It’s been weeks since you’ve read anything new here, hasn’t it? Well, the wait is over. We’re back from some travel, but we’re still pretty busy, so the number of postings might be lower than normal. Of course, you can always request a full refund.
We wanted a fun cake for December, so we did a quick modification of this recipe, changing the colors, reducing the amount to fit our baking pans (15 1/2×10 1/2 inches), and adding a few ornaments so it looks more like a Christmas tree. That’s it, so let’s start scratchin’.
Salty cakes aren’t very good, so use unsalted butter. This cake uses a lot of eggs (and egg whites), so use good ones. The kind from free-ranging hens, if possible. For the food coloring, use some of the deep colors that are sold as gels. It’ll make coloring the cake faster, easier, and nicer-looking. And, vanilla extract — 100% pure is the way to go.
Procedure in detail:
For the cake:
Mise en place. For cakes, this is a must. First, all the ingredients need to be at room temperature. You have time as the eggs, butter, and buttermilk warm, so you might as well measure out the remaining ingredients and line the baking pans with parchment. Note that you don’t grease or butter the pans; just a layer of parchment on the bottom. As part of mise en place, sift, yes, break out the sifter, together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Now just wait until the butter is room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
Cream butter. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high until light, fluffy, and smooth. If your butter is warm, this make take just 60 seconds; if it’s cool, it may take a few minutes. Be patient.
Add sugar. Add the sugar and beat on medium-high until the mixture is light and fluffy. This will take 5 to 7 minutes, as the sugar crystals whip air into the butter. Again, be patient.
Add eggs. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium-high for at least a minute between each egg. The batter will get lighter and lighter, even surprisingly light as the eggs are added.
Add vanilla. Add vanilla and beat on medium-high until incorporated, about 15 seconds.
Add buttermilk and flour. Three roughly equal additions of each in this order: buttermilk, mix, flour, mix, buttermilk, mix, flour, mix, buttermilk, mix, flour, mix. You may have to fold in the last addition of flour by hand — the bowl with be very full. At each of the mixing stages, mix on low until the ingredient is just incorporated, about 15 seconds after adding buttermilk, 30 seconds after adding the flour mixture.
Divide. This will be easiest if you have a scale: just pour about 1080 grams of batter into a separate bowl. If you don’t have a scale, estimate as best you can when dividing the batter into two batches.
Color. The amount of coloring you need will depend on your colors. We used 6 drops of the green and about 8 drops of red to achieve a nice color. We started with 3 drops of coloring, stirred it in, and adjusted until we got the color we wanted. Once colored, spread the batter into the prepared pans.
Bake. Slide into the oven and bake for 25 to 33 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.
Cool. Let the cakes cool completely in the pans.
For the frosting:
Cook egg whites and sugar. We’re making our favorite frosting for this cake, a Swiss meringue buttercream. Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk together. Place the bowl over simmering water (improvise a double boiler with a saucepan), and whisk until the sugar dissolves and the egg whites are frothy and hot, about 7 minutes (you can use a thermometer to check the temperature: 160-165°F is perfect).
Whip. Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on high until completely cool, about 10 minutes. The meringue will start to look and smell like marshmallow fluff.
Add butter. Switch out the whisk attachment for the paddle, and beat the meringue on medium-low. While mixing, add the butter, about 2 tablespoons at a time, waiting until each chunk is incorporated before adding the next.
Add vanilla. Add the vanilla and mix until completely incorporated and smooth.
Layer. Break out a ruler and mark off cake pieces that are 3 inches wide by 9 inches long. You’ll get four of each color with more leftovers and scraps, and we’ll only use 3 strips of each color. Slice these pieces apart, and, using a long thin spatula, place a green slice on the prepared plate. Apply a light coating of frosting, then a slice of red cake. Continue until you have 6 layers.
Freeze. The cake is wobbly and hard to handle, so use the baker’s second most useful tool in the kitchen and freeze the cake for 30 minutes.
Slice and plate. Place four pieces of waxed paper around the edges of a nice cake plate. These will keep the plate clean while you work, and you can slide them out later. Now, using a long serrated knife, cut the cake diagonally from top to bottom to make two triangles. Place one triangle on the prepared plate, and the other alongside to make a tree shape. If needed, use a bit of frosting to hold the two triangles together.
Frost. Spread a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake. This is the crumb coat that will hold cake crumbs in place. Freeze cake for 15 minutes. Remove from the freezer and frost completely. Let warm to room temperature.
Add dragees. We found that the easiest way to place the dragees on the cake was to flick them onto the cake — they stick — and press them in lightly.
Great cake, the frosting is nice and light, the cake is very tasty, plus it looks like a layered Christmas tree. Sure, we need to improve our decorating skills, but it still looked good. And it was a hit with everyone who tried it. Especially the surprise of the layers. It’s more work than an ordinary-looking cake, so four stars.