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the enkindled spring

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.” D.H. Lawrence

Spring evokes numerous images. Fresh flowers all in bloom. Chirping birds on the tree right outside my window. Soft dresses replacing tired jeans and sweaters. Reading a book out in the grass. Lazy dinners with the sun refusing to set. Fruit finally coming to the markets. Long walks around the neighborhood. Dinner parties where the laughter is the only accompanying soundtrack for the night. And white fluffy cakes.

I won’t say that I totally abandon chocolate cakes once April comes, but I’m more inclined to bake the fruity desserts, at least for a little bit until my need for bittersweet chocolate becomes overbearing.

When I first got my baking bible, Baking: from my home to yours, the image of the perfect party cake was a sight I couldn’t ignore. Yet I never had an urge to make my own party cake, probably because my idea of a party cake is a deeply dark chocolatey concoction. But when my mom requested that I bake a light and lemon-flavored cake for a friends birthday party, I immediately turned to Dorie’ party cake.

You can’t deny this cake’s appeal. A white vision topped with sweetened coconut and filled with lemon buttercream and fruit preserves, this is the answer to anyone’s party needs. How can your guests not be impressed when you step out of the kitchen with this beauty?!
As good as it looks, the cake tastes even better. The white cake is more spongelike, due to the whipped egg whites, and makes for a light bite. The buttercream frosting is to die for and complements the subtle lemon flavors in the cake. In fact, I plan to use this frosting in most other desserts as it is so versatile and delicious.

The coconut adds extra oomph to the texture and taste. Honestly, I don’t know if you can make this cake without it. You could try without the added coconut, but I’d rather not. I like a nice crunch with my cakes.I also reduced my cake to two layers instead of the recommended 3 layers in order to make it more transportable in my tupperware but let me warn you: doing this makes the cake a little uneasy when cutting into it. It really needs that extra layer to stabilize the fillings.

My mom came home from the party, glowing as she described all the oohs and ahhs she received when she gave the cake to the birthday girl. To say she was basking in all the cake’s glory might sound silly, but it’s true. And like a good mother, she sneaked a piece for me too. I’m a lucky girl.

Since I am slow on the bandwagon with this cake, I wanted to include some links to other people who have tried and loved this part cake. Cenk at Cafe Fernando made it and it looked divine. Over at Dessert First, the cake was minimized for individual portions which might be more suited for some of you. Check them out if you need further inspiration because this cake would make a great addition to any spring party.

Perfect Party Cake
From Baking: from my home to yours

Ingredients:

For the cake:
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 t grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 T) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 t pure lemon extract

Finishing touches:
2/3 c seedless raspberry preserves, stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 1/2 c sweetened shredded coconut

Lemon Buttercream Frosting:
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 t pure vanilla extract

Getting ready:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-x-2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.

Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, and the remaining dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2 minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper lines. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

To make the buttercream frosting:

Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one (I don’t, so I continued to use my hand mixer.) Add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6 to 10 minutes. During this time, the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny, smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream.

To assemble the cake:

Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer. Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting patting gently all over the sides and top.

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March 26, 2008 - 7:20 am

Cenk - Isn’t it finger-licking good? Dorie comes up with the best recipes! Thanks for the link!

March 26, 2008 - 8:34 am

a. grace - try it without the coconut?!? not an option! that looks great, and i’m glad your mom was able to snag you a piece! :)

March 27, 2008 - 7:01 am

Patricia Scarpin - It looks stunning, Amanda. Beautiful and delicious.

March 27, 2008 - 12:38 pm

Mansi - Dorie’s a genius at times!! I love coconut,a nd that cake looks just divine!!:)

April 1, 2008 - 7:13 am

point of no return « slow like honey - [...] gorgeous show-stoppers and they are tiny compared to other dessert options like the stunning Lemon Layer Cake or decadent Chocolate Buttermilk Birthday Cake. But these babies pack a mean [...]

October 30, 2008 - 7:18 am

Happy Blog-day! « Slow Like Honey - [...] Perfect Party Cake: as far as aesthetics go, this was one of the prettiest cakes I’ve made. Not to mention, it [...]

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