Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake via Sweetapolita

I have a real thing for the 70′s. I mean, heck, I was born smack dab in the middle of them, into a family of much older siblings ready and eager to love, spoil and torment an unsuspecting baby sister, so overall I’d say it was a pretty fabulous era. When I think back to my first memories of cake, they come along with my first memories of life at all: sitting around the dining room table with siblings who, at that time, would have been about 15, 14 and 8. I have particularly fond memories of the family birthday dinners gathered around that same table, eating the birthday kid’s meal of choice: my mom’s lasagna, my dad’s famous barbeque steak dinners, or, any other favourite of the time. There was, though, one thing that didn’t vary: the cake.

Throughout the 70′s (and possibly the 60′s), I remember my mom serving yellow birthday cakes with chocolate fudgy icing. I was so young, but I can envision these cakes in rectangular glass baking dishes smothered with the icing, sprinkles, and colourful birthday candles. I’m fascinated by this, and I’ve asked around: it seems that many others have these same yellow & brown cakey memories of the 1970s. Perhaps it was the combinations of signature colours-of-the-era: golden yellow cake (or, should we say, Harvest Gold) and warm chocolate brown (or Rust Brown) frosting that drew them to this type of cake. The memories overtook me the moment I spotted this classic cake in one of my beloved baking books: Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, and I knew I had to try it. I also love the traditional layer-cake structure, the homespun feel of it, and the decadent-but-uncomplicated flavour combination of vanilla buttermilk & fudgy chocolate.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake via Sweetapolita

With a total of 4 whole eggs + 2 additional egg yolks, as well as buttermilk, butter, and a generous amount of sugar, this cake has a gorgeous texture and is a beautiful golden yellow.  The process was different than I’m used to, with a mixing of the egg, a portion of the buttermilk, and vanilla to begin; followed by a whisking of the dry ingredients with the sugar; the addition & mixing of the butter and partial buttermilk; and then adding the initial egg & milk mixture into the batter. Confused yet? It wasn’t any more difficult than the classic butter cake technique, but just different. The switch in technique was a welcome change and resulted in a lofty and moist cake.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake via Sweetapolita

The frosting is made in the food processor, which was pretty exciting for me since I am in love with my new food processor and am always looking for a reason to use it. As the title suggests, it was made in an “instant,” since you just put all of the frosting ingredients into the food processor and, well, process. Was really simple and fun to make, and the result was fluffy, satiny and rich. As I always do, I used my favourite Belgian bittersweet chocolate, Callebaut, which makes it even  more decadent and flavourful.

I find that in these kinds of recipes where the main flavour of the frosting or cake is classic chocolate or vanilla, that it’s truly worth using the best chocolate or vanilla that you can get, as the flavours really come through and really are the main attraction. With such a yummy and classic frosting base, though, you can even get a little adventurous and add a few drops of almond extract, or say 1/4 teaspoon (or so) of instant espresso for a mocha version. Those are just ideas, but you can use your imagination and add anything you like, or, of course, leave it traditional & simple.

So, here’s the family in our yellow-cake-with-chocolate-frosting days, or well, 1975. I found this while digging through old photo albums the other day, and I love it. My brother Andy, my mom, me (the baby who seemingly was the only one experiencing gale force winds that day . . . what was up, and I mean up, with my bangs?), my sister Michele, my sister Linda and my dad. This was actually taken in California, where we were visiting our relatives. It wasn’t until I had 2 kids, that I really began to appreciate, and become in awe of, what my mom’s life must have been like with 4 kids, and this trip is no exception: they drove all of us, including 1-year-old me, in a station wagon (yes with wood panel sides, I believe) the 2,700+miles from Ontario, Canada to California in the peak of the summer months. What I’d give to go back in time and watch that go down.

Here I am a few years later, in my favourite red checkered dress, eagerly awaiting birthday hot dogs and, I would bet, yellow cake with chocolate frosting. It was only a few short years after this party that the 80′s were in full swing, and that I discovered frilly white heart-shaped cakes with pink icing flowers from the bakery, where I insisted my mom buy my birthday cakes each year for pretty much the rest of my pre-adult life. Hey, is that a Harvest Gold refrigerator I see? Of course it is! Were you a Harvest Gold household? Avocado Green? Rust Brown?

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake via Sweetapolita

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting

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

Ingredients

    For the Cake:
  • 4 whole eggs, room temperature
  • 2 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1-1/4 cups (297 ml) buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups (360 g) cake flour, sifted
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (4 g) salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks)(227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • For the Frosting:
  • 6 oz. (180 g) quality unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 4-1/2 cups (563 g) confectioners' sugar (no need to sift)
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks)(340 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons (90 ml) half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract

Instructions

    For the 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. Put the eggs and yolks in a medium mixing mixing bowl, add 1/4 cup of the buttermilk and the vanilla. Whisk to blend well.
  3. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixer bowl; whisk to blend. Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup buttermilk to these dry ingredients and with the mixer on low, blend together. Raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the egg mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the side of the bowl and mixing only until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Divide batter evenly among the 3 prepared pan (use a kitchen scale to ensure 3 even layers). Bake the cake layers for 28-32 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel of the paper liners, and let cool completely.
  6. For the Frosting:
  7. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate. Then process until the frosting is smooth.
  8. Assembly of the Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting:
  9. Place one layer, face-up on a cake stand or plate. Spread 3/4 cup of the frosting over the layer right to the edge using a small offset palette knife. Repeat with the next layer.
  10. Place the last layer on top and use all but 3/4 cup of the frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. With an offset palette knife or spatula, smooth out the frosting all over. Place the remaining 3/4 cup frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tube and pipe a shell border around the top and bottom edges of the cake.
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[slightly adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes]

Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • For the ultimate version of this frosting, I used my favourite Belgian bittersweet chocolate: Callebaut Chocolate – Pure – Bittersweet – 1 kg
  • For a mocha frosting, you can add 1/4 teaspoon (or more, to taste) instant espresso powder.
  • If you don’t have a food processor, you can make this frosting in your mixer by beating the butter and confectioners’ sugar with the paddle attachment for about a minute on low speed, followed by another minute on medium-high speed. Add the remaining ingredients and beat on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until fluffy.
  • Frosting is best used immediately, but holds up nicely on the cake once frosted.
  • Finished cake keeps best in a cake-saver at room temperature for up to 3 days.
  • You may enjoy the previous post 50 Tips for Baking Better Cakes.
Good luck & enjoy!

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Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

So, it turns out I have not one, but two addictions: cake and Vanilla Bean Lattes. I suppose this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since I am a coffee/espresso enthusiast as well as a vanilla bean enthusiast. I love the combination of the deep and dark espresso, vanilla bean, steamed milk, and, for me, a sprinkling of cinnamon; it’s  full and flavourful, while still being light and airy. I’ve been wanting to translate this yumminess into a cake and, after thinking about it for awhile, I realized that there really are many ways to do this, because these flavours are all so cake-friendly, and work so well together. I decided to go about it in a pretty simplistic manner, as my first experiment with Vanilla Bean Lattes cake-style: three layers of moist vanilla bean cake, filled and decorated with Vanilla Bean Latte Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and sprinkled with a touch more cinnamon.

I have to admit that turning a vanilla cake into a latte-inspired confection took only moments to do, because I always keep a batch of vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMB) in my freezer, and with the sprinkling of a few flavourings, it was transformed into the perfect filling for this cake. Not that it’s always about decadent desserts made speedy, but I have a feeling many of you are like me in that time is, well, rare! That’s also why I love this “open-faced” method of building the cake, aside from it being pretty and fun (I hope!), it’s very quick to do since there’s no fussing with excessive smoothing, crumb-coating, and focusing on, or obsessing about (#typeA) perfection. You can just fill a pastry bag and have fun. I timed it, and flavouring the buttercream took me about 5 minutes and assembling/decorating this cake took me 5 minutes (granted, it’s a bit of a fancy-free decorating  job I did), at a casual pace, so a total of 1o minutes. Typically, I love sitting for hours and fussing over cakes, but since that’s not always possible, it’s so important to me to have some cakes that can fancy-up quick. This is why I insist on keeping batches of SMB in my freezer!

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

To achieve the Vanilla Bean Latte flavour in the buttercream, I added instant espresso powder (has to be the instant variety), vanilla bean paste (interchangeable with vanilla beans), and a few pinches of cinnamon (which is how I love my lattes). The cinnamon is potent, so only a pinch is necessary–you don’t want to overpower the gorgeous vanilla bean and espresso flavours. I’ve included my ratios in the recipe, but if you try this version, play around, because it really is to taste.

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

My recipe also uses a vanilla bean cake, but you could easily try a light espresso cake with vanilla bean buttercream, or you could leave the vanilla bean out of the buttercream and use an espresso buttercream with a vanilla bean cake. I have a feeling you can’t go wrong, as long as the flavours aren’t overpowering.

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

Add a sprinkling of cinnamon before serving, for colour, a few coffee beans for garnish, and voila!

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

The cake itself is a butter vanilla cake, so the texture is moist but has some density, but is still fluffy with only the egg whites and a generous amount of baking powder. The recipe method is traditional: creaming of the butter & sugar, gradual adding of the egg whites, sifting & whisking of the dry ingredients, and alternating the wet & dry ingredients gently into the batter. I would say this is my go-to vanilla cake recipe, both for cake and cupcakes, because it’s simple, delicious, and, yep, quick!

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

I recently tweaked my Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe for a lighter, less-buttery, version, and I haven’t looked back (although, there are many ratios for SMB, and they all taste fabulous!). This, though, was the perfect, airy, not-too-sweet base for this Vanilla Bean Latte version, with a fluffiness reminiscent of the frothy milk that is happily perched on top of a latte. Delightful.

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake

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

Ingredients

    For the Cake:
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks)(341 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2-2/3 cups (540 g) granulated sugar
  • 9 (275 g) egg whites, at room temperature
  • 4-1/2 cups (570 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons (22 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (6 g) salt
  • 2 cups (480 ml) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean, split & scraped
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • For the Buttercream:
  • 6 large egg whites (180 g)
  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks)(340 g) unsalted butter, softened but cool, cut into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, split & scraped or 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) instant espresso powder (or to taste) dissolved into 1 teaspoon (5 ml) boiling water
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.5 g) cinnamon (or to taste)
  • Pinch of salt

Instructions

    For the Cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter three 8" x 2" round cake pans, line with parchment rounds, butter paper and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until lighter in color and slightly increased in volume, about 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium and add the egg whites gradually, mixing until fully incorporated.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix vanilla extract and vanilla paste (or contents of vanilla bean) into buttermilk. Alternate dry ingredients and buttermilk into creamed mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated or finish by hand gently.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. If possible, weigh the batter in each cake pan on a digital kitchen scale to ensure even layers. Smooth with small offset palette knife, and bake for about 30 minutes, rotating once after 20 minutes. Cake is done when toothpick or skewer comes clean. Try not to over-bake.
  5. Let pans cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto racks, gently, peeling away parchment rounds. Let cool completely.
  6. For the Buttercream:
  7. Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 160°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
  8. With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so). *Don't begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm.
  9. Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth). *If mixture is too runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together. Add espresso mixture, vanilla, cinnamon and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
  10. Assembly of the Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake:
  11. Place cooled cake layer on cake pedestal, or cake board, face-up. Spread 1 cup of buttercream on top using a small offset palette knife, leaving narrow border along outside edge.
  12. Gently place 2nd cake layer on top, and be sure to center it with bottom layer. Apply another 1 cup of buttercream and spread as you did the first layer.
  13. Gently place final cake layer on top, face-down (so the clean bottom side is facing up). Apply a final layer of buttercream.
  14. Fill a pastry bag fitted with decorative tip (I used Ateco #887), and pipe desired designs on cake to trim and decorate. Sprinkle sliced cake servings with cinnamon, and garnish with espresso beans (optional).

Notes

*This cake is best served at room temperature, and keeps nicely in a cake-keeper for up to 2 days. Swiss Meringue Buttercream cakes are ideally refrigerated after day 2, but should always be served at room temperature, so that it comes back to its light and cloud-like texture; otherwise, it will taste and feel like pure butter!

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You may find these previous posts helpful when creating this cake:

1. 50 Tips for Baking Better Cakes

2. Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystified

Good luck & enjoy!



 

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My Baker’s Crush: BAKED (and The Whiteout Cake)

Whiteout Cake via Sweetapolita

Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I have a huge baker’s crush. Huge. As baking enthusiasts, I imagine many of you already know, love, and adore the popular baking cookbooks by famed BAKED bakery boys, Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito: Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I am just discovering them now . . . yes, that is unthinkable, considering this little thing I call my addiction to baking and blog! I suppose I should have stepped away from the kitchen for long enough to notice that these guys are rocking the baking world.

If you aren’t familiar with them, I’m excited to introduce you to their awesomeness, and to give you the gist: Matt and Renato left their careers in advertising to open their dream bakery, BAKED, in Brooklyn, NY in 2005. What I love the most, is their ability to reinvent classic desserts; I really connect with this style of baking. They embrace decadence in a modern and gourmet-yet-casual way, and let’s just say it’s working! They now not only have one thriving bakery location, but have opened a second location in Charleston, South Carolina, and have expanded into everything from BAKED baking mixes to wedding cakes/desserts. Simply put, I love and admire everything they do.

Whiteout Cake via Sweetapolita

So here’s my first-ever BAKED cake — The Whiteout Cake, from their first book. I ordered both books and received them last Friday; I read them cover-to-cover by Friday night, and I was ready to go. I, literally, didn’t know where to start–there are so, so many incredible looking recipes in these books: Classic Diner-Style Chocolate Pie, Root Beer Bundt Cake, Red Hot Velvet Cake — I could go on and on.

I was really drawn to The Whiteout Cake because, yes, I adore vanilla, but, the truth is, I have a wee, tiny obsession with the colour white. Not just cake — anything. For example, in the last year and a half, I’ve somehow managed to turn our entire house from rustic, earthy tones to an array of shades of white and off-white (with a lot of help and paint!). All white. All bliss. Come to think of it, I drive a white vehicle, we have all white bedding, most of our furniture is white, my KitchenAid mixer is white, my coffee maker is white . . . okay, perhaps my wee, tiny obsession is not so wee. White is glorious, and in all of its white glory, this cake is no exception: triple-layer moist vanilla cake filled and frosted with a unique, satiny white chocolate frosting, then topped with white sprinkles. I might add that all of this sweet whiteness paired with a dark-roasted, intense coffee = my idea of heaven. The flavours, and the visual, are the perfect juxtaposition.

Whiteout Cake via Sweetapolita

Just when I thought that their incredible baking, style, and business savvy was enough to admire, I have to tell you how kind and sweet Matt was when he replied to my email request to share this recipe with you. It’s the weirdest thing but, dare I say, I’m starting to notice that bakers and foodies are some of the sweetest and most supportive people on earth. I’ve come to know so many bakers and food bloggers through Twitter, your blog comments, and other avenues online and off, and, honestly, what a bond we all share. Is it just me that feels that way?

This cake was very straightforward to make, but with some unique qualities: they call for ice cold water (as opposed to the more common room temperature milk or buttermilk), a combination of cake flour and all-purpose, which I personally appreciate because I think it’s a perfect blend, as well as a combination of butter and shortening, to name a few. The cake baked up beautifully, and scented the entire house with the amazing smell of warm vanilla. What I love about the white chocolate frosting, aside from being different from anything I’ve ever made, is that is whips up smooth, creamy, and satiny — the ultimate texture for frosting and decorating.

I also love that the frosting has no icing (confectioners’) sugar, but rather a warm, thickened milk, cream, sugar, and flour mixture that is then whipped along with the butter, vanilla, and melted white chocolate. I was sure to use Belgian white chocolate for the ultimate taste, and topped it all off with a single Lindt white chocolate ball.

Whiteout Cake via Sweetapolita

A big thank you to Matt & Renato for sharing their amazing recipe with us! Someday soon I hope to get back to New York so that I can visit their bakery, eat one of everything, and get properly, and officially, BAKED.

The Whiteout Cake (as printed in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking)          {click here for printable recipe}

Yield: 1 (8-inch) cake

For the white cake layers

2 1/2 cups of cake flour

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups ice cold water

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the white chocolate frosting

6 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups milk

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To assemble the cake

White sprinkles or white nonpareils

Make the white cake layers

Preheat the over the 325 degrees F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the egg, and beat until just combined. Turn the mixer to low. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the ice water, in three separate additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

Make the white chocolate frosting

Using either a double boiler or a microwave oven (see page 23), melt the white chocolate and set it aside to cool.

In a medium heavy-bottom saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream to cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla and white chocolate and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Assemble the cake

Refrigerate the frosting for a few minutes (but no more) until it can hold its shape. Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface, and evenly spread about 1 1/4 cups of the frosting on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost it, then add the third layer. Crumb coat the cake and put the cake in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to firm up the frosting. Frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. Garnish with a few white sprinkles or white nonpareils and refrigerate for 15 minutes to firm up the finished cake.

This cake will keep beautifully in a cake saver at room temperature (cool and humidity free) for up to 3 days. If your room is not cool, place the in a cake saver and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.

Good luck & enjoy!



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Neapolitan 5-Layer Birthday Cake with Strawberry Frosting

5-Layer Neapolitan Cake via Sweetapolita

Well, hello! What an exciting few days it’s been. Lots going on, and as usual, no two days have been the same. As I mentioned in my last post, I was thrilled when Ree (The Pioneer Woman) chose two of my cake photos for her Food Photo Assignment–another one of her wildly popular photo contests. It meant so much to me, considering I’m pretty new at all of this, and there were, as usual, so many amazing entries.  My blue birthday cake photo ended up winning as a finalist in the competition, so I could not be more pleased!

Coincidentally, most of what I learned about photography was from Ree. I find her photography tutorials to be particularly helpful, down-to-earth, and as always with The Pioneer Woman, charming. If you’d like to take a peek at my blue birthday cake photo and more about the results of the Pioneer Woman Photography Food Photo Assignment, you can view it here, along with the gorgeous winning photo by Jennifer Glass.

Speaking of birthday cakes, I was in a layer-cake kind of mood this week, both making and eating, of course. One of my favourite layer cakes is Neapolitan Cake: layers of rich chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla cake, layered with homemade strawberry jam. The flavours really work so well together, and I personally find it really unique and quite appealing, if not striking, once sliced. What’s interesting, is that most people know of it, and I think really enjoy it, yet I don’t see it often. I made Neapolitan cake for the first time last year for Neve’s birthday.

I had the idea to make a Neapolitan Cake based on the colour-scheme of her party, but wasn’t sure what would work for filling. I noticed Martha Stewart had done a 3-layer version using  jam as filling, which I thought was perfect. The guests seemed to really enjoy it, and I had a lot of fun making it. I love when a cake looks pretty traditional and simple on the outside, but has an unexpected appearance on the inside. No matter how many cakes I make, I’m always secretly (or not so secretly) excited and eager to slice it and see what it looks like inside–particularly when it’s a multi-flavoured cake, like this one. Such anticipation! It seems people can’t resist peeking over my shoulder with curiosity when I first slice into a cake, and this one usually earns an “oh, wow!”

 Neapolitan Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

Kind of crazy looking inside, right? I love the contrast, but most importantly (always), it is really, truly a delight to eat. I find you don’t really taste the jam filling, but it adds a great strawberry flavour and makes the cake even more moist and yummy. It tastes so very Neapolitan and, to me, very reminiscent of my childhood. I feel as though even the cake itself with its colour-combination has a retro feel to it, which I really like.

Neapolitan Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

This time, I went for a sugary pink Strawberry Frosting, for more of a fun birthday cake taste, and to carry through the strawberry flavour a bit more.  The possibilities are endless, though, as you could opt for chocolate frosting, ganache filling, Swiss meringue buttercream and fondant, and more. Visually, I think I prefer it with a nice chocolate fondant over buttercream, but really, pink is never a bad idea (or rarely, at least!), and this Strawberry Frosting is so delicious.

I used simple homemade strawberry jam between the layers, which I prefer both for taste and look with the Neapolitan Cake. It’s also very quick and easy to fill that way. If you filled it with frosting, I feel it might be a bit much, since there’s already so much going on, but that is definitely personal preference, and the cake flavours lend to vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry fillings and frostings.

If you’d like to recreate this one, here’s what I did:

1. Baked my favourite Strawberry, Vanilla, and Chocolate cake recipes for 9″ round pans. You can layer any way you like, but I chose to torte my chocolate and strawberry 9″ round cakes into 2 each, and just used one vanilla. Each of the 5 layers are about 1″ high.

2. Using a thin 9″ round cake board, I placed the first layer down, filled with jam,  and repeated until the cake was stacked. I then covered the whole cake in airtight container and placed in fridge for about an hour.

3. I made a batch of Strawberry Party Frosting, tinted it Strawberry pink, using a few drops of AmeriColor Electric Pink (I tend to use this brighter version of pink gel often, because with buttercream being a yellow tinge, it seems to cut right through the yellow, making the result a nice bright pink.). Once the cake was chilled, I frosted it, added my favourite white sprinkles, and then piped a classic birthday cake star tip border and shell border on the bottom, using a Wilton Open Star Tip #22 for both.

You can use your favourite Chocolate and Vanilla recipe, or you can use my favourites (links attached). I’ve included a recipe for Strawberry Cake, since it’s seemingly hard to find a good one. I really like this one that I found online last year and modified slightly. Keep in mind that with all of the white sugar in this Strawberry Cake recipe, the crust of the cake gets a bit more golden brown than the other flavours. This recipe makes two 9″ rounds, but I made cupcakes with the extra batter. You could divide the recipe in half.

Strawberry Cake          {click here for printable recipe}

Ingredients:

2 cups white sugar

1 (3oz) package of strawberry gelatin (JELL-O)

1 cup butter, softened

4 eggs, room temperature

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup strawberry puree made from frozen sweetened strawberries (or you could use unsweetened and add a tablespoon of white sugar)

Method:

1. Prepare two 9″ round pans (butter and flour, or parchment lined).

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and dry strawberry gelatin until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Mix vanilla and milk together. Combine and whisk dry ingredients, adding to creamed mixture and alternating with milk/vanilla until just combined. Blend in strawberry puree. Pour into prepared pans.

3. Bake in 350 F for about 25 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool in pans on wire rack for 20 minutes, then inverting onto wire rack to finish cooling.

Recipe for Strawberry Cake adapted from allrecipes.com, submitted by GothicGirl.

Strawberry Party Frosting         {click here for printable recipe}

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
8 cups icing sugar (confectioners’)
120 ml whipping cream
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water
pinch of salt
few drops of LorAnn Strawberry Flavor Oil (to taste)
few drops of AmeriColor Electric Pink Gel Color
Method: 
Beat the butter and icing sugar in an electric mixer on low with the paddle attachment for about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla, water, whipping cream, salt, and strawberry oil, and whip on high speed until fluffy and smooth–about 4 minutes. Add colour and mix until well blended. If consistency is too thick, add more water 1 teaspoon at a time, then whip again for 30 seconds or so.
Makes enough to fill and frost a 3-layer (or 5-6 thin layers) 9″ cake.
For the Neapolitan Cake, you will also need chocolate and vanilla layers:

One 9″ round (sliced in 2 horizontally) Rich Chocolate Cake from Rich & Ruffled Chocolate Celebration Cake post, or click here for printable recipe.

One 9″ round Snow White Vanilla Cake (sliced in 2 horizontally) from Old-Fashioned Party Cake post, or click here for printable recipe.

I hope you love this cake as much as we do! Seeing as Grant rarely eats cake, and he’s had 3 pieces so far, I think it’s a hit!

Good luck & enjoy!

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Classic Vanilla Butter Birthday Cake

Classic Vanilla Birthday Cake via Sweetapolita

I adore vanilla cake. I have such fond memories of it, and well, it just tastes so perfect and simple. I still remember every year as a little girl, I would have a heart-shaped vanilla birthday cake with the yummiest, sugariest, pastel-coloured frosting. There are so many types of vanilla cake recipes out there, and I know this because I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect one. Just when you thought vanilla cake was simply vanilla cake–there are butter cakes, sponge cakes, genoise cakes, and more. I’m working my way through many different vanilla birthday cake recipes to determine a favourite.

My philosophy is that there really are no bad vanilla cake recipes, so when I say favourite, it’s really just personal preference for me and, well, my husband Grant. He, for some reason, doesn’t eat dessert as a rule (yes, almost unthinkable), and he really doesn’t have much to say one way or the other when it comes to dessert, with the exception of vanilla cake–the man has put some serious thought and emotion into this. And, under no circumstances, would he go anywhere near chocolate cake. I won’t hold that against him, though, because for the first 30-ish years of my life I too chose vanilla over chocolate. I now love them equally and unconditionally. Maybe it was a scientific shift after I had my babies, but since then I simply cannot live without chocolate cake. Now that I’ve got that out in the open, let’s talk vanilla cake…

Classic Vanilla Birthday Cake via Sweetapolita

I’m pretty familiar with baking butter cakes, because it’s predominantly what I use for my fancy fondant-covered cakes. As far as classic frosted birthday cakes go, though, I really haven’t experimented that much yet, so I am eager to see what type of vanilla cake is the biggest birthday crowd-pleaser. My first experiment was with this classic butter cake. I pretty much knew what to expect, but rather than using my existing recipe, I searched for a popular alternative. I came across this recipe from the Joy of Baking website. It was pretty straight-forward and similar to my recipe, but uses the combination method of mixing (when you whip the egg whites into a meringue and fold them into the batter, in order to get more volume and a lighter texture) and calls for cake flour, as opposed to all-purpose flour, so I was curious to give it a try.

Classic Vanilla Birthday Cake via Sweetapolita

Once the cake was baked and cooled, I layered it and filled/frosted it with a fluffy buttercream frosting that I tinted a pastel blue (Grant’s favourite icing colour). The truth is, I don’t often make this kind of sugary frosting for cakes. I’ll admit that I’ve become a bit of a buttercream snob, and am quite partial to the gorgeous consistency and sophisticated flavour of Swiss Meringue Buttercream (an icing that is made from whipping vanilla and copious amounts of pure butter into a fluffy meringue base) for cakes — there’s simply nothing better, in my opinion. It’s what’s widely used for filling/frosting most wedding cakes, occasion cakes, and even cupcakes in many cases, because of its buttery flavour and silky texture. It’s not super-sweet, it compliments almost any type of cake, and it can be flavoured with pretty much anything and still tastes amazing. That being said, my husband simply loves sugary blue frosting on vanilla cake, so that’s what I made for this birthday cake.

The verdict: Grant and I both loved it and thought the vanilla flavour that came through was especially amazing in this cake. As far as texture goes, I did really love it, but I always notice a very cakey taste when cake flour is used.  You could replace the cake flour with all-purpose to give it a slightly different texture and taste, if desired. Actually, you can also play around and experiment by switching the milk for yogurt or sour cream, just to see what happens. Have fun with it!

Classic Vanilla Butter Birthday Cake

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

Ingredients

    For the cake:
  • 4 large eggs (separated), at room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups (420 g/14.5 oz) sifted cake flour
  • 4 teaspoons (20 g) baking powder
  • 1/2 (3 g) teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (227 g/2 sticks/8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups (400 g/14 oz) granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (250 mL) milk, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) cream of tartar
  • For the frosting:
  • 1 cup (227 g/2 sticks/8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 cups (750 g/1 lb + 10 oz) icing sugar (confectioners')
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) whipping cream (35%)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water
  • a pinch of salt

Instructions

    For the cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180° C) and place rack in center of oven. Butter and flour three - 8 inch round cake pans. Line bottoms of pans with parchment paper and grease and flour parchment paper.
  2. While eggs are still cold, separate them, placing the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another bowl. Cover the two bowls with plastic warp and allow the eggs to come to room temperature before using, about 30 mins.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft (about 1-2 minutes). Add 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).
  5. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla and beat until combined.
  6. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour.
  7. In the clean bowl of your electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.
  8. With a rubber spatula gently fold a little of the whites into the batter to lighten it, and then fold in the remaining whites until combined. Do not over-mix the batter or it will deflate.
  9. Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans and smooth the tops with an offset spatula.
  10. Bake in preheated oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Place a wire rack on top of the cake pan and invert, lifting off the pan gently. Once the cakes of completely cooled, wrap in plastic and place the cake layers in the freezer for at least an hour (to make filling and frosting the cakes easier).
  11. For the frosting:
  12. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and icing sugar on low speed until just combined. Increase speed to medium and beat until well-incorporated, about 3 minutes.
  13. Add the vanilla, water, whipping cream and salt, and whip on med-high speed until fluffy and smooth--about 3 more minutes. If consistency is too thick, add more water 1 teaspoon at a time, then whip again for 30 seconds or so. If your frosting is too thin, you can add more icing sugar a few tablespoons at a time until you achieve desired consistency.

Notes

[cake layer recipe adapted from Joy of Baking]

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http://sweetapolita.com/2010/10/classic-vanilla-butter-cake/

Good luck & enjoy!



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