Strawberry & Lavender Buttermilk Cake

lavcake-1

Happy May to you!

Before I chat about this springy cake, I want to say thank you so much for all of your enthusiasm and kind words about my Sweetapolita cookbook news. Between twitter, facebook and blog comments, I felt some serious baking-book-love and support! I’m so excited to share more of those details along the way. A book filled with all new, inspired cakes and confections–it’s kind of, sort of, totally and utterly my dream come true.

So, it’s been a busy few weeks around here (and quiet on the blog–sorry!). I’ve started working on the book, of course, and I also managed to sneak in a much-needed trip to San Francisco, where I was thrilled to connect with my friend, Shauna (and her gorgeous newborn baby boy), for an afternoon of sweets and girl-talk. After two and a half years of blogging, this was actually my first-ever virtual friend meet-up, but I knew it would be as though I’d known her forever. And it was. She’s just as funny, warm and all-around-awesome as I expected. (And she has amazing taste in bakeries.) We spent most of our time in a cozy window seat at the lovely new (and highly celebrated) b.patisserie, talking blogs, babies and books over the most incredible kouign amann, fancy vanilla cake, cremeux, and sugar brioche tart. (And yes, that is 4:2 dessert to girl ratio–we don’t mess around.) We topped off the visit with a trip to Miette, where I bought an array of the most delightful sweets for, you know, later.

After an amazing (and fattening) journey to SF, I returned home just in time to get working on the festivities and cake for our little cakelet Reese’s 6th birthday. Now, millions of people might say that a dozen 4-6 year old princesses in one tiny room armed with paintbrushes and fueled with cake might be pure, unthinkable craziness . . . and they’d be exactly right. But we made it. Nah, it wasn’t so scary and besides, what’s a little chaos, when your child has “the best birthday ever?”

So now that we’re back to “normal,” I was able to bake a sweet and simple cake that was completely inspired by the joy that is spring. It’s actually more of a summer cake, but where there is spring . . .

Lavender & Strawberry Buttermilk Cake via Sweetapolita

The cake is a super-moist vanilla buttermilk cake, filled with a light-as-air vanilla whipped cream filling and fresh strawberry & lavender compote, and frosted in a creamy, sweet lavender frosting (the same frosting I made for these). I did something I rarely do, which is top the cake with fresh flowers, but it felt right. (I’m no florist, so I kept it simple, but if you’ve got some florist wizardry in your blood, the possibilities are endless for topping a cake with fresh flowers.)

Lavender & Strawberry Buttermilk Cake via Sweetapolita

The cake itself is a very slight adaptation of this cake, but I made a few changes to the mixing technique after reading more about using cold butter in my preferred two-stage mixing method on baking911. Gradually adding cold (they have to be cold) pieces of butter to the dry ingredient mixture and letting it mix long enough to become a cornmeal consistency before adding the wet ingredients, seems to create an even lighter, fluffier cake. Loved this cake.

I went with a whipped cream filling because, aside from being one of my favourites, it’s ideal when your frosting on the cake is very sweet, as with this lavender frosting. And who doesn’t love whipped cream and strawberries? So essentially this cake is sort of a frosted version of lavender & strawberry shortcake. Infusing lavender into the strawberries and frosting gives it a strangely addictive and unexpected flavour, and if you’re not sure about lavender in your baked goods, just know I wouldn’t steer you wrong. If you know you don’t like the subtle taste that lavender brings to a dessert, you could simply omit it completely from both the compote and frosting. (Oh, but it’s so good.)

Either way, it’s sweet, fluffy, creamy, fruity burst of summer.

Strawberry-Lavender Buttermilk Cake

Yield: One 3-layer, 8-inch round cake

Serving Size: 10-12

3 layers of moist, fluffy buttermilk cake filled with vanilla whipped cream & strawberry-lavender compote, and frosted with creamy, whipped lavender frosting.

Ingredients

    For the Buttermilk Cake:
  • 4 whole eggs, room temperature
  • 2 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1-1/4 cups (297 ml) buttermilk, shaken
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract OR Princess Bakery Emulsion
  • 3 cups (345 g) cake flour, sifted
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (4 g) salt
  • 1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small even pieces
  • For the Strawberry-Lavender Compote:
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried culinary lavender
  • Pinch of salt
  • For the Vanilla Whipped Cream Filling:
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) cold water
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) unflavoured gelatin (such as Knox brand)
  • 1-3/4 cups (420 ml) whipping cream (35-37% fat), cold, divided
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) icing/confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • For the Whipped Lavender Frosting:
  • 1/4 cup (59 ml) whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon dried culinary lavender
  • 3 sticks + 2 tablespoons (375 g) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 4 cups (500 g) icing/confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • Few drops purple gel colour
  • You will also need:
  • Medium or Large Pastry Bag fitted with plain round tip (a resealable Ziploc bag will do in a pinch)
  • Small Offset Spatula

Instructions

    For the Buttermilk Cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment round, butter the rounds and dust with flour.
  2. In a large measuring cup with a spout, lightly whisk the eggs, yolks, 1/4 cup of the buttermilk and the vanilla. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer set to low speed, add the cold butter one piece at a time, about 10 seconds apart. Continue mixing on low speed until all of the butter has been blended and there are no clumps. Mixture should have a fine crumbly, cornmeal-like texture.
  4. Add the remaining 1 cup buttermilk to these dry ingredients, and mix on medium speed for 4 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all of the ingredients are well incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the egg mixture; once the mixture has been added, increase speed to medium and beat for 1 minute, but no more. Gently fold batter once or twice (but no more) to ensure the egg mixture has all been incorporated.
  5. Divide batter evenly among the 3 prepared pans (use a kitchen scale to ensure 3 even layers). Place two of the cake pans on a baking sheet and bake until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs but no batter, about 28 minutes. Repeat with the final layer. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then loosen sides with thin metal spatula or knife, and carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel of the paper liners, and let cool completely.
  6. For the Strawberry-Lavender Compote:
  7. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup of the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, lavender and salt until the berries start to break down, stirring often, about 10 minutes.
  8. Lower the heat and simmer until compote coats a spoon, about 15-20 minutes.
  9. Remove from heat and let cool down slightly. Using an immersion blender (carefully) and pulse a few times, or use a handheld masher. Stir in remaining fresh strawberries. Keep covered and chilled for up to 3 days. (Be sure it has completely chilled before using to fill cake.)
  10. For the Vanilla Whipped Cream Filling:
  11. In a small stainless steel bowl, place the cold water and sprinkle with the gelatin. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. In a small saucepan, bring 1/3 cup of the cream just to a simmer, then stir into the gelatin mixture until the gelatin has dissolved. Refrigerate, stirring frequently, until cool but not set, about 8 minutes. (Be careful to keep your eye on it, or you'll end up with Panna Cotta!)
  12. In a chilled stainless steel mixer bowl with a chilled whisk attachment, beat the remaining whipping cream, icing/confectioners' sugar, vanillla and salt until it thickens just slightly and soft peaks begin to form, about 1 minute. Very gradually add the gelatin mixture and continue beating until medium-firm peaks form (should be thick enough to spread). Keep covered and chilled until ready to use.
  13. For the Whipped Lavender Frosting:
  14. Add the lavender blossoms to 1/4 cup (59 ml) whole milk, cover, and refrigerate overnight (or at least several hours). Strain into clean bowl/glass.
  15. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed (I use “4″ on my KitchenAid). Butter will become very pale & creamy.
  16. Add sifted icing sugar, vanilla, salt and lavender milk, and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium for 6 minutes. Frosting will be very light, creamy and fluffy. Tint with a few drops of purple gel colour.
  17. Assembly of the Strawberry-Lavender Buttermilk Cake:
  18. Trim any dark edges or crust from cake layers with a very sharp serrated knife. Place your first cake layer, face-up, onto a cake stand, plate or 8-inch round foil cake board. Fill your pastry bag with about 1-1/2 cups of the Whipped Vanilla Frosting and pipe a dam around the perimeter of the cake layer (this will keep our compote and Vanilla Whipped Cream Filling in place). Spread about 1 cup of the cream filling on top of the cake layer and spoon a few tablespoons of the compote and berries inside of the dam. Gently spread the filling using a small offset spatula.
  19. Repeat until you come to your final cake layer, which you will place face-down. If you find the cake too soft and unstable, put in refrigerator for a few moments to firm it up, then resume. If you see any spots where the compote is peeking through or starting to ooze out (ahh!), use your piping bag to squeeze more frosting over it, between the layers. Use your clean offset spatula to carefully smooth the frosting so it's flat against the cake.
  20. Cover the entire cake gently with plastic wrap (I like Press n' Seal), and then, once covered, use your hands to carefully ensure the cake is lined up straight and flattening any lumps or bumps of frosting. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
  21. Once cake is stable and chilled, apply an even layer of lavender frosting to the entire cake, to seal in crumbs. Chill again until frosting is firm, about 30 minutes.
  22. Place cake plate/board with cake onto a turntable, if possible. Be sure your remaining frosting is smooth and fluffy, working it with a rubber spatula for a few moments. You can even warm in microwave for a few seconds to soften it up. Apply a final layer of frosting to the cake. Top with fresh non-toxic flowers, strawberries, or decoration of your choice.
  23. Keep cake refrigerated for up to 2 days, but serve at room temperature. Remove flowers before eating.

Notes

[buttermilk cake recipe adapted from the book Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes]

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http://sweetapolita.com/2013/05/strawberry-lavender-buttermilk-cake/

Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • I used this Princess Bakery Flavor for the buttermilk cake, which is an amazing emulsion that gives the cake a vanilla-almond sort of flavour and doesn’t lose taste when baked. You can simply use vanilla if you can’t find this.
  • You can buy Culinary French Lavender online or or in gourmet food shops.
  • I use this MAC Knife for all of my cake layering and trimming. It’s super sharp and makes clean cake layers, ideal for building not-so-crumby layer cakes.
  • To achieve the lavender shade on this cake, I used 3:1 ratio Electric Purple and Violet. It will darken once it’s on the cake, so be careful to not over-tint.
  • For added richness, you can fold in 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese to the vanilla whipped cream filling (as the very last step).
  • You can bake the cake layers the day before needed, keeping them wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and at room temperature.
  • You can make the compote the day before needed, and keep it covered and refrigerated.
  • You’ll want to keep this cake in the fridge between servings for up to 2 days, but it’s best served at room temperature and day 1.
Good luck & enjoy!

Related posts:

A Sweet Guide to Frosting

A Sweet Guide to Frosting via Sweetapolita

1. rolled fondant 2. whipped cream frosting 3. ganache 4. sugary frosting 5. chocolate glaze 6. gumpaste (flower) 7. chocolate party frosting 8. swiss meringue buttercream 9. royal icing 

Frosting? Icing? Tom-aa-to, tom-ah-to? Well, that depends. It depends on where are you live, and maybe even what the confection is made from. In some parts of the globe, people simply prefer to call all versions “icing” and leave out the termfrostingall-together. In Canada, we tend to use the word “icing” much more frequently than “frosting,” regardless of the dessert in question. Confused yet?

That being said, I often relate icing to thinner glazes and royal icing, and think of frosting as the fluffy, sugary sort. I reserve the word “buttercream” for meringue-based buttercreams. I have noticed that Americans tend to favour the term “frosting” as a catch-all. All sorts of craziness indeed. According to some dictionaries, the words are synonymous, so I think I’ll just go with that. It is a bit of a gray area, but some baker folks are passionate about the fact that icing is one thing and frosting is, well, another . . .

And then just when you get that straightened out, there are countless varieties of the sweet and creamy bliss: meringue buttercream, sugary frosting, ganache, royal icing, fondant, gumpaste, chocolate frosting, chocolate glaze, whipped cream frosting and more. Most often, the questions readers ask me are about frosting — what’s the difference between them, when to use each, etc. So, to answer those questions I’ve put together a little guide to frosting. It’s certainly not a comprehensive list, but it’s a guide to those I use most often, and the ones you’ll come across throughout my recipes.

So, here we go!

1. Rolled Fondant

  • Some say “FOND-ent” and some say “fond-AHNT.” Both are accepted as correct, and you know I’ll love you no matter what, but can we all (please) unite and say “FOND-ent?” Also known, in some cases (such as in UK) as “sugarpaste.”
  • Made from icing sugar, corn syrup, oil and flavourings (and several other binding ingredients).
  • Can be purchased or made from scratch (many cake designers choose to buy it pre-made). My favourite brand is Satin Ice because it is so, well, satiny, tastes like a sugary dense marshmallow and melts in your mouth. It also dries with a firm porcelain finish (more so than other brands, I find).
  • Feels and behaves like a dense play-dough. Pure white in colour — takes beautifully to gel paste colours (kneaded in). Also sold in chocolate (delish!) and vanilla that’s been pre-coloured.
  • Rolls out like pie dough to cover cakes with an icing that dries with a smooth, hard finish. It can be left smooth and dry for a modern look, or can be impressed or embossed while still soft. Once completely dry, it can be decorated by piping royal icing, painting with non-toxic colour powders mixed with vodka (in photo above), colouring with non-toxic markers (remember the rainbow doodle cake?), along with countless other methods of decorating.
  • Most common uses: covering buttercream cakes and fancy cookies for a smooth finish, modeling cake decorations. Cake decorations made with fondant will always be softer than those made with gumpaste (below).
  • Challenges: dries out quickly once exposed to air, which means you must work swiftly. Can tear easily once rolled, which does make covering a cake in fondant a time-sensitive task. “Sweats” when in a humid environment (but will dry back out once humidity is gone), softens in heat and direct sunlight.
  • Can add tiny amounts of water to dried fondant to adhere other fondant decorations, strips, etc. Wet fondant will dissolve into an instant “glue.”
  • Pipe-a-bility: none
  • To strengthen small amounts of fondant for special decorations you’d like to strengthen (and still have taste good), you can knead a sprinkle of Tylose powder into your fondant. It will become something between fondant and gumpaste.
  • To know how much fondant to use for each cake size/shape, you can refer to this chart.
  • Keeps at room temperature, wrapped in plastic then sealed in airtight container, for about a year.
  • You can see more of the fondant-covered cake in the above image in this post.

 2. Whipped Cream Frosting 

  • Made from whipping cream, sugar and vanilla.  Light, airy, not-so-sweet, cloud-like.
  • Best used for frosting and filling vanilla cake, berry desserts and cupcakes.
  • Simple and quick to make (simple whipping is all it takes).
  • Challenges: needs to be refrigerated after a few hours and is best made at the last moment
  • Pipe-a-bility: can be piped on cupcakes with a pastry bag and large plain round tip, but not ideal for most piping styles.
  • You can see the Whipped Vanilla Dream Cupcakes in this post.

3. Ganache

  • Pronounced guh-nahsh.
  • Made by whisking chopped solid chocolate covered by warm heavy cream (36-40% fat content). In Canada, it’s more common to find whipping cream (35%), which is what I use.
  • It’s best to use quality chocolate: bittersweet (extra dark), semisweet (dark), milk or white and .  Liqueurs, extracts and other flavourings can be added for countless varieties.
  • Ganache can be made into many different consistencies — thicker (more chocolate, less cream) for spreading over candy, tarts and more; thinner (more cream, less chocolate) for pouring over cakes, desserts, etc., and every consistency in between. Altering the temperature can also change the consistency for use — the cooler the ganache, the thicker it will be. Once heated, it will be smooth and pourable once again. Room temperature ganache can be whisked (beat) for a moment or two to create a whipped version ideal for frosting and filling a cake.
  • Thick ganache can be rolled into balls and coated in cocoa powder for homemade truffles.
  • Can be stored, covered, in refrigerator for several days and reheated slowly for use.
  • You can see the Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Tart from the above image in this post.

4. Sugary Frosting

  • Also known as “american buttercream,” “icing,” “cupcake frosting,” and more. 
  • Typically made from butter, icing sugar, vanilla and milk. In grocery shops and some bakeries it will often be made from shortening. The frosting most of us think of when we remember our childhood birthday cakes.
  • Taste: creamy, rich and super-sweet. Can add flavourings, citrus zest, infused milks, vanilla bean, melted and cooled white chocolate, and more.
  • Best used for cupcakes and layer cakes.
  • Simple to make (beating of all ingredients in one bowl). Keeps at room temperature for several days.
  • Pipe-a-bility: will hold its shape when piped, but not as stable as meringue-based buttercreams.
  • Takes well to colour, but has buttery tone (unless you use shortening in place of butter), causing some challenges when attempting certain colours, such as cool blue (will have teal appearance) and pink (can have a peach appearance).
  • You can see the Pastel Swirl Cake shown in the above collage in this post.

5. Chocolate Glaze

  • Made my melting chopped chocolate and butter together (sometimes corn syrup).
  • Similar to ganache in its deep, dark, glossy appearance, but has no cream, therefore less rich.
  • Satiny, shiny and thin when warm, then thickens when cool.
  • Best used for pouring over cupcakes (frosted or not), cakes, donuts, etc.
  • Pipe-a-bility: none.
  • Can be stored, covered, in refrigerator for several days and warmed when needed.
  • You can find the Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Buttercream Cupcakes shown in the collage in this post.

6. Gumpaste

  • Similar to fondant, gumpaste is a soft, knead-able “dough” for creating cake decorations. You would not, however, cover a cake, cupcake or cookie with gumpaste, as it dries rock-hard and really has no taste at all. 
  • Can be rolled out extremely thin (paper-thin), even thinner than fondant. Once rolled thin, it can be ruffled (as in photo), pleated, etc. Doesn’t tear while working with it, the way fondant does. Soft gumpaste will start to harden immediately when exposed to air, so I always work with small quantities, keeping a small sealed plastic bag nearby to place the bits I’m not using.
  • When dry, it has a porcelain feel and look ideal for creating sugar flowers, highly-detailed decorations, figurines, etc.
  • Typically it’s used in much smaller quantities, as it’s not something you would eat. Most gumpaste decorations are pulled off a cake and set aside before eating.
  • You can make it or buy it premade. I used to make it, but now prefer to buy the Satin Ice Gumpaste, as I find it dries the most porcelain-like than my homemade variety.
  • Takes well to gel paste colour. Can be painted or dusted with dry petal dust or shimmer powder once dry.
  • Pipe-a-bility: none.
  • If kept airtight and wrapped in a sealed bucket, it will last many, many months.

 7. Chocolate Frosting

  • Chocolate version of sugary frosting
  • Typically made from butter, icing sugar, melted dark or extra dark chocolate, vanilla and milk. In grocery shops and some bakeries it will often be made from shortening. The frosting is, again, what most of us think of when we remember our childhood birthday cakes.
  • Simple to make (beating of all ingredients in one bowl). Glossy appearance.
  • Taste: creamy, rich, chocolaty and sweet. Can add malt powder, liqueurs, extracts and more.
  • Best used for cupcakes and layer cakes.
  • Pipe-a-bility: will hold its shape when piped, but not as stable as meringue-based buttercreams.
  • Best used right away for ideal consistency while frosting, but then lasts on cake for several days at room temperature.
  • You can find the Chocolate Birthday Cake shown in the above collage in this post.

8. Meringue Buttercream 

  • Swiss Meringue Buttercream (aka SMB and SMBC) and Italian Meringue Buttercream (aka IMB and IMBC) are most popular variations. Both variations are the sophisticated cousin, of sorts, to the sweet and simple sugary frosting. Baking purists might say that meringue-based buttercream is the only actual “buttercream.” 
  • Made from granulated sugar, egg whites, butter, vanilla and salt (with countless options for variations). Both are a bit time-consuming, but fairy simple to make. The process involves beating cool-but-softened unsalted butter chunks into stiff-peak meringue, followed by adding flavourings. They are almost identical in taste and texture, and simply differ by way in which the meringue is made before adding the butter.
  • The result is very rich, buttery, creamy and not too sweet.
  • The most versatile frosting you can make — once your base is made, you can flavour it with everything from melted chocolate to lemon curd.
  • Used for filling and frosting cakes of all kinds, coating cakes to be covered in marzipan or rolled fondant, frosting cupcakes, filling baked meringues, and more. In most cases, this is the buttercream that you will see on a wedding or event cake that isn’t covered in fondant.
  • Meringue-based buttercreams are the most stable frosting you can use for a cake that will be outside in the heat, although it will melt in direct sunlight and severe heat.
  • Pipe-a-bility: excellent. Keeps shape the best of all frostings, and will hold up to ruffles, swirls, and more.
  • Takes well to colour, but has buttery tone, causing some challenges when attempting certain colours, such as baby blue (will have teal appearance) and pink (can have a peach appearance). I have also found that it does not take well to Wilton brand colours (the colour seems to become speckled). It seems Sugarflair and AmeriColor brands work best in every scenario. Because the buttercream is so rich and buttery, I also find it’s very difficult to get deep, dark pigmented colours.
  • Can be frozen (a month) or refrigerated (a week) in an airtight container, then brought to room temperature before re-whipping.
  • You can find the Lemon-Blueberry Macaron Delight Cake featured in the above collage in this post.

9. Royal Icing

  • Typically made from meringue powder/egg whites, icing sugar, cream of tartar and water.
  • A one-bowl icing that is a simple mixture of all of the ingredients slowly incorporated in a mixer on low speed for 10-12 minutes.
  • The result is glossy and very sweet.
  • Can alter thickness from super-thick to thin and runny by adding water, depending on what it’s being used for.
  • Most often used for decorating cookies, gingerbread houses, covering cupcakes (fairy cakes) and as a glue for adhering sugar decorations to cakes, cookies, gingerbread houses, and more.
  • Pipe-a-bility: thicker royal icing (not as much water) pipes beautifully, and it what is used on wedding cakes and fancy cakes for piped patterns, swags, flowers, and more. It dries very hard.
  • Can be kept at room temperature for a day, but must always be covered, or it will get crusty. Can refrigerate by covering bowl with a damp cloth with a dinner plate on top, for up to 2 days.
  • You can find the Marzipan-Filled Easter Cookies shown in the collage in this post.

So friends, I hope that helps in some way. If I’ve not answered some of your frosting-related questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section of this post, and I’ll do my best to answer them!

I’ll be back in a few days with another recipe. ♥

Related posts:

Black Velvet Cupcakes with Cherry Cream Cheese Frosting

Black Velvet Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

It’s possible that it’s a little backwards, but to me Halloween should be as enchanting as it is creepy. It should be as intriguing as it is eery. It’s just how I see it. (Kind of like this not-so-eery-but-whimsical confection from my last post.) So I decided to create another treat this week that’s been on my mind: Black Velvet Cupcakes topped with Cherry Cream Cheese Frosting. There’s a good chance that these would have been a cake (and still may be), but every time I think I’m over cupcakes, I go and find cupcake-related doodads that steal my heart.

Black Velvet Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

I found these amazing Robert Gordon Australia cupcake liners last week while shopping at our Canadian shop, Winners (kind of similar to the American Marshall’s), and I was eager to try them out. Because they’re rigid, I wasn’t sure how they would work in terms of actually eating the cupcake, but with a little pull of the seam, it’s easily removed. Since they reminded me of a pink circus, I thought they’d be fun to use for these creepy-but-sweet carnival cupcakes, but really, any fun cupcake liner would do.

Black Velvet Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

If you’ve not made Black Velvet cake before, you’ve probably figured out that it’s just like the southern delight, Red Velvet cake, but very black, rather than red. But if you’ve not had “velvet” cake of any kind before, don’t be fooled–this just isn’t chocolate cake tinted with copious amounts of food colour. With your eyes closed, it’s really a slightly chocolate, buttermilk cake that’s super tender, moist, and rich. With your eyes open, the deep, dark colour (whether it’s red, black, or purple) somehow makes the whole experience that much more decadent and luxurious. I’m usually pretty disciplined, but I could not stop eating these. I’ve posted about a Red Velvet Cake in the past, but this time I started with a recipe I found from King Arthur Flour, and I played around with it. Paired with an almost-traditional Cream Cheese Frosting, these cupcakes are like tradition-with-a-twist.

Black Velvet Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

Rather than topping them with a completely classic cream cheese frosting, I decided to add a few tablespoons of Bonne Maman Cherry Preserves. You could certainly omit this step, but it’s kind of a magic pairing, if I do say so. That being said, I’m pretty sure that the classic cream cheese frosting would be magical in its own right. Or just do what I do and eat a few of the cupcakes warm from the oven, sans frosting, and then take your time later with one (or two) fully frosted version and a strong cup of good coffee. Who said Halloween was scary?

Black Velvet Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

Eesh, you’re right–creepy clowns are watching us. There they sit perched atop the otherwise innocent cupcake staring at us. Don’t be fooled by their smiles–they are pure evil. Evil I tell you. Evil. At least this is how I feel about them, and why they adorn my Halloween cupcakes. Despite their being creepy and evil, though, I can’t help but being strangely drawn to them. Which, again, is why they adorn my cupcakes.

A louer, pour usage final

This image (from Flickr) is so hauntingly beautiful that I can honestly say it’s the only clown photo that I have ever seen that is almost creepiness-free. I want to hang this on my wall and be with it always. So there are exceptions.

Black Velvet Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

But, for the most part clowns = scary. That’s all there is to it. I found these toppers on one of my favourite shop websites, Hey Yo Yo, but I’m pretty sure any clown topper would add the eery-factor.

Black Velvet Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

See? He’s watching you.

Here’s the recipe for these dark and delightful treats:

Black Velvet Cupcakes with Cherry Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: 12 standard cupcakes

Ingredients

    For the cupcakes:
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (175 g) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (57 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL)(1/4 oz) soft gel paste colour, black (more if necessary)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon (4 g) kosher salt
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1-1/4 cups (150 g) cake flour (aka cake & pastry flour)
  • 3 tablespoons (30 g) dark Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (114 mL) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) white vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.5 g) baking soda
  • For the frosting:
  • 1/4 cup (56 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 package (250 g)(8 oz) cream cheese, cold, cut into cubes
  • 4 cups (1 lb)(460 g) confectioners' (icing) sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoons (5 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) cherry preserves, or to taste

Instructions

    For the cupcakes:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a muffin tin with 12 standard cupcake liners.
  2. In an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or paddle, if necessary), mix the sugar, butter, oil, black colour, vanilla, and salt on medium speed until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the egg and mix on medium speed until just incorporated.
  4. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour and cocoa powder.
  5. Add 1/3 dry ingredients to the mixer and blend until just combined, then add 1/2 of the buttermilk. Alternate until all of the dry ingredients and buttermilk have been added.
  6. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix until incorporated.
  7. Divide batter among the cupcake liners and bake until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs only, about 22 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully (it's hot!) turn baked cupcakes onto wire rack right side up to cool.
  8. For the frosting:
  9. Using electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend butter and icing sugar on medium low speed, until just combined, about 2 minutes.
  10. Add cold cream cheese, all at once, and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes.
  11. Add vanilla and salt, and beat at medium high speed for about 1 minute. Be sure to not overbeat, or the frosting will start to become too thin.
  12. Add cherry jam and and mix on low speed until just incoporated.

Notes

[black velvet cupcakes loosely adapted from King Arthur Flour]

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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • For the black food gel, I used AmeriColor Super Black. (Your tongue may be a little black after eating these, but it washes right away.)
  • Cupcake liners I used are from Robert Gordon Australia.
  • Clown Cupcake Toppers from Hey Yo Yo.
  • Cupcakes are best enjoyed day 1 or 2.
  • Store leftovers in the refrigerator (because of cream cheese), but serve at room temperature.
  • If you’d like your frosting to be a little more pink, add a drop or two of pink food gel.

Good luck & enjoy!

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Chocolate Birthday Cake {Video Tutorials}

Chocolate Birthday Cake via Sweetapolita

Well hi! It’s been a bit since my last post, maybe the longest ever, but you know I’m always nearby and knee-deep in frosting and cake. I had so much fun making my the Pastel Swirl Cake video tutorial that I wanted to make yet another this week. So it turns out that I’m in a crazy-for-chocolate mood lately, and I made this 3-layer chocolate birthday cake to celebrate (party for 1?).

Chocolate Birthday Cake via Sweetapolita

Since the most requested tutorial has been “how to frost a cake,” that’s the theme of the first video in this post. The second video, a part deux of sorts,  is where I share how I pipe birthday cake borders and, of course, finish with some sprinkles. You might remember this style of cake decoration from the recent How to Make a (Perfectly Delightful) Vanilla Birthday Cake post, as I used the identical technique and pastry tips for that one (you’ll also notice that it looks a smidge better when the frosting isn’t so light–oops!).

Chocolate Birthday Cake via Sweetapolita

The cake itself is a 3-layer chocolate cake brushed with a dark rum syrup and filled and frosted with a simple chocolate buttercream that is super light and fluffy–my favourite for indulging. I actually made it a tad too fluffy for piping perfect borders, but hopefully you will still get the idea!

Remember these? This birthday cake is the cake version of these Chocolate Birthday Cupcakes with Nutella Cloud Frosting, minus the Nutella (gasp!) and plus the rum syrup. Oh yes, I’d say that’s a reasonable trade, no? Oh, and I promise you won’t taste rum, but rather heightened chocolate glory.

Like I said, party for 1 . . .

Hey, do you want to hear something kind of strange and magical? While I was watching the videos, listening to myself explain the life-altering topic of frosting and piping borders onto a cake, and watching the turntable spin all the while, something occurred to me. Something that gave me butterflies and actually startled me, in a mystical way that is. In 2004, and several years before I immersed myself into the world of cake, I went to a psychic (I’ve always loved that kind of thing). I can recall, clear as can be, her asking me if I make pottery. Pottery? Hmm, no, I’ve never . . . potted? She continued, revealing with conviction that she sees me in years to come frequently working with a turntable, creating art with great passion and eventually teaching and sharing with others. She was so sure of it. I was perplexed, and a little dismayed, since I knew that I had no connection with pottery . . .

Turntable? Creating with passion? Teaching and sharing with others? Could it be?

Chills.

So here are the two videos–again, I’m not a cinematographer, but I sincerely hope they help in some way!

First, How to Frost a Cake: 

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And How to Pipe Frosting Borders:

Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • To make the chocolate cake layers I made 3-times the batch of this cupcake batter (1 batch makes one 8-inch round layer) and 1.5 times the batch of the frosting, minus the Nutella (that recipe will yield a good consistency for piping–I added extra milk and whipped it into a frenzy, which is why it tasted incredible but was a bit too soft for piping).
  • Every oven varies, but I baked the cake layers at 350°F until a toothpick comes barely clean, about 22 minutes.
  • With any confectioners’ sugar frosting, you can always thicken it up by adding extra confectioners’ sugar (sifted is best) afterwards, until you achieve the desired consistency. Alternatively, you can always soften it up by adding small increments of milk or even a bit of water.
  • I made a dark rum syrup to brush over cake layers with a pastry brush before filling. To make: Bring 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons of dark rum and voila!
  • As I mention in the videos, I used Pastry Tip -#1M for the bottom border, and Pastry Tip #1E  for the over-sized top border. I used the Small Offset Spatula for the top of the cake, a Medium Straight Blade Spatula and a Bench Scraper while frosting and decorating the cake. I topped the cake with Pastel Confetti Sprinkles/Quins.
Good luck & enjoy!



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How to Make a (Perfectly Delightful) Vanilla Birthday Cake

Perfectly Delightful Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

As you may have guessed, I love birthdays. Not just mine, but pretty much any birthday I can be part of. I especially love those celebrated by my family and friends, and now that we’re into spring nearing summer, it’s a birthday extravaganza. Between my husband, myself, my kids, my dad, and more, it seems there’s a birthday every week (and one wedding anniversary in 3 days!), and that’s one way to guarantee there will be no shortage of birthday cake (in case you’re concerned about my lack of cake). The kick off was on April 25th, when our little (but not so little) Reese turned 5. You might remember this colourful post from last year, when she turned 4–I feel as though I just made that cake, and yet it was a year ago. As a mom, that both amazes and saddens me, but of course it’s always a super happy occasion, and making cake for my girls is one most fulfilling things possible.

Perfectly Delightful Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

This year we threw her a Baking Party, which was something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I saw this party. I made her a cake just like this pink party cake–it was the perfect balance of girly, fancy, and delicious (and shh, don’t tell the girls, but this is one of the easiest and quickest cakes to make). The party itself was, as you can imagine, so much fun and complete chaos! The girls wore handmade chef’s hats (complete with pink satin lining–thank you Auntie Mary!), adorned with cupcake liner flowers (which the girls made when they arrived) and their names added by them in colourful letter stickers.

Wearing their favourite aprons, we whipped up chocolate sprinkled party spoons, decorated cupcakes, made strawberry jam and more. They each took home a pink-twine wrapped bakery box filled with their own creations as well as a “slice” of this goodie box cake filled with loot bag treats, designed by the talented Linnette of PaperGlitter, and printed and assembled by our friend, Danielle. Planning, preparing for and playing at this party made my inner 5-year old super-duper happy.

I was determined to engage, partake and enjoy every minute first hand this year, which I was able to do, but I wasn’t able to take photos as well, which does break my heart a bit. Looking back I would have designated someone to take photos or even hire a photographer, because there were just too many adorable, hilarious, messy, crazy moments. Most importantly, though, is that the we made the memories and nothing can take that away.

Perfectly Delightful Cake via Sweetapolita

The recipe itself for this cake is really just a very slightly adapted version of some of the other vanilla cakes I’ve posted (like this and this) but enough for 4 layers, paired with one of my best-loved sweeter frosting: a quick and easy (but super creamy and delightful) Whipped Vanilla Frosting that, as a result of whipping the butter and the blended frosting, tastes like creamy ice cream, and there is no sugary residue or chalky texture as with some sweet frosting. With an all-butter base and the addition of pure vanilla (and often vanilla bean), there’s an authenticity to it, even with all of that icing sugar. It also has a glide factor that makes it wonderful when applying it to the cake. I use this recipe anytime I need a fast fix or when baking for those attached to bakery frosting memories from childhood (although, isn’t that all of us?).

The reason I’ve put it together again for this post (aside from the slight adaptations of the cake), is because I’ve never posted it for a full 4-layer version of the cake, which is a simple way to make the cake party-worthy, along with some , again, quick and easy decorating I do when I can’t spend oodles of time on a cake. Truth is, sometimes even if I have the time, I still prefer cakes like these, and cakes that trigger all of my childhood memories.

Perfectly Delightful Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

If you knew Reese, you’d know that, like most 5-year-old little girls, she’s devoted to pink. And cake. And anything involving tutus and twirls, so the simple addition of a few retro ballerinas and sprinkles really fancies it up. In the past, I’ve done cakes for the girls that have taken me a week to do, but honestly, not only could I simply not make that happen this time with all of the party prep, but it wasn’t necessary. You know I love that kind of thing, so it’s not to say I won’t make more of those for her down the road, but this cake was enough to make all the girls giddy (even the moms!).

Perfectly Delightful Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

The best part about this kind of moist, buttery white cake is that it pairs nicely with this type of sweeter party frosting, as I like to call it, as well my all-time favourite, Swiss Meringue Buttercream. I took the super-simple approach of filling and frosting the cake with the same thing, but I’ve also filled this cake with strawberries and whipped cream, lemon curd, homemade jam, and more.  Just remember that for best results with these cake layers, you really need to weigh your ingredients. It really is the only way to guarantee cake success with this recipe–I promise!

And before I go, I thought it would be fun to share a short home video of Reese when she was 2 years old (I don’t normally share home videos, but just for fun!) This was at a little family dinner at my dad’s for her 2nd birthday (notice one of the early fondant cakes I made–apparently I thought we were serving a few million), and although it’s just your standard Happy Birthday song video, I love the look of wonder in her eyes and the fact that she was almost going to bust of excitement–it’s kind of what this whole baking thing is all about.

:

And, if you have 3 minutes and 24 seconds to fill, you can watch my all-time favourite video of Reese here. It has nothing to do with cake or birthdays, but funny as can be.

These videos may make me cry, but I hope they make you smile. ♥

Sweetapolita

Beautiful baker birthday girl, Reese.

Perfectly Delightful Vanilla Birthday Cake

Yield: One 4-layer, 8-inch round cake

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cup (360 ml) whole milk, at room temperature
  • 7 large egg whites (210 g), at room temperature
  • 1 whole egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) almond extract
  • 3-3/4 cups (430 g) cake flour, sifted
  • 2-1/4 cups (450 g) sugar
  • 1-3/4 tablespoons (25 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (8 g)
  • 1-1/2 sticks (170 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into cubes
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g) vegetable shortening
  • For the Whipped Vanilla Frosting:
  • 2-1/2 cups (5 sticks)(575 g) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 5-1/4 cups (600 g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 4-1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) milk
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons (23 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • pinch or two of salt
  • few drops pink gel colour
  • pastel sugar pearls (I used 4mm), or any other sprinkles for decorating

Instructions

    For the Cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease, line with parchment and flour two round 8-inch pans (you will be using each one twice), or four 8-inch pans (if you're lucky enough to have four on hand). I use Parchment Paper Circles for ease.
  2. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir 1/2 cup of the milk, stir the egg whites, whole egg, vanilla and the almond extract. Set aside.
  3. Sift cake flour twice. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients, including the sugar, together on low-speed (I use the “stir” setting on my mixer) for 30 seconds.
  4. Add the butter and shortening, blending on low-speed for about 30 seconds, then add remaining 1 cup of milk, and mix on low-speed until just moistened. Increase to medium speed and mix for 1 -1/2 minutes (90 seconds), but no more.
  5. Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg/milk/extract mixture in 3 separate batches; beat on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition.
  6. Pour 1/4 of your batter (~2 cups)(445 grams) into each prepared pan (if you have 2 pans, you will bake 2 layers first followed by the remaining 2), spreading it evenly with a small offset palette knife. If possible, weigh the batter in the pans to ensure 2 even layers.
  7. Bake cake layers two-at-a-time in center of oven and 2" apart for 20 minutes or until a cake tester comes clean when inserted into the center. Be so careful to not over-bake. Check cake at 20 minutes, but not before, and once you feel it’s almost ready, set the timer for 2 minute intervals. Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before loosening the sides with a small metal spatula, and invert onto greased wire racks. Gently turn cakes back up, so the tops are up and cool completely.
  8. Wash the 2 cake pans and line, grease and flour again and repeat.
  9. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. Best enjoyed day 1 or 2.
  10. For the Whipped Vanilla Frosting:
  11. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed (I use “4″ on my KitchenAid). Butter will become very pale & creamy.
  12. Add remaining ingredients and mix on low-speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 6 minutes. Frosting will be very light, creamy, and fluffy. If you want all of your frosting (for filling and frosting cake) pink, then add a drop of pink gel colour and mix again, adding one drop at a time until desired pink shade is achieved (see notes). If you want just the outside of the cake pink, you will fill the cake layers first, and then colour the remaining frosting pink.
  13. Best used right away (for ideal spreading consistency), but keeps well once frosted.
  14. Assembly of the Perfectly Delightful Vanilla Birthday Cake
  15. Trim any doming or top crust from cake layers using a very sharp serrated knife.
  16. Use a cake turntable for filling, frosting and decorating, if a possible. Place a small dollop of frosting in the center of a cake plate or 8″ round thin foil-covered cake board, and place the bottom cake layer on top, face-up.
  17. Place ~1 cup of frosting on top of the cake layer, and spread evenly with a small offset palette knife. Gently place 2nd cake layer, face up, on top. Repeat until you come to your 4th layer, which you will place face down.
  18. Put a generous scoop of frosting on top, spreading evenly with a small offset palette knife and working your way down the sides until you have a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake. Chill until set, about 30 minutes.
  19. Remove from refrigerator and apply another "coat" of frosting.
  20. For the top of the cake border, place a large star decorating tip (I used 1E) in a large Decorating Bag filled no more than 1/2 full with pink frosting.
  21. Hold pastry bag in one hand (your dominant hand) and slowly rotate the turntable with the other. Holding frosting-filled bag at a directly above the top of the cake (90° angle), squeeze a small bit of frosting and turn the table a bit at the same time, releasing pressure slowly then stop (this will create a tapered decoration). Repeat all the way around the cake, overlapping slightly each time you pipe a new "shell."
  22. For bottom border, you will want to have the cake on the plate or pedestal which you plan to serve it upon. Fill another pastry bag the same way, and this time use tip 1M. You will pipe at about a 45° angle this time (give or take). Sprinkle with your favourite sugar pearls or sprinkles atop the top border. For some kitschy charm, add a few Vintage Ballerina Cupcake Toppers to your cake!
  23. Store, covered in a cake dome, at room temperature for up to 2 days, or in refrigerator for up to 5 days. Best enjoyed day 1 or 2 at room temperature.

Notes

[cake layer recipe adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum]

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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • If you do not have access to cake flour, you can quickly and easily make your own to cake flour substitute. Learn how in this previous post, Bring Me Flours. Substitutions with other flour types will result in a drastically different cake.
  • This cake batter method of blending the butter with the sugar and dry ingredients first is called the “reverse creaming method,” and was pioneered by cake guru, Rose Levy Beranbaum.
  • As with any vanilla cake, you can use 100% liquid egg whites in the cake layers (simply weigh them on your kitchen scale), which saves wasting the yolks. If using whole eggs and separating, always separate when eggs are cold, but use when room temperature.
  • Baking the cake layers in 4 pans, rather than 2 and then splitting the layers afterwards, yields an evenly baked cake that bakes faster and without overdone edges.
  • I highly recommend (strongly urge!) you to use a digital kitchen scale to measure ingredients.
  • This batter makes fabulous cupcakes.
  • The frosting tastes like vanilla ice cream–you’ll see!
  • Some pink food gel colours cause streaking. I find that, for me, Americolor Electric Pink does not cause streaking (but it’s an intense pink, so go easy!). After several hours there are some teeny darker pin-sized dots, but the cake in the photos is after several days, to give you a better idea. Also note that pink colour fades, particularly in the sun. You still want to go easy with the colour, but just keep it in mind.
  • You may enjoy reading my previous post, 50 Tips for Baking Better Cakes.

Good luck & enjoy!



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