Today is my lovely Sister-in-Law Lura’s birthday. Happy Birthday Lura! I hope you’re having a wonderful day today.
This last weekend was her birthday party. Almost all of our family get togethers are a group effort, so that no one has to do all of the cooking. I decided that I wanted to try to bake a cake. The thing is, I’m not much of a baker. Too precise, too worky. I prefer cooking, where there’s more room for mistake and enough grace to fix things if you can. Nonetheless, for some reason, I wanted to make a cake. Partly because Lura loves cake, and partly because I received a tiny bottle of Fiori di Sicilia for Christmas, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to try it. It’s an Italian flavoring, with dominant flavors of orange and vanilla. The instructions say that people don’t really know what they’re tasting, just that your recipe tastes better than when they make it. Who wouldn’t want to try something like that? So, for a cake with a hint of orange and vanilla, I decided on a yellow cake with strawberry puree between the layers, and a buttercream frosting. And I did NOT want a dry cake. I hate dry cake, and it’s so damn common. So I looked online, and got some advice from my Facebook friend (who I know in real life, but haven’t seen in about 20 years), who spent several years as a pastry chef. The online advice was to add fat, and I remember my roommate back in the day used to add an extra egg and some extra oil to his cakes, and they were always delicious and never dry. So I bought a box of yellow cake mix, increased the eggs from 3 to 4, added 1/2 tsp of Fiori di Sicilia, lowered the temp from 325 to 300 (supposed to reduce the dome effect and give you a more even cake), and took it out of the oven the very second that a toothpick came out clean.
Then I left for a few hours, and watched Girl Scouts sell cookies in front of a grocery store. My Girl Scout was home sick, but I’m the ‘cookie mom’ of the troop, so I went anyway. When I came home, my FB friend had given the following excellent advice:
Let the layers cool. Wrap in plastic and put in the fridge. Cool cake is easier to cut. Make a simple syrup (usually one to one water and sugar, but feel free to throw in some vanilla extract, booze, etc.) when you cut the layers, use a pastry brush and soak the cake as you go: layer of cake, brush on the soak, filling, layer of cake, soak, filling…chill after each layer to help set if your filling is soft. For the out side, chill the cake, put on a thin crumb cost of frosting, then put on a thicker layer. Chill each time to help keep the thing solid. Take your time, a decent chianti makes things move along a bit quicker.
(here I asked, should I frost tonight, or in the morning? We’re going to a brunch…)
Frost it tonight to the crumb coat on the outside. Cover in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. In the morning, pull it out and do the final coat, finish it on your platter. It should still be cold enough inside to travel without sliding apart, but be up to room temp when you eat it. Cold cake sucks. You can frost the whole thing if you have a big enough plastic case to keep it in, you also need a ton of room for the override cake box in your fridge. Do you have a cardboard round to put it on to get started? The cardboard makes it easier to move it around as you build, then put a little sticky tape on the bottom when you drop it on the serving platter, it will help to keep it from sliding off. Have fun.
I followed this advice, and it was a delicious, really moist, yummy cake. As a matter of fact, it was SO moist, that the bottom of the cake box was a little wet. I think the bottom layer of the cake was too thin, and the simple syrup soak soaked right through. Also, the strawberry puree I made was very thin. The buttercream frosting was a tiny bit too sweet for me, but I’m not sure how you would fix that, as it’s just butter, milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Maybe I needed a bit more milk? It’ll probably be awhile before I make another cake (though Maya’s birthday is later this month, so never say never), so I’ll probably forget all of this advice by then. Good thing I have a blog to remind me, no?