Thanks to everyone who commented on last week’s post with their favorite pie. I have about a hundred pie ideas to make now!
The two winners of a copy of Pieography are:
Commenter #3, ladywild
and commenter #6, Sarah! Congratulations! For the rest of you, remember my pie recipe is available on my site.
I’ve been slowly getting back into the kitchen – it’s easier on the weekends when there’s another pair of hands to take care of baby, while on weekdays it’s a tossup whether I manage to get changed out of pajamas before noon. I realized just how much my perspective had changed when making a layer cake, once a day-long project, turned into multi-day affair. Fortunately, with cakes it’s easy to break it down into components. And I actually finished it within my planned timeframe! That feels like a huge accomplishment these days.
I got a shipment of products from the quirkily-named Singing Dog Vanilla – I love their vanilla bean paste and I was thrilled to get to try out some of their other products. Singing Dog Vanilla works with farmers in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia to source their beans, so their vanilla tastes different from the more commonly-found Madagascar vanilla found in stores. It has more floral and fruit notes, which would probably come across really well in a custard or ice cream. However, I had a craving for vanilla cake.
The terms, “vanilla cake” and “white cake” are often used interchangeably, as nearly all white cake recipes use a little vanilla for flavoring. White cake is usually meant as a neutral canvas for fillings and frostings, so it’s not meant to be strongly flavored. However, I wanted this cake to really taste of vanilla. This was done by layering several vanilla ingredients: vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, and vanilla sugar.
If you haven’t made vanilla sugar, it’s the easiest thing to make: Slice open a vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds, and place both the seeds and bean in a container of sugar. Covered airtight for about two weeks, and your sugar will smell (and taste) fabulously of vanilla when you open the container. Making vanilla sugar is also a great way to use vanilla beans when you’ve used the seeds for another recipe – this method works just as well with only the scraped-out bean. Use it in lieu of regular sugar whenever you want to punch up the vanilla flavor.
Because I was curious, I also made a version of the cake with just vanilla extract, for comparison. Naturally that cake was much more subtle in flavor, but it also tasted much less sweet. It was interesting that vanilla not only lends richness of flavor to items even when they aren’t specifically meant to be vanilla-flavored, but they also increase the sensation of sweetness. The triple-vanilla cake made with vanilla sugar, extract, and paste tasted like a sugar cookie, according to hubby. It also has a wonderfully fluffy crumb, yet holds together well – in short, ideal for making a layer cake.
The perfect pairing for so much intense vanilla is some bright citrus. It’s the season for one of my favorite fruits – Meyer lemons. Milder than regular lemons but still acidic enough to provide a refreshing contrast to the rich cake. Ok, I admit I just wanted to make a bunch of lemon curd. I also used Meyer lemon juice in the buttercream to increase the lemony-ness of the cake.
Don’t be afraid to be generous with the curd – the recipe makes more than enough.
The basic cake recipe below makes two 6″ cake layers; if you want three layers like I did, you can simply make the recipe twice. The second time, fill one cake pan with half the batter and make cupcakes with the rest – that way nothing goes to waste! You can fill them with the lemon curd and frost with the remaining buttercream for some pint-sized versions this cake.
The decoration for the cake is inspired by this one on Bakers Royale; I really like this alternative ruffle pattern as compared to the traditional ruffle cakes, as it’s faster to do and also uses less buttercream. I like buttercream but I find too much can overwhelm a cake. Since I wanted to focus on the vanilla and lemon flavors, I decided to go with less buttercream embellishment.
We were lucky enough to get some early warm weather here in the Bay Area, although this week it’s become more hit and miss. This sunny, sweet little cake will tide me over until spring proper arrives. And make me feel like I can hold onto my baker’s credentials still!
- 3 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 1 1/2 cups cake flour
- 1 cup vanilla sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/8 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-in pieces
- 1/2 cup sugar
- zest of 2 lemons
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup (7 oz) sugar
- 4 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-in pieces
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 6-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray and dust lightly with flour.
- Combine egg whites, 1/4 cup of the milk, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean paste in a measuring cup and set aside.
- Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of a stand mixer and mix with paddle attachment to combine.
- Add butter and remaining milk and beat on low speed until just combined. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 1 1/2 minutes.
- Add milk mixture in three additions, beating for about 20 seconds after each addition. The batter should be very smooth and creamy.
- Divide batter evenly among the two pans. Bake for 22-26 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs clinging to it. Do not overbake.
- Let cool on wire racks for about 10 minutes, then invert and remove cakes from pans. Let finish cooling. If not using right away, wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 2 days.
For the curd:
- Create a water bath by placing a saucepan of water over heat to simmer and placing a metal bowl unto the pan so its bottom does not touch the water. Combine the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers and add to the metal bowl. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice.
- Cook the mixture over the simmering water, whisking constantly, until the cream reaches 180 degrees and thickens. Keep whisking while the mixture is heating up to prevent the eggs from cooking.
- Once the cream is thickened – you should be able to make tracks in the mixture with your whisk – take the cream off the heat and strain it into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Let the cream rest for a bit until it cools to about 140 degrees.
- Add in the butter pieces a few at the time and combine on high speed. Once all of the butter has been added, let the mixture combine for a few minutes longer to ensure the mixture is perfectly smooth.
- Once the cream is finished pour it into a container and let it chill in the refrigerator for about half an hour before assembly.
For the buttercream:
- Combine the sugar and egg whites in a medium heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.
- Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny, about 3 minutes.
- Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled.
- Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth.
- When all the butter has been added, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth.
- Add in the lemon juice and beat until combined. The buttercream is ready to be used. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it to prevent it from drying out.
To assemble the cake:
- Level off cake layers. Place one cake layer on a cake board or cake decorating stand.
- Spread a layer of curd over the cake layer evenly.
- Place the second cake layer on top.
- Spread a crumb coat of buttercream over the top and sides of cake (see here for tips on doing a crumb coat). Refrigerate for about an hour to let the frosting set.
- Spread the rest of the buttercream over the top and sides of cake with an offset spatula.