Friday, August 1, 2014

White Cake with Bavarian Buttercream

Originally, this post was scheduled to go up sometime mid August. This was just due to the fact that I had a bunch of entries already queued up and ready to go. I made this cake for a friend's bridal shower and it ended up being quite popular. In fact, it was a much bigger hit than I could have ever imagined and there was a high demand that I share this recipe v. quickly so here it is, two weeks earlier than originally planned. I rearranged several posts to make room for this one. You're welcome, cake addicts.

About a month ago, my fellow bridesmaids and I started planning a luxe bridal shower for the lovely bride-to-be and I volunteered to make the cake. Why? I love cake. I love making them and decorating them and eating them. I feel like if I were given a Bruce Bogtrotter moment (re: an opportunity to eat an entire cake on my own) I could totally champion my way through it. I don't know what it is about this fluffy beast of a dessert. Perhaps it's the fanfare, since cake is generally a celebratory dessert that's only brought out for special occasions. Or maybe it's the beauty of stacked layers and frosting and how it looks like it could make a really comfy bed. Or it could just be the sugar. Yeah, it's probably the sugar.

Anyway, I was brainstorming a little about what kind of cake to make and I decided to do a white cake with a simple buttercream, because it's really neutral and a crowd pleaser. But since this was for a really special occasion, I thought, why not do pink ombre layers?
Ingredients [yields three 9-inch layers and enough buttercream to frost the cakes]
white cake
2 sticks softened butter
½ cup shortening
2½ cups sugar
5 room temperature eggs
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*This cake recipe can be halved. However, since it's difficult to add two and a half eggs to a recipe, I recommend using two eggs and substituting the half egg with 2 tablespoons of milk or plain yogurt.

bavarian buttercream
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean
⅔ cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cornstarch
4 sticks cold butter

**Again, this recipe can be halved but we face the issue of halving eggs. Use one egg yolk and one whole egg.

***By the way, you could totally flavor the cake and buttercream however you want. For example, you could add lots of lemon zest or coconut extract and coconut flakes or orange zest or cinnamon extract and ground cinnamon, you get the idea.

First we'll discuss the cake. The moist, fluffy, sweet, crumby cake. This cake is really delicious. I mean, of course I think that; I made it. But in all honesty, it's v. soft, airy, cuts easily (making it great for serving to guests), and isn't cloyingly sweet. That last trait is the best, in my opinion. My sweet tooth is on the smaller side so when something is too sugary, it literally hurts my teeth.

Start by creaming the butter, shortening, and sugar until light and fluffy. This is an important step that should never be skipped in any recipe that calls for creaming. Creaming fat and sugar together is an opportunity to incorporate air and to ensure that the little granules of sugar dissolve so that you're not left with a gritty texture.
Next, incorporate the eggs, one at a time, beating to fully incorporate each egg before adding another.
Whip in the salt.
Combine milk, vinegar, and vanilla extract in a small container.
Sift the cake flour and baking powder together to get rid of clumps and to aerate the dry ingredients a little. This will also help the cake to be fluffy.
Add in about one third of the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar and mix just until combined. Pour in about half of the milk and beat until combined. Add another installment of flour and then milk and then finish off with flour, mixing after each addition. You want to stop mixing as soon as the batter comes together. Three or four lumps still remain? Ignore them.

And, if you were thinking: Why do recipes tell you to alternate the wet and dry ingredients? Here's the answer: If everything were dumped in at once, you'd have to mix longer and more vigorously to incorporate all of the ingredients. You've just spent a decent bit of time creaming the butter and sugar to incorporate air and if you had to violently mix the batter, you'd push out a lot of that air while developing more of the gluten in the flour, which would likely yield a denser, tougher cake. That's no good. By adding the ingredients in portions, you can be more gentle with the batter, which results in a more tender cake. By the way, cake flour has less protein than all-purpose flour (re: less gluten) so it's a little safety net that helps any overzealous mixers out there.
Now, normally, I'd just pour the batter into the baking pans and chuck them in the oven at this point. However, since I was deviating slightly by going the pink ombre route, I split the batter into three portions and added a little neon pink gel food coloring to each bowl. I made one batch of batter a pale pink, one a medium pink, and the third an ultra neon pink.
Pour the batter into three 9-inch greased and floured pans. I like to use the leftover butter wrappers and mash them around the pan; I mean, why not? There's plenty of butter still left on the paper. Greasing is a super important step that should not be skipped, especially if you're planning on serving this cake to guests. God forbid the cakes bake perfectly but won't flip out of the pan!
Bake the cakes at 350F for 25 minutes or until springy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool the cakes completely before turning them out onto a cooling rack.
All right, now that the cakes are done, we'll talk about the bavarian buttercream. Bavarian buttercream, which is also known as a German buttercream, is basically custard and butter whipped together. It's incredibly fluffy and light and not as cloyingly sweet as a traditional American buttercream. It's so good and quite possibly the best frosting ever, at least in this chick's opinion.
Slice open a vanilla bean and use the back of the knife to scrape out all of the amazing vanilla caviar. Add the scraped caviar, pod, vanilla extract, and milk to a saucepan and heat over low until scalding.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, eggs, sugar, and cornstarch until pale. By the way, check out those eggs. They're making a smiley face!
Temper the egg yolks with a little of the hot milk. Once the eggs have gotten used to the warm temperature, add in the rest of the milk and whisk until combined and smooth.
Fish out the vanilla bean pods and pour the custard base into a saucepan (use the one that the milk was heated in to save on dishes) and heat over a low flame until thickened. Look for big sloppy bubbles and then remove from the heat.
Allow the custard to cool to room temperature. By the way, if you look closely, you can see the little bits of vanilla caviar; YUM. While you wait for the custard to cool, grab four sticks of butter from the fridge and cut it into chunks. When you're making this buttercream, you don't want the butter to be super cold and hard but you don't want it to be completely soft.
Whip the custard a little and then start adding the butter in, 2 or 3 tablespoons at a time.
Once all of the butter has been incorporated, you'll end up with a luscious, fluffy, velvety buttercream.
The buttercream can be stored in the fridge for up to one week. Once it's chilled, you'll want to bring it back to room temperature before frosting the cake.

I opted to frost my cakes right away.
Gorgeous! This frosting is so freakin' fluffy, it spreads like a cloud. When you're frosting cakes, an offset spatula is definitely your best friend. That being said, it's really unnecessary to go out and buy one if you're not in the market to be decorating cakes more than once a year or lifetime. The dull edge of a butter knife also works well. Another tip for you: when you're frosting the layers, dump a bunch of frosting right in the center and then spread it out but leave a little room at the edge of the circle so that the frosting doesn't squish out when you place the next layer on top. And, when you're frosting the entire cake, dump a whole lot of frosting right on top and then push it over the edges. It's a lot easier to frost this way instead of trying to fight gravity by slapping the frosting onto the side of the cake.
I decided to decorate my cake with some fresh flowers (pink ones, to match the inside of the cake, obviously). I'm not a fan of fondant or gumpaste or molding chocolate or marzipan - none of those taste v. good. I'm also not a big fan of fancy piping and swirls and all that jazz. I'm a minimalist when it comes to cake decorating and I think you can add plenty of color and life with the simple addition of fresh flowers.

If you're going to use flowers to decorate your food, use edible flowers or food-safe organic flowers and always wash them before adding them to your food. Don't use regular grocery store flowers. You don't want to contaminate your food with pesticides and chemicals.

Anyway, how gorgeous did this cake turn out? I fell in love with the way this looked. I think blue ombre with blue flowers, green ombre with green flowers, lavender ombre with lavender (like, actual fragrant lavender) are all in my future.
And here's what the cake looked like once we sliced into it. Isn't it so freakin' pretty? I didn't tell anyone (except my fellow bridesmaids because they were my cohorts in crime) that the cake was ombre inside so it was a fun little surprise that was revealed after the cake was cut. To be honest, I was a little worried that the pink color hadn't turned out quite right. All I could really see when I took the cakes out of the oven was the brown crumb coating. But thank goodness that it was a success. The key is to pray to your own God (or gods, depending on who you worship) as well as the baking gods before you even go shopping for the ingredients. And then you whisper a little prayer under your breath as you chuck the pans in the oven and then again when you take them out and then again when you're flipping the cakes out of the pans. Cake making is v. religious.
Thank you cake gods for a successful treat! I mean, I think D's face says it all.

Congratulations to the beautiful bride-to-be! And how cute are we? We match the cake!
Here are the recipe pages:

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