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Perfect Party Cake

Posted By katy On March 30, 2008 @ 7:24 am In desserts,food | 50 Comments

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I will hazard a guess, right now, that there are not many 26-year-old attorneys in Manhattan who have baked a layer cake from scratch, complete with two types of buttercream frosting. In fact, I will go a little bit further, and even guess that there are not too many non-lawyers who’ve done it either.

I think of layer-cake baking as generally restricted to two types of people: professional pastry chefs and housewives circa 1954. For the rest of us, we trudge to the grocery store to purchase those terrible $2 Betty Crocker mixes, and if that doesn’t work, there is a quite lovely selection of sheet cakes available in nearly every grocery store in this city. I know, because I buy one for my fiance for his birthday every year, and I have long mastered the art of carrying a sheet cake across the entire length of Manhattan on foot, wearing high heels.

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Next year, however, things are going to be a little bit different, because now I can make my own. I am quite proud of this little cake, because it took about 2 or 3 hours altogether, created an enormous mess, but at the end of the day, tasted really good. And this was my first non-disastrous attempt at piping frosting, and it turns out that if you don’t overload your pastry bag, and you remember that the pastry tip goes on the inside of the bag, it’s actually not that hard at all (I know, I probably shouldn’t admit that I’ve made both those mistakes).

I made a few changes to the recipe that should be noted. First of all, I took out all the lemon from the buttercream frosting — give me plain vanilla over lemon frosting any day.  Also, I might have been a little heavy on the sugar in the frosting, and perhaps a little bit too light on the butter. The advantage of this approach was a very stiff, sweet frosting, but the texture in your mouth was a little bit off — using confectioner’s sugar, which I didn’t have, would help a lot, although good luck beating out all of the mini-lumps!

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I used my super-thick chocolate fudge frosting [1] as the filling for between the layers, and also used it to pipe decorations onto the cake. The intense sweetness that I complained about when attempting to eat a dish of the chocolate on its own was tempered, a lot, by the combination of the chocolate with other ingredients, and it worked really well.

There’s just one thing I wish I had thought about before making this recipe: how to transport it! Once mine was finished on the cake stand, and the wax paper was removed to leave just the decorated cake behind, I had no hope of dislodging the cake without risking totally destroying it. If I had been really smart, I would have decorated it on some kind of plastic or cardboard container, so that I practice that cake-balancing, high-heel-walking technique I so love to brag about.

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Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake

INGREDIENTS:
For the Cake:
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Buttercream:
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
1 1/2 cups thick chocolate pudding or light ganache

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DIRECTIONS:
For the cake:
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.
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 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).

For 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 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.
Divide one half of the chocolate ganache into three equal portions, and spread each portion in between the center layers.
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the buttercream to frost the sides and top.

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[1] chocolate fudge frosting: http://www.sugarlaws.com/chocolate-fudge-frosting/

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