Sunday, May 4, 2008

Mmmm, cake!

This past month, I took Wilton's Course 1 Cake Decorating class at my local Michael's. For our first week of actual decorating, we were instructed to bring in a shaped cake. I have a really pretty sunflower pan that I bought several years ago at William's Sonoma, so I decided to use that. I was wanting to make a yellow cake with lemon curd filling. A friend provided me with two cake recipes - one she had used and thought was quite good, and a second that she had recently found and was wanting to try. Initially, I used the first recipe she sent. Unfortunately, that cake didn't come out of my pan properly, so I had to bake a second cake. I decided to make lemonade from these lemons, and use this opportunity to make the second cake recipe. While the first recipe was good, the second one was the winner, hands-down! I now have a go-to yellow cake recipe.

Fluffy Yellow Cake

2 1/2 cups cake flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
10 Tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks, room temperature
3 large egg whites, room temperature

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 350. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans (9 inches wide by 2 inches high) and line bottoms with parchment paper. Grease paper rounds, dust pans with flour, and knock out the excess.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar together in a large bowl (1/4 cup sugar will remain).

In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup or a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and egg yolks.

In clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites at medium-high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With mixer running, gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form, 30 to 60 seconds (whites should hold peak, but mixtures should appear moist). Transfer to another bowl and set aside.

Add flour mixture to now-empty mixing bowl fitted with whisk attachment. With mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds. Stop mixer and scrape whisk and sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds.

Using rubber spatula, stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter to lighten, then add remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain.

Divide batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Lightly tap pans against the counter 2 to 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.

Bake until cake layers begin to pull away from sides of pans and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. (Note: since I was using a single, larger pan, my baking time was obviously longer.) Cool cakes in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen cakes from sides of pans with small knife, then invert onto greased wire rack and peel off parchment. Turn cakes over and cool completely on rack, about 1 1/2 hours.

Source: Adapted from the February 2008 issue of Cook's Illustrated

Lemon Curd

3 lemons
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
4 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Using microplane or carrot peeler, remove the zest of 3 lemons, being careful to avoid the white pith. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar and pulse until the zest is very finely minced into the sugar.

Cream the butter and beat in the sugar and lemon mixture. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Mix until combined.

Pour the mixture into a 2-quart saucepan and cook over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly. The lemon curd will thicken at about 170 degrees, or just below a simmer. Remove from the heat and cool or refrigerate.

Source: Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Buttercream Icing (Medium Consistency)

1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (approx. 1 lb.)
2 Tablespoons milk

In large bowl, cream butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all the sugar has been mixed in, the icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use. For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. This icing can be stored 2 weeks if refrigerated in an airtight container. Just re-whip before using.

Makes 3 cups.

For thinner (spreading consistency) icing, add up to 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup, water, or milk until desired consistency is reached.

To assemble, I split the cake into two layers. I piped a thick "dam" of icing along the edge of the bottom layer, spooned the lemon curd inside, then placed the top layer.

From there, it was just a matter of decorating with a star tip (Wilton #21).

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