Sunday, March 30, 2008

Daring Bakers March Challenge

Creamsicle cake?
ummm mmm!

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was based on a basic white cake and a Swiss meringue buttercream. We were allowed to treat that as our blank slate and take it from there. One suggestion given in the recipe was to flavor it with lemon zest and juice and fill with raspberry and decorate with coconut. That sounds like a great combination, and probably one that we will try sometime. But we figured that when given the chance to follow our own path, we ought to scoop up the opportunity.

There was MUCH discussion about possible flavors. Kevin has actually become quite good at imagining flavor combinations and was really into thinking of some. I suppose I could attribute that to his years with me, seeing the wonderful and creative process I use in coming up with menus for parties and the nearly constant recipe alterations that I make. But, truth be told, he's picked it up while watching Top Chef. I am not a big fan of the reality or competition shows. But I am happy for the side effect of a husband who can join with me in wondering how to make things taste, and what combinations would be good, etc.

We floated the idea of a pear and Chinese 5 spice profile by Robb. He liked it and together we talked about just how to do it. I made a single layer of the cake just to try it out and see if we'd go in that direction. I added 5 spice and almond extract to the basic recipe (below). I also made an adjustment to the fat- I used half cocoa butter and half butter. I was hoping for a richer quality without adding more sweet or changing too much of the recipe (we're supposed to follow the rules after all!). The cake was ok. But you know, it was like spice cake. Duh! I think that this pear 5 spice combo is firmly planted in my mind and I will be experimenting in the future. I want to get it elevated above spice cake that seems like it ought to come in a square pan with tub o' frosting. I think you all know how I feel about that. On to what we actually did...

Back at the drawing board we thought about citrus and orange sounded good. What goes with orange? I suggested orange with toasted hazelnut and a dark chocolate, but Robb talked me out of that, and said that whenever he has to use more than 2 colors on someone's hair, he's trying to fix up a mess and it might be the same with combining flavors. We opted to go with a straightforward pairing of orange and vanilla. Who doesn't love a creamsicle? I dare say it's universally likeable.

We omitted any lemon called for and instead used orange. The filling was orange curd mixed with buttercream- RLB's orange curd recipe with a vanilla bean steeped in the juice. Very interesting and pretty to have tiny black flecks in a sea of orange. To the Swiss meringue buttercream we added some Grand Marnier and orange extract. The addition to the cake layer was orange zest and vanilla extract with a small amount of butter replaced with cocoa butter (3:1). A little drizzle of the pourable orange vanilla curd (it's thin since naval oranges have much less acidity or whatever it is than lemons that helps to set it) on top for the round version and it was done. We served it at an Easter gathering at Robb (& Michael's) house.

The evening before- the day of cake baking- K and I had friends in town from Texas and we served the rectangular version. I used a couple of loaf pans, filled and frosted the same as the round but added some toasted almond slices instead of the orange vanilla curd and voila! I love the shape and will definitely be making rectangular and square cakes in the future.

Happy baking! Janet

The recipe that all us Daring Bakers started with is the perfect party cake, published by Dorie Greenspan.

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 (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) 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
Centre 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.


~Amber~ said...

Your cake looks beautiful!! Congratulations on a successful challenge.

Claire said...

Creamsickle...oh yum! Hope everyone enjoyed it. I'm really liking the retangular versions that I've seen.

Lesley said...

That is a REALLY fun decoration! Very unique!

jasmine said...

Very nice--like the rectangular shape and the decoration...


leafy bombshell said...

Wow, you sure put in a lot of thought into the flavor combos. Well done and such beautiful results.

L Vanel said...

I am also really impressed with the rectangular cake. This is something I think I'll try again.

Barbara Bakes said...

I love the rectangle cake. It seems like it would be much easier to serve. Beautiful cake!

Deborah said...

Creamsicle sounds delightful to me! Yum!

Jenny said...

I'm with you on the pear and 5-spice idea... can't wait to see what you do with that (maybe something rustic like a crisp, yum). The cake looks good too.

Astra Libris said...

Oooh, my, your cake looks and sounds incredible! I'm absolutely in awe of your orange curd!

Lunch Buckets said...

Beautiful! That's a great looking cake :)

Big Boys Oven said...

oh you did so well! you really rock!

SweetDesigns said...

OMG Pear and 5 spice sound awesome!! I so want to try that out. I love Pear ...and the orange/vanilla sounds yummy too!!! Great Job!!