Monday, September 15, 2008

The Diva bakes a cake...from scratch.

Inspired by Deb's Project Wedding Cake undertaking over at Smitten Kitchen, I decided to try my hand at baking a cake from scratch for my mom's birthday. Prior to this, I was Duncan Hines' best friend and had never had even eaten good old baked-at-home scratch cake, let alone made one. Undeterred, I decided on vanilla cake with layers of dark chocolate ganache and raspberry curd and frosted with Swiss buttercream icing.

Go big or go home, I say.

A 45-minute car ride up to the family beach house in 90 degree heat made this first attempt at scratch cake even more exciting. Okay...maybe it's only a 3-layer birthday cake and not a 3-tier wedding cake, but hey, I still stressed.

I used Deb's vanilla buttermilk cake recipe, largely because her recipe notes are so detailed that it seemed practically foolproof (or perhaps I'm just foolish!). Unlike your favorite Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker cake mixes, scratch cakes typically require you to make two mixtures which are then combined. In this case, I made the flour mixture and the egg mixture, and then practiced my mad folding skills. Despite splatters of batter all over my kitchen, the cakes turned out beautifully.

Cooled cakes mean time to talk fillings and frosting. I decided to cheat on the chocolate ganache and used a jar of Shootflying Hill Sauce Co's Dark Chocolate Lover's Dessert Sauce, since it's amazing and probably better tasting than anything I could have thrown together in short notice. But more on Shootflying Hill later. For the curd, I knew I wanted something that was creamy and thick, but not full of seeds or reliant on whipped cream (no refrigerator space for the finished cake). In a nutshell, it meant a cooked sauce with lots of butter and egg yolks. Yum, but definitely not diet...

For the frosting, I was hell-bent on trying Swiss buttercream. If there's one thing I hate, it's an overly sweet icing, so this seemed like a nice change of palette. From my obsessive frosting research, I learned that it can be a finicky icing that takes a while to come together, but well worth the effort. With that in mind, I was determined not to give up if my Swiss buttercream turned to a curdily mess, setting the bowl in a large tray of ice in order to help it come together. Success!

Overall, the cake came out great, and there are already plans to bake another. Next time I'll likely double the icing recipe, since the one I used yielded just enough to cover the cake, but not as much as I would have liked. I'm also going to try freezing the layers right after baking in order to preserve the moisture, since I noticed that it dried out significantly from when it was baked and trimmed to when it was eaten (despite no complaints from the fam).

Dust off your cake pans and give it a try. The taste is well worth the effort.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake
From Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

Yields one three-layer 9-inch round cake

3 3/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups plus 1/3 cup buttermilk
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

Combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl. With the mixer on low speed, blend for 30 seconds. Add the butter and 1 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Mix on low speed briefly to blend; then raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, and the remaining 1/3 cup buttermilk until well blended. Pour one-third of the egg mixture into the cake batter at a time, folding it in completely after each addition. There will be 9 cups of batter; our 3 cups batter into each pan.

Bake for 26 to 28 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Turn the layers out onto wire racks by placing a rack on top of a pan, inverting it, and lifting off the pan. Peel off the paper liners and let cool completely.

Raspberry Curd

Yields about 2 cups

3 half-pint baskets raspberries
1/2 C. sugar
4 T. unsalted butter
1 1/2 t. fresh lemon juice, or to taste
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

Puree the raspberries and put them through a fine strainer to remove the seeds. Measure 1 1/2 c. puree, heat it in a non-corroding saucepan, and stir in the sugar and butter. Taste and add the lemon juice to taste, or more sugar if needed. Whisk the eggs and egg yolks just enough to mix them, then stir in some of the hot puree to warm them. Return to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring until the mixture is thick and reaches a temperature of 170 degrees to ensure that the eggs are cooked. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until needed.

Swiss Buttercream Icing

Yields about 3 cups

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
26 tablespoons butter, softened (3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk egg whites and sugar in a large metal bowl over simmering water until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and use an electric mixer to whip egg mixture until it turns white and doubles in size. Add vanilla (or any flavoring you'd like to use) and begin adding butter a stick at a time. Whip until mixture forms a fluffy, smooth icing. Swiss buttercream can be refrigerated in an airtight container until needed. The icing may need to sit out to soften and may require additional whipping in order to spread.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.


  1. Sweet damn, woman. Imma have to make this for K's birthday in November! (The next big one coming up for me)

  2. I am surprised that I've beaten you to this culinary milestone. I'm going to send you my mom's recipe for chocolate mayonnaise cake. sounds revolting but it's delicious!

  3. Funny you mention that, Erica. I've heard that mayo, although kind of gross, is great at keeping cakes moist. Definitely send your recipe my way...who knows, maybe it'll even end up on The Diva!

  4. In my opinion, one can just never have too much icing

  5. impressive. the most I can do is icebox cake, (famous chocolate wafers covered in whipped cream and chilled until soft) which, while delicious, is hardly baking!

  6. Wow - this looks so good . . . oh, that frosting. I'd love to see a cross-section, the exterior is so lovely! Nice job!


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Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.