Perfect Party Cake

It seems that March is the month for birthdays; I know of a dozen people offhand who celebrate birthdays during this month, one of whom is my dear husband. I decided that this year, rather than buying a cake I would make one for him.

I was feeling a little intimidated by the prospect of baking a layer cake, as well as stacking it and icing it. But I was determined to do it! After scouring the web for recipes, I went out and finally purchased the infamous Dorie Greenspan book so that I had all the information I needed to make the cake I decided on, the Perfect Party Cake. This book is a must-have in my opinion; lots of clear, detailed instruction and hints for variations on most of the recipes, as well as the sheer volume of delicious cookies, cakes, and desserts to bookmark.

I chose this cake because it was reminiscent of our wedding cake, which was a snow-white cake with fresh raspberries and Grand Marnier. For this cake, I used fresh raspberries in addition to the raspberry preserves called for in the recipe, and decided to try Meyer lemons in place of the regular lemons. The greatest thing about this recipe is that it can be easily adapted to whatever tastes you prefer; I believe fresh strawberries would be equally fantastic.

My cake definitely had a "homemade" look to it, but for my first cake, it turned out pretty well. I baked the layers the day before I actually put the cake together, and just wrapped them well with plastic wrap. The layers were quite sturdy, but I decided to use a cake torter to cut them since I didn't trust my abilities to cut a straight layer ;) I had a little trouble trying to get the frosting to cover the entire cake, as the fresh raspberries created a bit of extra room between layers, so I was a little short when the time came to fully cover the sides. I compensated for this by adding some chopped almonds to the sides of the cake, which complemented the other flavors nicely.Perfect Party Cake
from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk (I used buttermilk)
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp grated lemon zest (I used Meyer lemons)
1 stick (8 tbsp or 4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp pure lemon extract

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut (omitted)

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.

Cake: 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).

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.

Assemble: 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.

Storing: 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.


Irish Soda Bread - Spotted Dog

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I decided to make some Irish soda bread. I made a loaf last year that was rather unimpressive, and I knew there had to be better ones out there. I chose this one because I happened to have several of the ingredients left over from the recipe for Nick's birthday cake, and also because it had raisins in it. My husband is away right now on an internship (he LOATHES raisins; I really enjoy them) so he doesn't have to be subjected to them!

This bread was so good, I ate about 3 slices as soon as it had cooled enough to eat. The buttermilk adds a delicious light and flaky quality to what can be a very dense bread, and the raisins and caraway seeds round out the flavors with a hint of sweetness and nuttiness.

Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway (also called Spotted Dog)
Good Things Catered

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
2 c. cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 - 2 c. buttermilk (I used about 1 3/4)
1 Tbsp butter, melted

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a heavy baking sheet with parchment.
-In large bowl combine dry ingredients, caraway and raisins.
-Whisk to combine.
-Add buttermilk and slowly fold in with a spoon until it starts to come together.
-Turn dough out onto floured surface and with floured hands, divide into two and knead one half until just coming together.
-Form dough ball into 6 by 2 inch disk and place on prepared baking sheet.
-Repeat with other half of dough, placing the two disks as far apart as you can on the baking sheet.
-Cut cross in top of dough and place in oven.
-Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until middle of loaf is set and outside has started to brown to a light golden color.
-Remove from oven and brush tops with melted butter.
-Let cool on pan for 10 minutes.
-Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely or let cool for 10 more minutes and serve warm.