One of my earliest birthday memories is of watching guests arrive to my party. The mothers walked the girls up to the front door. The girls were all wearing dresses, white ankle socks, and patent leather shoes, because that's what little girls wore back in that time and place, and they were all carrying gifts. As I eyed the gaily wrapped packages, I tried to guess what might be inside and one package in particular got me very excited. It was a long, thin, tubular shape. I just knew it had to be a baton! Dreams of happy twirling filled my head, only to crash to the ground when I opened it and found it was a pup tent.
As a child, birthdays were all about the presents. But presents can be disappointing, so as I've gotten older (and older), birthdays have become all about the cake. I spend the weeks leading up to my birthday thinking about what kind of cake I want. What kind of frosting. What kind of decoration. And then I get to make it.
Non-bakers that I know invariably will say, "You have to make your own birthday cake?" No, no, I get to. I have an excuse to spend a day trying a new recipe, a new technique, or just making a tried and true favorite. And then an excuse to eat it!
Recently I saw a cake in a bakery display case that stood out. Pure, snowy white frosting, crowned with a ring of raspberries. Yes, that was the look of the cake for this year. But what to put inside? I'd been eyeing several lovely cakes in Baking and decided to do the Black and white chocolate cake, only substituting raspberry for chocolate, so it would look like the Perfect Party Cake, only without coconut.
The day before my birthday I made the cake without any problems. I left it to cool overnight, got up early in the morning to make the frosting, which I knew needed to be chilled for several hours. There I hit a snag. The frosting is simplicity itself. Only two ingredients. White chocolate and heavy cream. The choclate needs to melt while part of the cream boils. The two are put together, stirred, and then left to cool to room temperature. This part went fine.
It was when the mixture was to be added to the rest of the cream that it started to go south. I put the cream in the mixer, watching for it to just reach the "soft peak" stage, and the phone rang. My darling husband was calling to wish me a happy birthday. He's so sweet and deserves better than a wife who abruptly ends the conversation with "Oh, #&%!" when she looks into the mixer and sees VERY stiffly beaten whipped cream.
I turned off the mixture, carefully scraped out the cream, saving it for later dessert topping, and added more cream for a second try. Thank goodness I buy cream by the jug from Costco! This time I got the cream to just reach soft peaks. Perfect. Then the directions say to turn the mixer to high and add the white chocolate mixture all at once. I tried, but it was awkward and the mixture was not all going into the bowl. I turned off the mixer, quickly scraped all the white chocolate cream into the bowl, turned the mixer back on high and....eeek! Why is it all curdy? Maybe it's just not incorporated enough and needs more mixing. Back on high. No, no! It's turning yellow and breaking up. I'm making....butter!
At this point I figured this batch was a goner and just went for the butter. To make butter from cream in a mixer you just keep whipping the snot out of it until the fats clump together and you have a butter glob in a pool of runny liquid. This is what I achieved. But interestingly, it tasted a lot like white chocolate. So, when life hands you white chocolate butter, make white chocolate buttercream frosting. Also, save the white chocolate buttermilk to put in your coffee.
So, here's how to make a stunning cake with lots of improvisation, a sprinkling of colorful language, and a jug of heavy cream.
Raspberry White Chocolate Birthday Cake
adapted from Baking by Dorrie Greenspan
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/4 sticks (10 Tbsp) unsalted butter or white chocolate butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
1- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 deg. F. Butter two 9 x 2-inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet. (Note: I used 8-inch cake pans. I can't wait to get my new prescription for my glasses!)
2- Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3- In an electric mixer beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don't be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermillk, adding the dry ingreients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (beginning and ending with the dry ingredients): scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
4 - Bake for 28-30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and spriny to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the center will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for about 2 minutes, then unmold, remove the paper and invert to cool to room temperature right side up on the rack.
5 - To assemble the cake, when the layers have cooled, level off the tops with a serrated knife. Then with a gentle sawing motion, cut each layer in half. Place one half layer on your cake plate, top that with a generous amount of raspberry filling. Place the other half on top of that and spread a generous amount of frosting. Repeat with the other two layer halves and then frost the cake, crowning it with a ring of plump, juicy raspberries. On a hot day, store in the refrigerator to keep the frosting and berries from wilting.
Best quality raspberry jam. I used a jar of low-sugar freezer jam that a friend gave me. It was bursting with raspberry flavor and was a good foil for the sweetness of the frosting.
White chocolate buttercream Frosting:
1/4 cup unsalted butter or white chocolate butter
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp almond flavoring extract
4-4-1/2 cups (454 g) sifted confectioners' sugar
5 Tbsp milk, more or less as needed
In an electric mixer, cream the butter until soft. Beat in the salt and almond extract.
With the mixer on lowest speed, gradually beat in the sugar and milk, in 4 alternating batches. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater.
Beat on high speed until creamy. Add more milk if needed for proper spreading consistency. This can be made in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature and whip smooth before using.
White Chocolate Butter:
This can be used in the cake, as well as the frosting, to impart a subtle white chocolate taste. I'm looking forward to trying it in some cookies.
6 oz. premium-quality white chocolate, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1- Put the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl and put the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Stir frequently to melt the chocolate evenly. Meanwhile, bring 1/2 cup of the heavy cream to a boil.
2- When the white chocolat is melted, remove the bowl from the pan. Pour the hot cream into the melted chocolate and let it sit for a minute. Using a small spatula, stir the chocolate gently until it is smooth. Let it sit on the counter until it reaches room temperature.
3- Pour the remaining cream into a mixing bowl. Using a whisk attachment or hand mixer, beat the cream until it holds soft peaks. Turn the machine to high, add the cooled white chocolate all at once and continue to beat until the whipped cream holds firm peaks. (If you want to keep it like this, turn off the machine, press a piece of plasti wrap gently against the surface to seal it and refrigerate for 2 hours.) If you want white chocolate butter, continue beating on high. The cream will break up into small curds and the curds will start to clump together. When it's mainly one big clump swimming in a milky liquid, turn off the mixer and use a rubber spatula to press against the butter, encouraing it to stick together and forcing out liquid, pouring off the liquid (save it for coffee!) as it appears. When you've removed most of the liquid, put the bowl in the refrigerator. Remove it every 20 minutes or so to press out any remaining liquid from inside the butter.