As you have already probably deduced from my rants on lemon-flavoring, I went with the lemon base for the cake, as the original recipe perscripes. Between each of the layers, under the buttercream, there also goes a layer of preserves. Dorie's original recipe calls for raspberry preserves, but I wanted to make my cake a little Middle Eastern (in honor of Norouz, the IranianNew Year) so I used fig preserves. Another really traditional Iranian option would be rose preserves (delicious, if you've never tried them), but I thought that wouldn't pair well with the lemon. The cake baking process was fairly simple but it's hard to horizontally half the cakes (to make four layers total), because they don't rise too much. I was a little frustrated with this but it ended up working out for the best because I think its prettier with thin layers. Unfortunately, my uneven cutting lead to some lopsided layering, mais c'est pas grave. Dorie's cake is decorated simply with a layer of buttercream and coconut surrounding the whole cake, but that just seemed a little too busy for me and so I opted for a layer of buttercream and walnuts on the side and then a paisley-shape made out of walnuts on the top. Walnuts are a staple in so many Middle Eastern desserts and I think they pair really nicely with figs. They were also easy to crush to make up the paisley-shape, which was actually much harder than I anticipated.
the cake in front of the traditional Norouz sprouts, garlic, and coins
I'll admit, I've never used a Dorie Greenspan recipe before and I'm usually skeptical when trying recipes from new people. BUT I've read Dorie Greenspan success stories so much that I was excited to finnally get a chance to try something out. I was very pleasantly surprised with this cake, so maybe I'll be using Dorie sometime soon (keep your eyes peeled for her World Peace cookies which I should be baking within the next couple days).
I took the cake with me to a lovely little dinner with my best friend and her mother and we alone devoured at least 1/4 of it. The other 3/4 disspeared over the course of the next day as roommates and friends slowly attacked the rest of it, which I left on our kitchen counter. Everyone agreed it was fantastic. Mostly what I worry about with cakes is that they will be too crumby or not flavorful enough. This one was perfect with an almost pound-cake like consistency (without the pound cake heaviness). The flavors of both the cake and buttercream are sutle so the fig and walnut really their chance to shine through. I'll admit, I've avoided cakes for years in favor of cupcakes, mostly because I've had such bad luck with them, but after this success, I'll probably find myself baking cakes more and more often. Next time you need a cake for a birthday or party, give this recipe a try!
The Perfect Party Cake
from Dorie Greenspan
For the Cake:
2 ½ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 ½ 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:
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup fig preserves
About 1 ½ cups crushed walnuts
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 lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white 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 it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.