Monday, April 26, 2010

White birthday cake with strawberry meringue buttercream

[happy birthday, miss natalie!]

While I will certainly cause at least a bit of emotional scarring in my future kids with various themed nights and excessive picture taking, there is one thing I will promise to always do for as long as I'm able -- make their birthday cakes from scratch.  Don't get me wrong, not everyone has the time or even desire to do this, but to me, baking is something I truly enjoy and what better way to celebrate loved ones birthdays than to present them with a cake of their choice!

Anyway, I digress.  When a friend or relative's birthday approaches, I send out feelers in the form of a voicemail or email with a listing of options for cake and icing flavors.  This particular pal said she had been craving white cake and strawberry frosting.  I happily accepted the order since it was something other than the classic yellow cake and vanilla buttercream (though they are delicious, I love me some variety).  Oh and you know, I love her dearly and wanted to present her with a cheerful and scrumptious birthday confection :)

This cake stays white by using bleached cake flour and omitting egg yolks.  The cake flour gives the finished product a super light and fluffy texture but still has the great vanilla flavor that most white cakes seem to lack, so it stands up to many varieties of toppings -- in this case, strawberry meringue buttercream.

Note: I halved this recipe and made only one 9-inch cake and cut it in half to make a two layer cake that would be more appropriate for a gathering of 10 people.  If you're having 15 or more, a full two layer 9-inch cake would be perfectly fine.

White Cake
-makes two 9-inch layer cakes or 24 cupcakes

3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk
8 large egg whites
Strawberry Meringue Icing (recipe to follow)

Preheat oven to 350F.  For cakes, butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper.  Butter parchment, dust with flour and tap out excess and set aside.  (For cupcakes, line 2 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners and set aside.)  In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed.  Beat in the vanilla.  With mixer on low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, 1/2 of the milk, second third of the flour mixture, remaining milk, and last third of the flour mixture, beating until combined after each addition.  Scrape down sides of the bowl as needed.  Transfer mixture to a large bowl and set aside.

Clean bowl of the electric mixer now and dry immediately.

In the clean bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy.  With mixer running, gradually added the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar.  Beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 4 minutes.  Do not overbeat!  VERY gently, fold a third of the egg white mixture into the butter flour mixture until just combined.  Gently fold in the remaining egg whites.

Divide batter evenly among cake pans (or muffin cups) and smooth tops with an offset spatula.  Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until the cakes are golden brown and a cake tested inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.  Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes.  Invert cakes onto the rack, peel off the parchment paper, and reinvert cakes to allow to cool completely, tops sides up.

Trim tops of cake layers with a serrated knife to level.  Spread 1 cup buttercream on first layer, place second layer on top, cut side down.  Spread the entire cake with the remaining frosting and garnish finished cake with whole strawberries.

Strawberry Meringue Buttercream
-makes 5 cups

4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) strawberry jam (seedless is important!), pureed in a mini food processor

In a glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, combine egg whites and sugar.   Cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch (about 160F).

Pour the contents of the bowl into the bowl of an electric mixer (or keep in same bowl if not using a stand mixer) and attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat the egg-white mixture on high speed until it holds stiff (but not dry) peaks.  Continue beating until the mixture is fluffy and cooled, about 6 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment.  With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter several tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition.  (If the frosting seems to separate after all the butter has been added, beat on medium-high until smooth again, 3 to 5 minutes more.)  Beat in vanilla.  Beat on lowest speed to eliminated any air bubbles, about 2 minutes.  Stir in strawberry jam with a rubber spatula until frosting is smooth.  If a more pronounced pink color is desired, add two drops of red food coloring at a time, stirring thoroughly until exact shade is achieved.

Frost cake or cupcakes and enjoy!!  Candles are, as always, recommended, whether there is a birthday or not.  You can find something to celebrate, surely.  Monday, perhaps?

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