Ms Greenspan's recipe finishes with a full two-minute beating at medium speed, which defies what I expect of buttercakes made with the creaming method.
Usually, this method first entails the creation of an emulsion of butter/egg followed by the gentle incorporation of dry and wet ingredients in an alternating fashion that typically ends with the dry components. The last addition of flour is followed by a 15-second light stirring/folding, and not more. A heavy hand after all the flour is added almost always results in a tough cake, a result of the stimulation of flour gluten which gives the chewy texture desired in bread.
Despite its deviance from this norm, however, the resulting cake is melting and tender and at the same time sturdy enough for carving (often difficult with delicate white cakes). I am intrigued.
My guess is the beating creates a lot of structure in the batter which confers sturdiness, and yet there are plenty of sugar and baking powder in the recipe as well as incorporated that weakens the structure enough to give an exquisitely tender texture. Perhaps these paradoxical qualities arise from the tightrope balancing act of strengthening and weakening the gluten structure.
I wanted to achieve loft with this cake, so I decided to see what would happen if I baked half the batter in a stainless steel bowl measuring 6 inches around and 4.5 inches deep.
In my oven, this cake baked full in the bowl after about 55 minutes. The photo below shows the successful result ofding to my experiment. This party cake is about 4 inches tall before torting into layers and filling, and just a bit more after:
I am happy that we are once again using Swiss meringue buttercream - my workhorse. During last December's challenge (Bûche de Noël), many Daring Bakers expressed much consternation about curdling SMBC. Had the group made this cake before the bûche, there would have been less hand-wringing last Christmas.
Good cookbooks - such as Baking - walk novice bakers through making SMBC and point out that curdling is normal and expected. It is merely a stage in the process. When this happens, the mixer speed needs to be stepped up to re-emulsify the mixture. The result - without fail - will be a luxurious, satiny buttercream.
The next set of four photos shows the proper meringue stiffness before butter is added, then the curdled stage after the butter is incorporated, reconstitution by increased whipping, and the final outcome.
Click on the collage above for a close-up. For a bit of science and lots of blurb on Swiss meringue, I invite you to read my post, Paean to Swiss Meringue.
The cake was filled with raspberry jam that I passed through a fine sieve to strain out the seeds. Prepackaged seedless raspberry jam does not taste as good as the variety with seeds so I take this extra step. To complete this cake, I mixed some toasted shredded coconut with untoasted bits and then crusted the sides of the cake with it. The top was swirled with SMBC - a simple yet effective aesthetic do.
And the taste? Well, I have not had a bite - this cake was gifted to a friend.
(Update: My friend just left a voicemail on my cell phone saying that the cake was "ethereal" and the best she's had "in recent memory." Gosh, them arty words flatter me. I knew Ms Greenspan will not let me down.)
- First of all, a special thanks to this month's host, Morven from Food Art and Random Thoughts. The complete recipe for Perfect Party Cake is posted on her site.
- The success of a buttercake made via the creaming method relies on the formation of a butter/egg emulsion that is able to hold the many air bubbles that form when sugar is beaten into butter (usually as a first step, before the addition of eggs). These bubbles expand with the heat of the oven and give the cake loft.
- Creaming technique (as well as spent leaveners) is suspect when one's cake does not rise.
- It is probably worthwhile to experiment with another blending method for making this cake. I suggest the two-stage method, an industrial technique popularised for home use by Rose Levy Beranbaum in The Cake Bible and can be used for cakes with a high-ratio formula, which Ms Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake follows. Nick Malgieri, from whom Ms Greenspan inherited this recipe, assures the reader in his Perfect Cakes that the two-stage method can be followed for high-ratio cakes.
- To refine one's creaming technique, I recommend Flo Braker's The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. Her method is so fastidious, the resulting butter/egg emulsion looks like billowy mayonnaise.
- Baking 911 offers an exhaustive list of all that can make a cake go wrong.