March 30, 2008

I am a Daring Baker.

So, I’ve joined another baking/blogging group. You see, as I’ve said numerous times before, I am not a baker. But, I thought joining a couple baking groups would inspire me to make things I wouldn’t normally.


The Daring Bakers are a group of bloggers who all make the same recipe once a month. The recipe is kept secret from the non-daring bakers until the post date.

I’d been seeing the Daring Bakers pop up in the blogosphere and decided to join to see what it’s all about. Membership allows me access to the secret blog, where recipes and discussions are posted.

I was excitedly anticipating the reveal of my first daring recipe, the choice for March’s challenge.

January’s recipes was for lemon meringue pie. Fairly easy, I thought. But, then I saw what some of those people did with lemon meringue pie. Fancy-schmancy. I’m in trouble, I thought.

Then, I saw the recipe for February...Julia Child’s French Baguettes. I’m doomed, I thought. I had managed no-knead bread, but there is no way I could handle classic French bread...a recipe that takes up like a dozen pages in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I got nervous. What would the next recipe be? Would I be able to manage it? Or would I crack? Would I not live up to the Daring Baker credo? Would I not get that oh-so-cute logo to slap on my blog? Oh no!

But, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the recipe was for a “Perfect Party Cake” from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours...the same book from which the Tuesdays with Dorie group bakes.

This dessert is a lemon cake with raspberry filling, lemon meringue buttercream, and coconut...the perfect choice for spring. The coconut-covered cake reminded me of that lamb cake my Grandma Green used make each year for Easter. So, in homage, I made the cake on Easter Sunday.


I’d never made a meringue buttercream before, but thought it was pretty easy...even though I whipped the egg whites & sugar by hand (I can’t find my KitchenAid whip attachment). The icing becomes fluffy and good. It’s something I will definitely make again.

I did have a bit of a problem with the cake, though. My oven seems to be a bit off-kilter, so cake batter runs to the back of the pans & causes the cakes to come out unevenly. I can compensate for this by stacking the cakes with the thin sides lined up to the thick sides. However, this recipe called for slicing each cake in half to form four layers. I didn’t think that would work, because the thin sides were really thin. Instead, I decided to just make a two-layer cake with more raspberry filling.


Unfortunately, I added a bit too much raspberry and the cakes wouldn’t stay still. The top layer kept sliding around, making it a bit difficult to ice–and later slice–the whole thing. The layers didn’t really stick together...until later, once some of the filling soaked into the cake.

Nevertheless, I was pretty proud of my homemade cake. This baking thing isn’t so hard, I thought.


Then, I saw everyone else’s cakes on our secret bakers blog. Gulp. Fancy again! There were snazzy icing jobs & decorations galore. I felt so...boring, so...unworthy. Since it was my first challenge, I tried to follow the recipe verbatim. I didn’t even think about fancying up the thing

Next month, though...Fancyville, here I come.

Perfect Party Cake

For the Cake

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
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.

To Make the 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).
To Make 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 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.
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.
  • 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.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

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.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.



Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

You underestimate your skills. Your cake is perfect just the way it is; no need for fancy smancy:D

Kristen said...

I think your cake is gorgeous! I love all of the coconut!

Jerry said...

Congrats on your first challenge! Don't worry about you skills, not all of us are perfect bakers! You did a great job!

Anonymous said...

Cheers to you, Kell. But, considering the Martha-like instructions, Betty Crocker is looking pretty good.

Lunch Buckets said...

Your cake is lovely but admittedly I felt the same way when I saw Simply Anne's gorgeous cakes. (yes plural) Isn't it wonderful that there's room for all of us here?

Unknown said...

Your Grandma made a lamb cake? We had a bunny cake with sticky cooked icing and a ton of coconut. Ah, memories. I think I like this cake better. :)

Gabi said...

Welcome to the DBs and great job on your first challenge!

Gretchen Noelle said...

Looks like a delicious cake! Great job on your first DB challenge! Welcome!