The careful reader of this blog will notice that I have never posted a layer cake. Cakes in general abound, whether bundt or sheet or round or loaf or cupcake. But none of those linked to are decorated with more than a simple glaze or a dollop of whipped cream, and none are the traditional two-layers-and-picture-perfect-frosting type cake that you probably think of when you hear "cake." That's because, whenever I do attempt that sort of cake, it invariably ends up a lopsided mess that I don't even bother to post, no matter how delicious it is.
This sad state of affairs is about to change. Because by mid July, I plan to be capable of creating a cake that is worthy of gracing the table at James and Margo's nuptials. That's right, I'm making a wedding cake! Well, not just me: my sister and her kitchen and I are going to team up to create the awesomest cake of the summer. We have no idea yet what flavor or aesthetic or whatever we'll be going for—suggestions anyone?
Between now and then, I'm going to make a bunch of practice cakes until I suck a bit less at decorating and have a bit more intuition for what makes a good layer cake recipe. This is the first of those attempts, and I'm pretty darn happy with it. Decorating-wise, it's at least an order of magnitude better than any other layer cake I've made, mostly due to a good structurally-sound frosting recipe. Way pinker than I'm comfortable with, frankly, but great for Mother's Day if your mom is into that. (ps happy Mother's Day to any moms reading this!)
For the record: The cake itself is on the firm side, not unlike a pound cake, which means that it handled very well with the flipping and leveling and stacking. There's a delicate vanilla flavor in the crumb and a bright buttery flavor in the domed crust (which makes the parts I sliced off during leveling extra good for snacking). It's not dry per se, but it would benefit from being brushed with some sort of sweet boozy or jammy glaze. The frosting tastes much lighter than it seems like it should be with all that butter and is definitely not too sweet. The assembled cake, minus a few slices of course, held up well on the counter overnight.
2 c cake flour = 1 3/4 c all-purpose + 1/4 c cornstarch
1 T baking powder
1 1/3 c sugar
1/4 t cardamom
1/4 t salt
seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/4 sticks butter (10 T), thoroughly softened and cut into chunks
1/3 c plain Greek yogurt + 1/3 c milk, stirred until smooth (or 2/3 c buttermilk)
2 T milk, in addition
3 eggs + 1 yolk
2 t Christina's bourbon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 325F and butter and flour two 8" round cake pans. If you're good, put a round of buttered parchment paper inside the bottom of each pan too.
Sift the cake flour (or flour + cornstarch) and baking powder together into a large bowl. Stir in the rest of what this cake considers dry ingredients: sugar, cardamom, and salt. Add the vanilla bean, butter chunks, and 2/3 c buttermilk or yogurtmilk, and beat with an electric mixer until smooth, fluffy, and pretty stiff. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 T milk with the eggs and vanilla. Pour the egg mixture into the rest of the batter in three additions, folding the thin liquid into the thick batter with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula between each addition until smooth. It's weird, but it works. Divide the batter between the pans and bake for 28-32 min until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn out onto wire racks and let cool completely.
Swiss meringue buttercream frosting:
4 egg whites
1 c sugar
2.5-3 sticks butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
1 t Meyer lemon zest
1 T Meyer lemon juice
Bring some water to a simmer in the bottom of your favorite double boiler substitute. In the top, place the egg whites and sugar. Whisk constantly for 5-7 minutes, past when the sugar seems to be well dissolved. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and whisk at medium speed for 4-6 minutes until the bowl is a neutral temperature and the meringue holds stiff peaks. With the mixer running, add the butter one chunk at a time, mixing until it looks like frosting. (Mine looked great and hadn't gone through the rumored curdled stage after I'd added 2.5 sticks of butter, so I called it quits there, even though all the recipes I saw called for at least another few tablespoons.) Toss in a bit of salt and whatever flavorings you like, eg lemon, and mix briefly to combine. This can sit uncovered on the counter for a few hours until you're ready for assembly.
1 pack raspberries (about 30)
If you have a cake stand or cake cardboard or whatever, you're way ahead of me and probably shouldn't read this part. If not, put some parchment on a cutting board, and transfer one cake layer (flat side down and domed side up) onto the parchment. Level the top with a serrated knife (level the other cake layer too while you're at it). Spread the cake on the parchment with a generous layer (about 3/4 c) of frosting using a flat icing spatula, spreading all the way to the edges. (I've decided that the key to not having trouble with crumbs is to use a lot of frosting; screw crumb coats.) Gently break some of the raspberries in half and cover the surface of the frosting with them. Place the other cake layer (cut side down and flat side up) on top of the bottom layer. Spread the top and sides of the cake with another generous layer of frosting, using the base of the kitchen scale as a not-really-rotating cake stand. Place some of the remaining raspberries decoratively on top of the cake. You should have less than a cup of frosting and maybe a dozen raspberries left; crush the raspberries and mix them into the frosting. Use the pink (pink!) frosting to pipe more decorations around the cake.