We have celebrated some milestone birthdays recently. My father turned 80 years old and now Maddie has turned 18. My father chose to celebrate with pie, but Maddie is a cake girl all the way. She loves cake. As a senior in high school she has much to celebrate. She will graduate in May and go off to college next autumn. While she does not know yet where she will land, the anticipation and excitement makes for an exhilarating and sometimes stressful year. Maddie is intelligent, beautiful, independent and talented. She is my child who has always said, "I can do it myself!" - and so she does. A dear friend remarked that this time of life is truly the definition of 'bittersweet' as your children make their way in the world you are so happy for them, yet it will forever change the landscape of your own life. Go Maddie make your mark, but first let's celebrate with cake.
This recipe is adapted from a recipe by the fabulous cookbook author Dorie Greenspan and makes a perfect white cake. The cake is delicately flavored with lemon zest and extract then brought together with a layer of raspberry jam followed by rich, lightly lemon-flavored buttercream. The combination is bright and festive - just perfect for a birthday celebration. But the great thing about this recipe is its versatility. For more of a lemon kick substitute lemon curd for the raspberry jam. Or for a pure vanilla cake replace the lemon zest and extract with pure vanilla extract. The basic recipe works with so many different interpretations that you will come back to this cake recipe over and over whenever you need a perfect, reliable cake fit for any celebration.
Birthday Cake with Buttercream
Adapted from Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan
2 1/4 cups (315 g) cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) buttermilk or whole milk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup (4 ounces/115 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
Preheat the oven to 350℉ (175℃). Butter and lightly flour 2, 9-inch (23 cm) round cake pans. Line each bottom with a buttered round of parchment paper or waxed paper.
In a bowl whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl whisk together the buttermilk (or whole milk) and the egg whites. In the bowl of a standing mixer rub the sugar and lemon zest between your fingers to release the oils in the zest. Add the butter and beat with a paddle attachment until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the lemon extract. Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk mixture in three additions beating on medium speed and scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times. Once completely incorporated beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and smooth the tops.
Bake on the center rack until a cake tester comes out clean about 25-35 minutes. Cool on a rack for 5-10 minutes. Invert the cakes and allow to cool completely on the rack. Leave the parchment paper or waxed paper on until the cakes are completely cooled. Loosely cover the cakes with a thin, clean kitchen towel to keep them from drying out as they cool. (Once cooled remove the parchment paper or waxed paper before filling and frosting the cakes.) If not using immediately wrap air-tight and store at room temperature up to a day or freeze for up to a month.
I love this buttercream recipe because it is nearly foolproof. You don't need a candy thermometer, you just heat the egg whites and sugar together to dissolve the sugar then beat until stiff and glossy before adding the butter. It makes a perfectly luscious buttercream every time.
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces/340 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Whisk egg whites and sugar in a mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water (don't let the bowl touch the water) until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and very warm, about 3 minutes. Move the bowl to an electric mixer with a whisk attachment and beat on medium speed until mixture has cooled and the egg whites have formed stiff, glossy peaks. (If the mixture isn't cool it will melt the butter and cause it to separate. Just keep beating until the egg whites are cool about 5 minutes, but longer if needed.) Switch to a paddle attachment and add the butter a few pieces at a time until well incorporated. Beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for 6-10 minutes until very smooth and thick. If the buttercream starts to separate continue beating until it comes back together. Reduce the speed slightly and add the lemon juice slowly until incorporated, then add the vanilla extract.
If not using immediately press plastic wrap onto the surface and set aside. Buttercream can be stored in the refrigerator for several days, but needs to be brought back to room temperature before using. Buttercream is always best served at room temperature.
3/4 cup (190 g) seedless raspberry jam
Stir the raspberry jam vigorously or warm slightly to make it spread easily. Cut each cake in half horizontally with a large serrated knife. Invert one layer on a cardboard cake round or cake plate. Spread with about a 1/4 cup (65 g) of raspberry jam then cover with a thin layer of buttercream. Do the same for two more layers then top with the final layer, cut side down. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining buttercream.
The cake is ready to serve. If not serving immediately cover and allow to sit at room temperature for up to 6 hours. Refrigerate for longer storage, but allow to come to room temperature before serving. The cake is best served the day it is made, but will keep, refrigerated and well covered, for up to two days.