layers, I wanted something that would hold up and keep its shape.  No leaning towers, kids.

As for the frosting and filling, I alternated between smoky caramel and chocolate ganache in between layers of fluffy vanilla buttercream.  I hadn't realized this until yesterday - I only have cream cheese-based frostings on here.  What the heck?!  It was time to right this wrong.  The frosting I chose is light but rich, sweet but not sickening.  And there is a secret ingredient... a dash of coconut extract!  Yeah... that was my idea.  Thank me later...

The cake turned out beautiful and better than I'd expected.  It was tall, dense, and colorful.  Sprinkles exploded all over the sides, top, and bottom edge.  Everyone agreed the caramel layer was the best, but that the chocolate ganache was heavenly.  More than anything, Angie was thrilled with her birthday confection and I was pleased to see her so.  It's not often that someone will let you bring something of this magnitude into their home without a fight.  This, dear friends, was welcomed with open arms.

Happy Birthday, Angie.  Enjoy your sugar.

A Very Vanilla Birthday Cake
Adapted from the incomparable Martha Stewart
*double this recipe to make the full four layers, or make just a two layer cake!)

The Cake:

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (plus more for greasing the pans)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups unbleached flour, spooned and leveled (plus more for dusting the pans)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
food coloring of your choice (if desired)

*preheat oven to 350 degrees*

Prep two 9 inch cake pans by rubbing the bottoms and sides with butter, lining the bottoms with a circle of parchment, then buttering the parchment and dust the entire inside with flour.  Tap out excess and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  Turn the mixer on low and beat in the eggs and yolks one and a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.  Add the vanilla and beat until mixed thoroughly.

Next, mix in the flour mixture and the buttermilk by alternating them, beginning and ending with the the dry ingredients.  Mix until just combined.

If you are making the ombre cake, split the batter evenly into four different bowls.  Using your food color of choice, add 1-2 drops of food color to each bowl, increasing the number of drops to get the colors darker and darker as you go.  You can use some creative license here to get just the right amount of gradient coloration that you want.  Go nuts!

Bake cakes, two at a time, on the middle racks for 32-35 minutes, rotating half way through the baking.  They will just barely be coming away from the edge and will leave a toothpick clean when inserted into the center.  Let cool, in the pan on wire racks, for 10 minutes.  Invert onto the wire rack, remove the parchment paper, and let cool completely before frosting.

Cakes can be made up to 1 day ahead of time and be kept tightly wrapped in cling wrap at room temperature.  Only wrap cool cakes.

The Fillings:

Recipe for the Salted Caramel is here, but substitute dark molasses for the light corn syrup, and reduce by a little less than half.

Chocolate ganache can be found here, minus the butter.  You could totally add a liquor or some cinnamon (if you wanted... which would be majorly delicious).

The Frosting:
*double the frosting recipe if you doubled the cake recipe!*

9 cups of sifted powdered sugar
6 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
a dash of coconut extract (optional)

Beat together 3 cups of the powdered sugar and the butter on medium speed until smooth.  Slowly add in the rest of the powdered sugar, taking care to scrape down the sides the bowl every once in awhile.  Add the extract(s) and crank the speed up to medium-high, beating for 3-5 minutes until pale and fluffy.

To Assemble:

On a large sheet of parchment or cake plate situated on a rotating cake pedestal, place a small dollop of frosting.  Place the first cake layer on top.  This will prevent the cake from sliding around as you turn it.

Place about 1/2 cup of frosting on the first layer.  Spread around with your offset spatula until you form a lip around the edges (don't go over the edge!).  This will act as a barrier of sorts for your filling.  Pour a thin layer of filling into the well you've just created.  On another plate, place the second layer, topside down, in front of you.  Spread about 1/2 cup frosting on this layer, going almost to the edge..  Carefully marry the second layer, frosting side down, on top of the first layer.  Seal up any leaking edges with frosting.  Continue the process until you get up to the top layer.

Spread a thin layer of frosting across the top and sides of the cake.  Chill in the fridge for 1 hour.  This will seal in crumbs and ensure a smooth finish to your cake later on!

Remove the chilled cake from the fridge and place back on the spinning pedestal.  Dollop large amounts of frosting on the top edges and spread downward in long sweeping strokes.  Go all the way to the edge.  Add more frosting to the top in the middle this time, and rotate the pedestal to get a smooth and even surface.  Make sure you are using all the frosting!

Clean the spatula with warm water.  You are going to give the sides a nice finish now.  Turn the spatula vertically, hold it firmly but gently against the vertical side of the cake, and spin the pedestal around.  Do this until you have a smooth side to your cake.

You can now add sprinkles, candles, or other decorations to your cake!  Also, if you want to add rosettes all over your cake, use a piping bag with the large star tip and frost large spirals all over instead of the frosting it like we just talked about.  It's your cake - go nuts!

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