Sunday, March 30, 2008

Perfect Party Cake

After sitting out January's Lemon Meringue Pie and February's French Loaf, I am excited to participate anew in this month's Daring Bakers challenge, Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake (Baking: from My Home to Yours).


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.)

Notes:
  • 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.

69 comments:

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Your cake looks very pretty and those pictures are stunning! Wow, amazing!

Cheers,

Rosa

chelley325 said...

Looks just wonderful!

Sarah said...

Great job! The cake was really sturdy and delicious...I loved the swirl on the top!

CB said...

I love the asthetic of using some toasted coconut with untoasted. Beautiful cake! Also your helpful links are fabulous. Great job!
Clara @ I♥food4thought

Chris said...

You were missed the last couple of months. You certainly came back with a bang! :) Looks lovely!

kitten said...

reading your blog is always so informative. great job on your cake, i love the height you were able to create... too bad you didn't get to enjoy it, but what a great gift !
kitten...thekitchenkitten

Peabody said...

Beautiful. I love the swirl on top.
I too was happy to see the use of Swiss buttercream...my favorite!

Rachel said...

lovely swirl there!

Ann said...

Love your finishing technique! I think we might have been channeling each other! :-)

Beautiful job!

Maryann said...

Beautiful, as always, Julius :)

L Vanel said...

Excellent beautiful cake. I love the touch of color.

Joy said...

Your cake looks like a perfect cloud - yum!

glamah16 said...

It is a sturdy cake. Perfect for a multi tired wedding cake I keep saying. Welocme back. I like that you baked it in a dome shape. I took it to a girls night party and they loved it!

Judy said...

That's a really lovely cake. I prefer toasted coconut to plain as well. Glad your friend enjoyed it.

Jerry said...

Your pictures are amazing! It looks like quite a cake!

Vibi said...

Julius, your party cake looks absolutely mouthwatering, one of the most decadent I've seen.
Perhaps something about the buttercream looking soooooo creamy on top!
Great job, frankly... for an OCCASIONAL baker, you work miracles!

Sara said...

mmmmm, looks so beautiful and delicious!

cookworm said...

Love the shape of your cake and the swirl on top. Glad to see you back!

Kate said...

Absolutely STUNNING!

Lori said...

Beautiful, amazing, and beautiful! 'Nuff Said! :)

Amy said...

Just beautiful!! The swirl of buttercream on top of yours is the literal *and* figurative "icing on the cake!"

kimberleyblue said...

Like everyone else, I love the swirl on the top of your cake! And the toasted coconut is great, it add a nice bit of colour to the cake.

Great job, glad your friend liked it!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Julius, so happy to have you back with us.
I think your cake is lovely. My thought on the beating/whipping of this batter is perhaps using the cake flour with this recipe and it's lower gluten content is partly what keeps this from getting tough. But that's a very uneducated guess.

Jenny said...

Julius, I'm glad you are back, I missed your informative posts over the last few months.

I was glad that I could approach the buttercream with confidence this time, knowing I had done it before in the Buche de Noel. It's nice to build my baking repertoire, you know?

Anne said...

Love reading your post :) your cake came out lovely!

dailydelicious said...

I really love your decoration and photo, it's so beautiful.

Ben said...

Pretty cake, welcome back to the daring bakers ranks, I was wondering where you were for the past 2 months, hehehe.

Cheers!

Lesley said...

Your cake has a really professional look to it. I love the height, the coconut, the swirl. You did a fabulous job here!

mimi said...

the second swirl i've seen so far, i really love that look! thanks for all the tips at the end. my cake had a lot of air (i assume, by the presence of air bubbles) but didn't rise nor taste fluffy.

Christina said...

Julius, once again I am in awe of your creation. You have mad skillz!

Christina ~ She Runs, She Eats

Megan said...

Great looking cake. Thanks for all the tips!

maybahay said...

stunning cake. great notes, too, on the technicalities of baking.
i love your sophisticated and informative writing.

Laurie said...

Gorgeous cake! Your decor is stunning.. :)

ChichaJo said...

Beautiful cake! Thanks for such an informative post...my attempt ended up flat and too dense :( But your info here will definitely help me out for next time :)

enza said...

I've notice your cake on preview and it looks like fantastic and elegant.
I had the same doubt on the batter and I think in an eccess of baking powder, eccess verifiable on taste.
I'm so glad reading about a certain criticism relating to the preparation, that's good!
as the books you've suggested.
I'm not so enthusiastic about Swiss buttercream, is too fatty in my opinion, leaves and ecces of fat on the mouth despite its gorgeous aspect.
Maybe a conbination of buttercream for layers and whipped cream on surface would be better.

The Baker & The Curry Maker said...

Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous! I love the way you deliver it too. Well done, I loved this challenge.

Julie said...

Oh, it's so lovely! I really love how you photograph your cakes. And you're a smart, smart man to gift this cake away! ;D

I always wish you'd post more, but I'm glad that every post you make is grade A!

Big Boys Oven said...

Amazing! such a gem!

Kelly-Jane said...

You've baked a beautiful cake there, well done :)

TERESA said...

Wow¡¡¡¡¡ Wondrful cake, It looks delicious and creamy¡¡¡¡

Good job¡¡¡

Bake your cake and eat it too said...

That is a wonderful idea baking it in a bowl instead. So very creative. I know, I gave my cake away too! For selfish reasons of not wanting to eat the whole cake by myself!

Dhanggit said...

definitely stunning cake!!!

Namratha said...

A very pretty cake, very neatly done!!

Sheltie Girl said...

You did a fabulous job on your cake!

Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

Amy J. said...

I don't know what I like the best - Shape, Size, of Swirl! Mmmm, I'm going to have to vote for the total package. Fabulous!!

It's also really cool to read more about the technical side of baking - thanks for sharing your knowledge!

LizG said...

As always, looking great, Julius! I love that you go into the chemistry of it all. :)

~Amber~ said...

What a beautiful looking cake! Excellent job.

Madeleine said...

Beatiful cake Julius!!! :) good idea toast the coconut!!! ;)

Tartelette said...

Beautiful cake Julius! It does look etheraal and I bet it tasted as good as it looks!

Dana McCauley said...

Lovely photography! Good job.

Gabi said...

Your cake is so lovely and ethereal looking! Perfect job Julius!
xoxo
Gabi

Canadian Baker said...

Excellent recap! You wrote all the important science stuff that will definitely help others. Great cake too!

Candace said...

Gorgeous job! I was a bit intrigued by the cake myself, but mine didn't rise as well as yours did...

Faery said...

the cake and the pictures are sooo beautiful and the creams looks very yummy

Tracy said...

A very informative post and your cake looked great. Mine was dry. I'll look forward to your conclusions about why some cakes rose and some didn't.

kellypea said...

Excellent writing, Julius, as always. I was wondering where you'd gone! Your cake is beautiful and the information you've provided very interesting. Cool idea using that deep steel bowl. Lucky friend!

Annarasa said...

Lovely cake!

Apu

http://annarasaessenceoffood.blogspot.com/

Beth G. said...

WOW- beautiful job!! Your cake is stunning :)

Princess of the kitchen said...

Beautiful cake julius. Well done

Sweet and Savory Eats said...

Great recipe review; I definitely learned a few things. I am loving your pictures. It's clear that you really enjoy baking. Looking forward to seeing more.

Caramella Mou said...

Thank you so much for the collage of the SMBC, it seems I did it right after all - I had trouble telling the difference between the curdled and the creamy stages and I didn't believe beating for a time duration is the way to do it, although it's a good planning guideline.

Caramella

marias23 said...

Julius, breath-taking photography as usual and I can vouch for your friend that the cake is indeed ethereal :)

Jennifer said...

i love the pictures! the swirl is awesome! great job this month!

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

Your buttercream looks just perfect! Great job, Julius!

JMom said...

What an impressive looking cake! I'm taking decorating tips from all entries :)

simply said...

I just love the cake and the decoration. Your entry is a very interesting read

deb said...

love the mix of toasty coconut!

I(dot)J said...

You came back... I missed you Julius. I almost went into convulsions.

Your cakes (both challenges) look amazing... as ususal. What else am I suppose to say!

BC said...

Gorgeous cake.

Try the Master's Choice seedless raspberry jam. It has an intense falvour and no straining required.