Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Buttermilk, Berries, and Mascarpone Cream Cake
If you've been keeping up with my last few posts on the blog or been stalking me on Instagram, you will have certainly come across a few hints at "an awesome/extravagant/amazing/anything-but-simple/delicious" layer cake. I'm normally a simple and easy snack cake kinda gal, but every now and then I get a craving to get totally fancy and overly-complicated and spend the better part of my day in kitchen making a single cake. It doesn't happen often, but the mood struck a few weeks ago, and all I could think about, were layer cakes. I became obsessed, and it was becoming problematic, because I just couldn't shake the thought. The only way to fix the situation was to go ahead and actually make myself an epic cake, but I was holding myself back because I was faced with the same problem that always stops me from making layer cakes in the first place. What the heck do I do with a giant layer cake once I'm done photographing it!?
I generally don't make layer cakes often simply because I just don't know what to do with them in the end. If there's no birthday party or big family gathering happening during the same weekend, I'm stuck with a giant layer cake in my house, and that's not a good thing. My dad doesn't like frosted cakes, my mom usually thinks 85% of the things are too sweet, and well, as much as I love cake, I don't love it enough to eat an entire cake by myself (my pants and other clothes thank me for this). Fortunately, however, my latest layer cake craving just so happened to coincide with news that my close friends/former roommates from college were having a potluck style housewarming dinner, which for me, meant only one thing. CAKE. I had the perfect opportunity to make giant cake, and there would be lots of people around to eat it. These types of occasions don't happen all too often, so I knew that my contribution for this potluck party just had to be cake. I didn't know what kind of cake yet, but there would be cake.
I had a really, really difficult time deciding what kind of cake I wanted to make. The only condition I gave myself was that it had to somehow a spring celebration kind of cake, and I didn't want any heavy components in it. I automatically ruled out anything with chocolate, peanut butter, booze, and the like, and instead found myself debating between coconut, carrot, lemon meringue, and some kind of berry cake. I'm not going to even bore you with how long I debated between these four flavors and my arguments in favor of each because I would just end up embarrassing myself. Let's just say that I didn't really decide what I was going to make until the morning of the housewarming party and leave it at that. As I was researching different recipes, I came across a recipe for a buttermilk cake from Sweetapolita, and I couldn't get it out of my head. There was just something about it that made it seem so fluffy and delicious, and the perfect base for any cake that I could come up with. I had a container of mascarpone sitting in my fridge, and the idea of a mascarpone berries and cream cake sounded so right. It was the perfect cake for celebrating spring!
My plans for celebrating spring couldn't have come on a worse day. The day of the housewarming party felt like anything but a beautiful spring day. It was dark, gray, cold, and it just did not stop raining for the entire day. There I was in my living room, trying to photograph all these lovely spring flavors and coaxing every bit of sunlight I could possibly get to shine through my living room window, but the day was just not cooperating with me. Photographing the cake was a frustrating experience, but it was nothing compared to the frustration of actually transporting the cake from Long Island to Brooklyn in the middle of a huge rainstorm via very crowded public transportation. It wasn't fun and I was completely drenched by the time I arrived at my friends' place, but the cake made it in one piece. It was a perfect little ray of spring sunshine on that dark and dreary day.
Enough talk about all that though. Let's talk cake now. This buttermilk cake is without a doubt my brand new favorite cake recipe, and it's one that I can see myself making over and over again whenever I need to make a layer cake. It's lightly sweet, moist, and incredibly fluffy, and actually has a texture that is reminiscent of that of a boxed cake...I know it's a weird comparison, but who doesn't love the fluffiness of a cake made from boxed mix? The cake is mixed together in a slightly unusual order, but it's really not any more difficult than a traditionally mixed cake. This cake starts out with the reverse creaming method, in which cold butter is added to the dry ingredients first, rather than creaming softened butter with sugar, and then the liquid ingredients are added at the end. Mixing up the cake in this order is the secret behind its fluffy baked self. I know that there's a ton of ingredients and steps involved in the making of this cake, but really, none of it is overly difficult or complicated. In fact, you could make the berry compote and whipped mascarpone filling the day before and just leave them in the fridge and mix up the cake and frosting the next day. Don't be intimidated by the laundry list of ingredients because I promise you, this will be one of the best cakes you'll ever make.
My friends absolutely devoured this cake, literally. I knew this cake was a winner as I was putting it together, and I just couldn't wait until I could try it for myself. I was a little sad when I had to cut out a slice to photograph the interior, but my friends didn't mind that showed up with a cake that was missing a slice. They were too busy eating what was left! Now that it's finally feeling more like spring, this is the perfect cake to make for spring parties, Easter lunches, and more. Enjoy!
Buttermilk, Berries, and Mascarpone Cream Cake
cake, compote, mascarpone filling, and frosting recipes adapted slightly from Sweetapolita
For the Buttermilk Cake
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 1/4 buttermilk, shaken
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour, sifted (I used Softasilk)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, and diced into small pieces
For the Strawberry-Blackberry Compote
1 heaping cup fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
1 heaping cup fresh blackberries, washed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
pinch of salt
For the Whipped Masarpone Filling
2 tablespoons cold water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 3/4 cup heavy cream, cold
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, softened
pinch of salt
For the Whipped Vanilla Frosting
3 sticks + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Begin by preparing the buttermilk cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Lightly spray 3 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray and line the bottoms with wax paper. Lightly spray the pans again and flour, making sure to tap out the excess.
In a large measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the buttermilk, and vanilla extract. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low speed, just to combine. With the mixer running on low speed, add the cold butter to the mixer bowl, one piece at a time, about 10 seconds apart. It seems a little tedious, but trust me, this works. Once all the butter has been added, continue mixing until the butter has been blended and there are no clumps, about another minute and a half to two minutes. The mixture will have a very fine, crumbly, cornmeal-like texture.
Add the remaining 1 cup of buttermilk to the dry ingredients and mix on medium speed for 4 minutes, making sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl at the end to ensure that all the ingredients were incorporated. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and slowly pour in the egg mixture; once the egg mixture has been added, increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 more minute. Gently fold the batter once or twice to ensure that the egg mixture has been fully incorporated.
Divide the cake batter evenly among the three prepared pans (a kitchen scale is tremendously helpful here). Place two of the cake pans in the oven, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean , about 30-32 minutes. Bake the final layer. Set the cakes on a wire rack and let them cool for 10 minutes. Use an offset spatula to loosen the cakes from the baking pans and then invert them onto the wire racks. Carefully peel off the wax paper liner, and let the cakes cool completely.
While the cakes are cooling, prepare the berry compote. In a small saucepan, combine 3/4 cup of the sliced strawberries, 3/4 cup blackberries, sugar, lemon juice, and pinch of salt. Set the saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer for about 10 minutes, letting the berries break down. Lower the heat, and let the berries simmer for an additional ten minutes, until their syrup coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove the compote from the heat, and let cool to room temperature. With an immersion blender or hand masher, gently mash the berries a bit. Stir in the remaining fresh berries, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. The berry compote can easily be made the day before you need it.
To make the whipped mascarpone filling, combine the cold water and gelatin in a large metal bowl (not like I did for this photo!). Let the gelatin sit for ten minutes. In a small saucepan, bring 1/3 cup of the heavy cream to a simmer, and then stir in the gelatin mixture until it has dissolved. Refrigerate the mixture, stirring frequently, until it has cooled but hasn't set, about 7 minutes. In the bowl of a standard electric mixer (I like to chill my bowl in the fridge for a few minutes), beat the remaining heavy cream, confectioner's sugar, vanilla extract, and salt until soft peaks form. Very, very, very gradually add the gelatin mixture and beat until medium-firm peaks form. Gently fold in the softened mascarpone. Cover and keep chilled until ready to use.
When you're about ready to assemble the cake, prepare the whipped vanilla frosting. In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter for 8 minutes on medium speed. The butter will become pale and very creamy. Add in the remaining ingredients, mixing on low speed for 1 minute, and then on medium speed for another 6 minutes. The frosting will be very light and fluffy!
To assemble the cake, begin by leveling your cakes. Use a sharp serrated knife to gently remove the domed portion of each cake so that they are all the same height. An easy way to do this is to use a quarter sheet pan. Place one of the cakes on the sheet pan and position a sharp serrated knife so that it is resting on the outer rims of the sheet pan (I have a really long serrated knife that is longer than the width of my quarter sheet pan, so I can rest the blade on the rims on both sides of the sheet pan). Using a gentle back and forth sawing motion, work your way through the cake, making sure that the blade of your knife is constantly touching the ends of the sheet pan. This way, you'll know that you're moving the knife in a perfectly straight, horizontal direction, and your cake layers will all be the exact same height and be perfectly flat.
Now it's time to fill the cake layers. Fill a piping bag fitted with a plain, 1/2-inch round tip with about 1 cup of the whipped vanilla frosting and set aside. Place one of the leveled cake layers on a cake board or cake stand, and pipe a border of the vanilla frosting all the way around the top of the cake (this will act as a barrier to hold the other fillings). Spread about 1/3 cup of the whipped mascarpone filling over the cakein an even layer, followed by about half of the berry compote. Top this layer with a leveled cake, and add the vanilla frosting, whipped mascarpone filling, and berry compote in the same way as before. Top with the remaining cake.
To frost the cake, first apply a very thin coat of the vanilla frosting all around the top and sides of the cake. Use this first coat of frosting to even out the sides of the cake so that they're smooth and to help seal in the crumbs. Refrigerate the entire cake for about an hour to firm up the frosting. After an hour, tint the remaining whipped vanilla frosting to your desired color (I used Wilton gel colors), and apply a thicker coat of frosting all around the cake, and decorate with fresh berries if desired. Refrigerate the cake but serve at room temperature. Enjoy!
Makes 1 8-inch 3 layer cake