We needed a cake. Not just any cake, but a nice-looking cake. Something that would stand out from the crowd. So, we did what anyone searching for a stand-out cake would do. We looked at Gesine Bullock-Prado’s book, Bake It Like You Mean It. Between that and her website gbakes.com, we decided that we’d attempt a pyramid cake. After all, we had everything in house and were up for a challenge.
Well, it was a challenge, and we’ll tell you right up front that, if you only have a 4.5 quart mixer, you’ll either have to make this cake in two batches, or commit to finishing the batter by hand. It is one BIG cake. Also, you’ll need a large cake plate on which to finish the cake. We didn’t have one, so we had to use the back side of a baking sheet. This is one BIG cake, And, be prepared to make a lot of frosting. Did we mention this is a BIG cake? Finally, find a large gathering and bring the cake there, or be prepared to eat cake for quite some time.
Makes a cake that will feed an army.
Yes, everything should be room temperature. We forgot to take out the eggs, so we warmed them in a bowl of water. It’s a nice little trick to remember. You’ll be adding the salt, so use unsalted butter. For the food coloring, we had some of the stuff from the store. Bad choice, as that food coloring couldn’t color its way out of a coloring book. For the frosting, we did a vanilla (1 batch) and a chocolate (double batch), which, in hindsight, just made this more difficult; we recommend a single flavor.
Procedure in detail:
Prepare. Prepare yourself for this cake, mentally, physically, and emotionally. And, while you’re at it, prepare two half-sheet pans by lining them with baking parchment. Then, using a ruler, divide the parchment into thirds lengthwise, marking it with a pencil. These will be your guides when piping the batter. Place the parchment sheets in the baking sheets with the markings on the bottom, so they won’t transfer to the cake.
Mise en place. Make sure your butter is room temperature. Same goes for the eggs. And the buttermilk. Cakes turn out lighter and fluffier when everything is warm when it’s mixed.
Preheat oven to 350°F. We’ll put this here, even though it will take a while to get the batter ready.
Mix dry ingredients. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. You might also want to mix it with a whisk. Yes, do both, as they perform different tasks (hence, different utensils and names); the whisk mixes the ingredients, while the sifting fluffs them, and you want mixed and fluffed.
Cream butter. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip and cream the butter on medium until smooth and shiny, about 1 minute.
Add sugar. With the mixer running, pour the sugar into the butter and let it whip on medium until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add eggs. Add the eggs, one at a time, whipping for a full minute between additions. The batter will get really light and fluffy at this stage — if you have a 4.5 quart bowl, it will be close to the top.
Add vanilla. Measure the vanilla into the batter and mix to incorporate fully.
Add buttermilk and flour. If your bowl is very full, consider switching to a large rubber spatula for this step; we had to do that partway through the additions. Add the buttermilk and the flour mixture in six additions — buttermilk, flour mixture, buttermilk, flour mixture, buttermilk, flour mixture — mixing just enough to incorporate each addition before adding the next.
Color batter. Scoop out about 2 cups (500g) of batter into a bowl and color as desired, and transfer to a (disposable is preferable) piping bag fitted with a large tip. If you use disposable bags, you can just cut off the tip and not worry about a metal tip. Here’s another part that threw us off: the original recipe indicated using a bit more batter that we’ve listed, but, using that original amount, we made four stripes before noticing we were running short of batter. It was time to scoop a bit of batter out of the pans. Fortunately, we started with the lighter colors, so we could still darken them.
Pipe. Carefully pipe the batter into a third of one of the pans, using the guidelines (see, they do come in handy), to, well, guide you. You will use all the batter.
Repeat. Repeat the last two steps with the remaining batter, using different colors. We went with uncolored, yellow, a yellow-orange, orange, orange-red, and red. Here’s where professional colors would come in handy. We didn’t quite achieve nice, deep colors, but it still looked good. And, yes, we did use six disposable bags, and were quite glad we had them.
Bake. Slide the pans into the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed. Watch carefully; we had to rotate the pans occasionally, trying to keep the batter from overflowing. We failed and had cake batter run over the sides. Oops.
Cool. Place the pans on a rack and let them cool completely. While cooling, you can make the frosting. Once completely cool and your frosting made, you can move on to the last part, assembling the cake.
Slice strips. Slice around the edges of the cake to cut off the crusty parts while keeping nice, straight sides. Then cut each sheet cake into three strips of equal width. We used a measuring tape to make sure. If you don’t do that now, you’ll have to trim the cake later, partway through the assembly.
Stack. Carefully lift out a strip, and transfer to a parchment- (or waxed paper) lined dish. Apply a very thin layer of frosting and place the next strip on top, taking care to line up all the edges and keep the cake as straight as possible. Press each layer down as needed to level the layer. Continue until you have a six-layer cake. Do not put frosting on the top layer.
Freeze. Slide the cake into the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up. If your cake leans a bit one way or the other, you might have to prop up part of the pan to compensate for the lean. You wouldn’t want the cake to topple over partway through freezing. We had to prop.
Slice. First, trim the edges of the cake so that they’re smooth. You don’t want to have one (or more) layer sticking out further than another. Trim it into the best rectangular box possible. Now, we need to make three cuts. The first is the easiest: with a very sharp serrated knife, cut the cake in half, right through the middle, to make two smaller rectangular cakes. This will ensure that you’ll have edges where the layers will line up. The next two cuts are trickier: Cut each cake diagonally to form triangular pieces. You will now have four cake pieces.
Arrange. Find a large plate (we didn’t have one large enough, so we used the back side of a baking sheet) and place four pieces of waxed paper on it to keep the plate clean while you’re applying the frosting. Arrange them so the cake will sit mostly on the plate, but have an inch or so of paper underneath. You’ll pull these away these later, revealing the clean plate. Carefully lift the triangular pieces of cake and place them on the plate to form a pyramid, making sure the layers line up at each end. You might have to swap around pieces, but it will work. Just think about when you cut the cake in half; those cut edges now need to be at the ends of the cake. Use a bit of frosting to hold the pyramid together. Because our cake had risen so much while baking, we ended up with something that resembled an A-frame house. Ah, it tasted good, anyway.
Crumb coat. Apply a thin layer of frosting over the sides of the cake to hold the crumbs in place. Since you went to all the trouble of making pretty layers, you might not want to frost the ends — we didn’t, or you could, and let the layers be a surprise. Here’s another place we had problems; we’d wanted vanilla frosting on the inside and chocolate outside, so we (silly us) used vanilla frosting as the crumb coat. When we did the final coat of chocolate, the vanilla showed through (duh), and we had to quickly make more frosting to finish.
Freeze. Once the crumb coat is applied, place the cake back in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes to firm.
Final coat. Take the cake out of the freezer and apply the smoothest layer of frosting to finish the cake. Again, we had vanilla showing through our chocolate frosting, so we had to quickly make another batch of frosting. Learn from our example, and use just a single flavor of frosting.
Yes, this cake nearly kicked our butts, but we’re ready for a rematch! Why? Because this is a just a darn good cake. The cake part is moist and flavorful, and we’ve learned from our mistakes, so we’re pretty sure that the next time we can do this cake justice. For us, the key things we’ll change are: reduce the amount of batter we make (for our pans, we’ll probably use just 8 eggs, reducing the other ingredients in proportion), use a single kind of frosting, and use professional coloring. That way, the look of the end result will be worthy of the taste. While we had some problems, we give this cake four stars, mainly because of the difficulty in making and assembling.