Perfect Party Cake

March 30th, 2008


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.


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!


I used my super-thick chocolate fudge frosting 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.


Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake

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


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.


Tags: desserts · food

51 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ann // Mar 30, 2008 at 7:35 am

    You’ll never go back to store-bought cake (well, okay, you might still buy a high-end cake from a pastry shop, but you know what I mean)! Your cake looks like a black tie event.

    (One great way of making sure your cakes are portable is to buy cardboard cake rounds (you can put a pretty paper doily on them). If you frost your cake right on the round you can then easily box it, move it onto a stand, etc.)

  • 2 Gretchen Noelle // Mar 30, 2008 at 7:51 am

    Beautiful! I layered mine on the underside of a tupperware lid so i could then top it with the tupperware and transport it across town. I love the chocolate filling and piping around the outside. Lovely cake!

  • 3 Lucy V // Mar 30, 2008 at 8:29 am

    Really a nice looking cake, congratulations!  I love the idea of the chocolate in your decor.

  • 4 Sarah // Mar 30, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Great job!  Glad you were able to find a use for your “chocolate mousse”!

  • 5 sunita // Mar 30, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Katy, I agree with Ann…you’ll never feel like going back again. You’ve done a great job…such a pretty looking cake 🙂

  • 6 Rachel@fairycakeheaven // Mar 30, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Katy this looks fantastic, glad to see you used your delicious chocolate frosting to good end!!!!  You’ll never enjoy a store bought cake after this!!!

  • 7 Danielle // Mar 30, 2008 at 10:52 am

    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.

    Well, there’s me, a 27-year-old attorney in Brooklyn!

    Your cake looks great.

  • 8 Nemmie // Mar 30, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Gorgeous cake!  Chocolate, mmmmm.

  • 9 Joy // Mar 30, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Your piping is fab and the cake looks gorgeous. I’ll join you and Danielle as a 26-year-old lawyer in London. My colleagues think it’s hilarious that I draft by day and bake by night. You should try a cake carrier ( for your own creations, trendy though they’re not!

  • 10 Susan // Mar 30, 2008 at 11:44 am

    Looks delicious! A superpeel is great for transferring cakes as well as a lot of other things.

  • 11 MyKitchenInHalfCups // Mar 30, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    And once again we learn from the Daring Bakers how we scare ourselves out of baking really great things that really aren’t too much more work than the box make believe!
    Beautiful cake Kathy!!
    Gad but I’m so glad I’ve given up high heels!!  Treck on.

  • 12 Maddy // Mar 30, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    That looks so yummy! I love the use of the two different frostings- beautiful and delicious, too.

  • 13 Valerie Adams // Mar 30, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    I’m amazed that you have time to bake, I’m sure you’re so busy with your job! It looks fantastic and I love the piping you did.

  • 14 Suzana // Mar 30, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Impressive indeed! Looks awesome and I’m sure it was delicious. Great job, Katy!

  • 15 Claire // Mar 30, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    No more store bought cakes for you!  Great job.

  • 16 VeggieGirl // Mar 30, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    My goodness, that looks like a perfect part cake (and cake, in general), for sure!! I love the ganache finishing on it.

    There certainly is nothing like making your own layer-cake, so kudos to you for doing so, as well!! :0)

  • 17 katy // Mar 30, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks so much everyone for your comments!  I really liked this recipe — and all the cake variations I’ve seen look amazing!  And, yes, I’m definitely done with store-bought cakes!!!

  • 18 Jerry // Mar 30, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Love the icing! It looks so good!

  • 19 CB // Mar 30, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Yummy chocolate!  Great job!

  • 20 a. grace // Mar 30, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    this is the first chocolate filling i’ve seen for this cake, and it’s about time.  if you’re gonna call a cake “perfect,” there really should be chocolate involved. 🙂

  • 21 mimi // Mar 30, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    i love the chocolate piping you did for your cake! the buttercream is so sweet, i bet if you used darker chocolate it would have been perfect complement!

  • 22 NuJoi // Mar 30, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Welcome to the cake bakers crew!  There is nothing more satisfying than decorating your own from scratch cake, even if it is not perfect.  You should post your pics to


  • 23 Karen // Mar 30, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Wow, that looks so good.  I love channeling my inner 1954 housewife and making cakes!  Good read.  Well done!

  • 24 Cynthia // Mar 30, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    And all your guesses would be correct 🙂

  • 25 cookinpanda // Mar 30, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    This cake looks great!  Nice job with the piping for the decorations.  And transporting is always a headache.

  • 26 Deborah // Mar 30, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    I love the chocolate combo – it sounds delicious!!  I need to work on my piping skills – yours looks great!

  • 27 Katherine // Mar 30, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    I was hoping someone would ask and you’d answer sooner — what is the “S” for as your decoration?

    As for the cake itself, it looks amazing. I can’t wait.

  • 28 Katherine // Mar 30, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    I don’t know why I wrote “I can’t wait”. um…can’t wait to make one like it? Well, there was one in gourmet magazine I’ve been meaning to make. It has a similar style of frosting as the one you made (sugary/stiff), but chocolate.

  • 29 katy // Mar 31, 2008 at 8:21 am

    Katherine — ha!  I can’t wait to make another one either.  The “S” stands for Sugarlaws, because I wasn’t making it for anyone’s birthday!  I probably could have just continued the same piped design, but I thought it would look cute with a letter in the center — I realized later it probably should have been a “K”!

  • 30 adele // Mar 31, 2008 at 9:30 am

    Nicely done. It looks tasty!

    And you’ll have to tell us more about the trick of carrying a sheet cake in heels. 😛 I can just about manage one or the other, but doing both simultaneously is beyond me.

  • 31 Chou // Mar 31, 2008 at 11:25 am

    I love the imagery. When I move to NYC do I have to start wearing heels?

  • 32 ntsc // Mar 31, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Add a 60 year old engineer formerly from Park Slope and now in Rockland County.

    Only I do a four layer chocolate cake with a chocolate ganach frosting and home made rasberry jam (or orange marmalade) interlayer frosting.

    Serve this with a white chocolate-pistachio home made ice cream and the under 10 set has your full attention.

    I let my wife wear the heels. I look funny.

  • 33 Jessica // Mar 31, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    That looks delicious!

  • 34 Kate // Mar 31, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    i would surely agree that u are the only lawyer who i know …bakes !!! so trust me everything that u make is really a big thing … 😀
    haha i wish we would get sheet cakes here though … just for some emergency occasions 🙂

  • 35 TBC // Mar 31, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    That is a beauty of a cake!

  • 36 coco // Mar 31, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    Your cake looks so so good!

  • 37 Helen // Apr 1, 2008 at 7:39 am

    That looks delicious! Who can argue with chocoate fudge icing!?

  • 38 michelle @ TNS // Apr 1, 2008 at 11:02 am

    mmm, fudge.

    i’m a 30 year old attorney in new york city, and i bake complicated layer cakes from scratch all the damn time.  welcome to the club!

  • 39 Sheltie Girl // Apr 2, 2008 at 8:59 am

    You did a fabulous job on your cake.  I love the fudge frosting.

    Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

  • 40 Fearless Kitchen // Apr 2, 2008 at 10:49 am

    I’m so jealous!  I’ve made exactly one attempt at buttercream frosting.  It wasn’t pretty (although it tasted just fine.) I’ll have to try this sometime, maybe with practice I’ll get better.

    And I know two lawyers who bake complex things all the time.  Any advice on a Bob the Builder cake for a three year old?

  • 41 Cakespy // Apr 2, 2008 at 11:34 am

    The vision of of you teetering in high heels with a cake box is a fine vision indeed! It reminds me of my college days at Pratt, when I insisted that all birthday cakes for friends had to come from the Cupcake Cafe in Hell’s Kitchen. Coming back to Brooklyn from Midtown with those delicate boxes–damn!

    Yours came out BEAUTIFULLY! And glad to hear you were bad like us and nuked the butter. 😉

  • 42 Andrea // Apr 2, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    I am IMPRESSED that you can carry a cake all the way across Manhattan in high heels! Your cake looks great. Love the chocolate!

  • 43 FlaNboyantEats // Apr 3, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Lovely, lovely cake…If it was red, I’d make it my for my parents’ 40th wedding anni coming up!

    Nice job!

  • 44 Skrockodile (Sabra) // Apr 7, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    well done!  two types of frosting is such a huge, huge pain but it’s so worth it.  bet it was delicious!

  • 45 Ivonne // Apr 12, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    You go, Katy! You’re the lawyer with the mostess … beautiful cake!

  • 46 Tartelette // Apr 17, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Finally almost done with making the rounds! Your cake tured out beautiful! Great job!

  • 47 Seared Scallop Salad | sugarlaws // Apr 28, 2008 at 6:41 am

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  • 48 Blueberry Cinnamon Cakes | sugarlaws // Jun 12, 2008 at 7:33 am

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  • 50 Anonymous // Aug 10, 2008 at 11:22 am

    I love your blog! You have beautiful pictures and all of the food you make looks great! I used to be an avid baker, but am in law school now and without a kitchen, so the baking has been put on pause for a while. I have been studying like crazy, but in my study breaks am constantly looking through food blogs. I agree that not many people have baked layer cakes from scratch, and I miss baking beautiful cakes such as this one. I did bake some cupcakes at a friend’s place recently and also had a short trek in heels to deliver them to a friend. I feel like I can totally relate to you as law and baking are passions of mine as well. Anyways, just wanted to say your blog is awesome! A welcome break between studying contract and torts law!

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