Archive for March, 2008

Whimsical Spring Cake: Luscious Lemon Layer Cake with Passion Fruit Buttercream

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

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My first Daring Bakers challenge is coincidentally, similar to the first layer cake I ever posted on my blog. Since I was already familiar with the techniques for making the cake and buttercream, I puzzled over how I would re-create this challenge. I ultimately decided to make a cake that celebrated Spring and Easter: a luscious lemon layer cake with passion fruit buttercream and apricot jam. The top is decorated with a spun sugar nest and chocolate mini-eggs dusted with iridescent luster dusts.

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I’ve been enamored with passion fruit for a while. This tart, intensively flavored tropical fruit found in South America, Southeast Asia and Australia is not the most accessible or economical fruit. I found purees available on Amazon and L’epicerie, and also found the actual fruit available at my local Garden of Eden store for $2 for one piece. Consequently, I was delighted when my husband came home one day with passion fruit pulp he found in the freezer section of our local supermarket, at about $2 for the Goya brand. I haven’t actually tried many passion fruit purees or pulps for comparison, but I think the Goya brand flavored the buttercream just fine. As an added bonus, the passion fruit pulp tinted the buttercream a lovely and natural yellow color, the very color I had envisioned for my cake, which also hints to the lemon flavored cake within.

At the risk of belaboring my passion for passion fruit, waxing philosophical over cake, and perhaps drawing too many connections, the thought occurred to me after the fact that this fruit was appropriate for Easter for another reason. While researching how “passion fruit” got its name, I discovered that it was attributed to early European explorers who thought the flower of the passion fruit resembled the crown of thorns in the passion of Christ.

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Pictured above is the spun sugar nest I made. I actually received a second degree burn in the process – but fortunately, I am quite experienced at treating burns thanks to my glassblowing experience. I made this nest as I was treating my burn, so I suppose it came out sufficiently well under the circumstances. I piped buttercream vines and flowers, which I then painted over with edible luster dust dissolved in alcohol.

I thought I would earn some brownie points with my parents by bringing the cake to their church for Easter. I was concerned that the passion fruit/apricot/lemon combination would be too tart, but the cake was a huge hit and people responded very positively to the flavors. The Korean congregation felt the need to sing, as if celebrating a birthday, and somehow this cake got lost in translation as they sang in broken English:

Happy Easter to you
Happy Easter to you
Happy Easter, Jesus Christ
Happy Easter to you!

Without further ado, here is the recipe (the original is from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours, but I am posting a version with the adjustments I made):

For the Cake
2¼ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream (this is 1.5x Doree’s buttercream recipe, to accommodate the extra needed for decorating)
1½ cup sugar
6 large egg whites
4½ sticks (18 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup passion fruit pulp (start with less and add to taste)

For Filling
apricot jam

Optional Decorations
spun sugar nest
chocolate mini eggs, such as Cadbury’s or make your own truffle eggs
luster dust

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.

Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2 minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean.

Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the passion fruit pulp, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread with preserves. Cover the jam evenly with buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer. Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and frost the sides and top with buttercream. [Tip: I like to do a "crumb coat" before the final frosting, which seals the crumbs and prevents it from mixing into the frosting. Frost the entire cake with a very thin layer of buttercream and refrigerate for about 15 minutes. Then proceed to frost the cake with the rest of the buttercream.] Decorate as you wish.

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Serving
The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold.

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First Daring Baker’s challenge completed! Thanks to Morven for hosting this month’s event, and to Lis and Ivonne for founding the group. To see what fellow daring bakers have created for this month’s theme, click on the logo below.

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Asian Black Pearl Layer Cake with Ginger, Wasabi and Black Sesame Seeds

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

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I’m a big fan of Vosges Haut Chocolat’s exotically flavored chocolates, so I was dying to try this recipe for a cake modeled after their Black Pearl chocolate flavored with ginger, wasabi and black sesame seeds. The opportunity finally arose when I had to make a cake for my brother-in-law’s birthday. At first I was a bit wary of the chocolate bar’s translation into cake form, but this recipe ended up being a knockout. I think it was one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever tried or made. If you’re a fan of ginger and Asian flavors, I would highly recommend it.

The flavor combination is sophisticated but cohesive. The chocolate cake layers with ginger bits are soaked with a vanilla bean/ginger syrup, which infuses moistness throughout; the ganache is flavored with ginger, wasabi and laced with black sesame seeds for a subtle crunch. The lightness of the ginger whipped cream frosting sprinkled with more black sesame seeds is a perfect compliment to the luscious cake.

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The modifications I made to the recipe were using one 10″ springform pan instead of three 8″ pans. The cake rose right up to the edge, so I would not use a 9″ springform, or it will probably spill over. Using one springform increased the baking time to a total of about an hour. I also doubled the ginger powder and added extra wasabi, but the latter was still very subtle. I also stabilized the whipped cream with 3/4 tsp of powdered gelatin dissolved in 3 tsp water. This is not necessary – I just like the added insurance. For decoration, I added slivers of crystallized ginger.

Tip: If you are pressed for time for waiting for the ganache to set, place it in a pot over a ice-water bath, stirring the ganache. It should firm up in minutes.

Black Pearl Layer Cake

Please see recipe at epicurious.com

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