An Easter layer cake

I hosted an Easter dinner last night. I guess hosting Easter dinner is the type of thing that almost-30-year-olds do and I’m just responding to my aging DNA. But really, I didn’t do it because I’m getting old. I did it because:

a) I wanted to celebrate Easter with people I like
b) I was craving ham like there was no tomorrow, and ham requires a crowd
c) I wanted to make a layer cake, which requires even more of a crowd.

We’re here to talk about c). You see, ever since reading Smitten Kitchen’s excellent post on making layer cakes, I’ve been wanting to put her tips to the test. I’ve never been much good at layer cakes. Correction, I’ve never been any good at layer cakes. I once took a day-long cake decorating course and produced a few half decent looking roses, but I was under professional supervision. With time on my hands, I thought Easter would be the perfect opportunity to go it alone and conquer my decorating demons.

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My inspiration for this cake came from a lemon raspberry cake from Aimee at Under the Highchair. Her wonderful idea of folding lemon curd into buttercream frosting to sandwich between the cake layers got me started; I eventually settled on a plain white butter cake with lemon curd, decorated in white and yellow.

I had already sliced two 8-inch round cakes in half horizontally, making four layers. I started with about a half cup of buttercream and a half cup of lemon curd, folding them together and spreading the mixture between my cake layers.

Next came the crumb layer. This is one tenet of cake making that I’ve adhered to for awhile. The crumb layer is a very thin layer of icing that’s meant to seal in any crumbs so the thicker layer that goes on later is smooth and crumb-free. My cake shows particularly well how vital this step can be – take a look at the golden little cake flecks all over this baby:

Once my crumb layer was on, it was time for the main layer of frosting. But first, if you take away one tip, I think this should be it: Smitten Kitchen suggests refrigerating the cake for 30 minutes to an hour between the crumb layer and the main layer. Boy, did this method work well. With the crumb layer nice and firm and cool, the frosting just slid on. I’m pretty sure that I will never frost another cake without including this step.

I used an American buttercream to frost this cake. That means one made with icing sugar and butter, not one of those delicious whipped egg Swiss or French versions. While they win in the taste and mouthfeel stakes, Swiss and French buttercreams can be a bit temperamental, prone to melting and cracking on the cake. If you’re practising frosting and decorating, I think a plain old American buttercream is better.

Now I’m going to say something really outrageous. Are you ready?

I prefer to make my buttercream with half butter, half shortening. Eek! I know it sounds like culinary sacrilege, but there are good reasons why I like Crisco. Basically, buttercream that contains some shortening is more stable and holds up much better to all that decorating. You can scrape it off the cake, start a border again, reuse bits of it and it still retains its properties. It doesn’t soften as much as a true buttercream can, and in a warm room it won’t melt nearly as easily.

But the proof is in the eating, right? Or is it? I often find these buttercream layer cakes are more about the look than the taste – the frosting can be so sweet, no matter what fat it’s made from. True to form, we all found this cake a bit sweet too. The tartness of the lemon curd was a nice foil for it, but the buttercream was too much. I usually add some lemon juice to mine and have now made a mental note to never leave it out again!

Overall I was pleased with how this cake turned out, though. Perhaps there wasn’t much decorating in the end – do a few rosettes count? – but I liked the general look and presentation, which was the main goal.

The star of this cake was actually the cake itself. True to the recipe’s title, it produces a deliciously moist, golden cake which I will make again. I think it would be the perfect plain birthday cake for kids and grownups alike.

Don’t forget to check out Smitten Kitchen for more cake making tips!

Magnificent Moist Golden Cake
From Bakewise by Shirley O. Corriher

Makes one fat 9-inch cake layer or two thinner 8-inch cake layers. This makes a very sweet cake so I cut the sugar down to 1 cup.

4 Tbsp (2 oz, 57 g) unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1 1/2 cups (10.5 oz, 298 g) sugar
2 tsp (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup (79 ml) canola oil
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks (1.95 oz, 55 g)
2 large eggs (3.5 oz, 99 g)
1 3/4 cups (7.1 oz, 201 g) cake flour, spooned and leveled (NO SUBSTITUTE – the cake will be sunken in the center and simply will not work correctly if other flours are used)
1 3/4 teaspoons (8 g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3 g) salt
1/3 cup (79 ml) buttermilk
1/2 cup (118 ml) heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350 F/176 C. Grease a 9-inch or two 8-inch round cake pans and line with a parchment circle. Grease the parchment circle lightly, too.

In a cold bowl with cold beaters, or in a cold stand mixer, whip cream until soft peaks form when the beater is lifted. Scape into a small bowl and set aside for later.

In a mixer on medium speed, beat the butter to soften. Beat until it is light in colour, about 3 minutes. Add sugar and continue to cream until very light, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl at least once. (Note that the mixture will be quite dry.) The bowl should be cool. While creaming, feel the bowl; if it does not feel cool, place in the freezer for 5 minutes, then continue creaming.

On medium speed, beat in the vanilla, then blend in the oil. On the lowest mixer speed, blend in the yolks, one at a time, mixing just to blend. Blend in the whole eggs, one at a time, mixing just to blend.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt for 30 full seconds by hand.

On the slowest mixer speed, blend over half of the flour mixture into the batter. Continue on slowest speed and blend in half of the buttermilk. Continue adding the remainder of the flour until it is all incorporated. Blend in the remaining buttermilk.

Stir about 1/4 of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten. Then, fold the rest of the whipped cream into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Rap the pan once firmly on the counter to remove any bubbles. Place the cake in the lower third of the oven and bake until the centre springs back when touched, or a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean but moist, about 40 minutes for a 9-inch cake or 30 minutes for an 8-inch cake. Ideally, the cake should not pull away from the sides until it has just come out of the oven.

Place the pan on a rack to cool, about 10 minutes, before inverting onto a rack to finish cooling. Cool completely before slicing into layers, storing or icing.