April 8, 2010

Taking the Cake

Lemon Meringue Cake
I've always loved cake, and now that there's a wedding in the future, cake is about all I can think of. We've all had our experiences with the well-intentioned but ubiquitous dry, boring, leaden wedding cakes with cloying frosting, and here is my promise to our guests: To the best of my ability, it is not going to happen here.

Having put lots of love and attention into a half-dozen or so wedding cakes for beloved friends in the past, and countless bridal shower, baby shower, birthday and special occasion cakes besides, creating our own would be fun, right?? At least up until the last minute precision decorating and harried transport-to-venue car ride and then lifting the teetering layers upon one another and... Well, maybe I'll rethink this whole venture, but it is still a dream to at least bake the cakes myself, ensuring the flavor and quality to which I hope to treat our guests.

When it's time to get serious about cake, I go straight to Flo Braker. Twenty years ago I worked my way through her wonderful compendium ">The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. Flo taught me, through this book, the importance of bringing baking ingredients to room temperature, why we sift the dry ingredients, how to add egg to a batter while maintaining a perfect emulsion, and a myriad of other tips and tricks. Flo, whose culinary education is from both the Richemont Professional School in Switzerland and Ecole Le Notre in France, knows her genoise, pate a choux and good old American butter cakes like nobody's business.

Over the course of the next few months, I plan to practice my skills and play with various flavor combinations until (sound the trumpets) we find the just-right cake for our special day. This means, of course, that last minute dress alterations may become necessary. I'm sure you'll hear all about these efforts.
A lemon meringue cake was chosen first for two reasons: First, to simply practice a plain vanilla buttermilk butter cake in order to refamiliarize myself with the process. It's been a while since I've seriously baked, so that was an important goal. And second, I couldn't wait to try the bad-boy blow-torch My Baby brought home from the hardware store, so a caramelized meringue seemed in good order. There are no photos included in this post of a slice of the cake revealing its three bright-yellow lemon curd stripes. Once it was cut, somehow all thoughts of a camera were forgotten.

Here is my adaptation of Flo Braker's recipe for Buttermilk Cake. All components, the cake, lemon curd and Swiss meringue, came from ">The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. See what you think.

Lemon Meringue Cake

Makes two 8" x 1/2" layers, or 3 6" x 1 1/2" layers

Buttermilk Cake
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
For perfect measurement and a light cake, sift cake flour before measuring. Measure flour, then sift it and all the remaining dry ingredients above into a medium bowl. Set aside.

3 large eggs, room temperature
Whisk eggs lightly together in a small bowl. Set aside.

1 cup milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
Stir vanilla into milk and set aside.

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups bakers sugar or granulated sugar

Grease bottom and sides of pans with shortening or butter. Dust generously with all-purpose flour, tapping out excess. Insert 8" rounds of parchment or waxed paper into bottoms of pans.
Position oven rack in lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using the flat beater, cream butter on medium speed until it it light in color and has satiny appearance. Add sugar in steady stream. When all sugar is added, scrape the bowl. Continue to cream for 4-5 minutes, or until mixture is very light in color an fluffy in appearance.

With mixer still on medium speed, pour in the eggs tablespoon by tablespoon. If at any time the mixture appears water or shiny or curdled, stop the flow of eggs and increase the mixer's speed until a smooth, silken appearance returns before resuming the addition of eggs.

Continue to cream, stopping the mixer and scraping the sides of the bowl at least once. when the mixture appears fluffy, white and increased in volume (resembles whipped cream cheese), detach the beater and bowl from the mixer. (The total process of adding the eggs and incorporating them takes about 3-4 minutes.)

Having abandoned the mixer, lift about one-fourth of the flour mixture into the creamed mixture. Stir it in gently with a rubber spatula. Pour in about 1/3 of the vanilla milk, stirring to blend together. Repeat this procedure, alternating dry and liquid ingredients, ending with flour. (Stirring the flour in last rather than the liquid binds the batter together to form the desired consistency. Doing this last bit by hand rather than by machine gives more control in incorporating the ingredients and reduces the risk of overmixing, which creates a tough cake.)

Spoon equal amount of batter in to each pan. Spread batter, working from the center outward, creating a slightly raised ridge outside the rim. (Since heat is conducted faster near the metal rim, mounding the bater around the edges assures more even, level baked layers. Batters containing chemical leavenings also have a tendency to bake higher in the middle, forming domelike shapes: the outer ridge compensates for this.)

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until baked surface springs back slightly when touched lightly in the center and the sides begin to pull away from the pan.

When cool, slit layers in half, creating 4 thinner layers. Fill with lemon curd, stacking layers. Frost with Swiss meringue and brown meringue with a torch.

6 comments:

  1. Stunning, what a beautiful cake. I haven't done a meringue in a long while, I think you've inspired me!

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  2. Wow! I can't wait to hear more about this adventure - I'm totally inspired. I'd love to hunt down that book.

    In other news - check out the Pie Bird blog today.... there's something special for you waiting there! Thanks for the inspiration!

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  3. That cooks like pure indulgence. Good luck with the new blow-torch. I also got one recently and almost burned my eye-brows off. Cheers!

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  4. WHAT A GORGEOUS CAKE. Holy moly. You showed that meringue who is BOSS.

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  5. I love merengue but I haven't tried making one. This is two dessert in one. I love the burnt outlines. Makes me wanna invest my own blowtorch... U

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  6. wow....I love this cake.
    Lemon+Meringue always the best combination!

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