Friday, February 6, 2015
Vanilla Bean Cake with Whipped Dulce de Leche Frosting
Well, today's post sure couldn't be more different than my last post! On Tuesday, I shared a recipe for an amazingly simple and flavorful Meyer Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt. It's a classic flavor combination (who doesn't love lemon and poppy seed, am I right?), and quick to whip up. It's an effortless Bundt cake that packs a ton of bright and assertive flavor in every single bite. It's my kind of cake! Today's cake on the other hand, is pretty much everything that Meyer lemon cake is not. It requires a little more thought and planning, the flavors aren't as bold, and takes a bit more time to prepare than a simple Bundt cake. Despite all that, this cake is just as amazing. Fluffy vanilla bean cakes layered with sweet dulce de leche, and then carefully covered in a dreamy whipped dulce de leche frosting. There's nothing seasonal about it, but it sure was tasty.
I normally don't make layer cakes because I really don't like frosting that much and since they take longer to make than Bundt or loaf cakes, they're usually low on my priority list. Every now and then though, inspiration strikes and I get an idea that I just need to make, or I get an urge to just make one for no real reason. This past weekend, the latter situation took place. During an editorial meeting at work, we had been bouncing around ideas and someone very quickly mentioned "layer cake." Just hearing those words made me realize that I needed to make one. I didn't know what flavor, or what I wanted it to look like...I only knew for sure that I would be baking up something fancy.
Even though this cake was meant to be a little fancier than an everyday cake, I didn't want to make anything too over the top. The first flavor that came to mind was dulce de leche. I went to Colombia in December last year, and I made sure to bring a decent amount of dulce de leche, or arequipe, as it's known there, back with me. There, dulce de leche is as popular as Nutella is here; you can find it in and on just about everything. It's even eaten by the spoonful as dessert! It's a popular filling for cakes too, and since I had a lot of ready made dulce de leche at my disposal, it was just what I was looking for. If you don't have any pre-made dulce de leche, that shouldn't stop you from making this cake. It's actually very easy to make your own at home. All you need is a can of condensed milk and a pressure cooker! My mom has been making dulce de leche this way for as long as I can remember, and it tastes exactly the same as the store-bought version. I've been obsessed with this caramel spread ever since I was a little girl, so when the idea for a dulce de leche cake happened, I knew that was it.
To pair with the dulce de leche, I wanted something clean and simple. Part of me wanted to make a coconut cake (kind of along the lines of an alfajor), but I couldn't fully commit to the coconut flavor. I ended up making a vanilla bean cake, which was a lovely addition because it didn't compete at all with the dulce de leche, but complemented it nicely. This vanilla bean cake is made with the reverse creaming method, which seems odd the first couple of times you make it. In the reverse cream method, rather than cream together butter and sugar as the first step, small bits of butter are added into the dry ingredients, followed by some of the milk, and then followed by the last bit of milk and eggs. It's a different way of mixing together the same ingredients, but yields a fluffier cake with a much more tender crumb. The method becomes natural after a few times of using it, and it's a method I highly recommend for everyone to experiment with. Once the cake batter is mixed up, the rest is no different than any other cake. The batter is divided evenly among baking pans (use a scale for accuracy!) and then baked. Once cooled (do not rush this!), the cakes are leveled and a layer of dulce de leche is spread on top. I used my favorite whipped frosting as the base for the dulce de leche, and gave the cake a quick crumb coat. After chilling in the fridge for a half hour or so, I simply spread on the remaining frosting, adding a pretty swirl and white sprinkles to finish off the cake.
This cake was perfect, in so many ways. Most importantly, I got the layer cake making out of my system (I was getting obsessed with the idea!). Second, it was just delicious. The vanilla bean cake is one that I'm sure I'll make again and again. It's light and fluffy, and perfectly stable. The vanilla bean flavor is pronounced, and I'm sure it would be a wonderful addition to any flavor cake, and would make for a really incredible true vanilla cake. I loved using the dulce de leche as the filling between the cake layers. It's such a welcome change to a cake with only frosting, and it adds a whole new dimension to the cake. In the overall scheme of fancy layer cakes, this one is actually quite simple, yet just as much of a showstopper. Enjoy!
Vanilla Bean Cake with Whipped Dulce de Leche Frosting
cake recipe adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes
For the Cake
3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar, scant
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter,
at room temperature, cut in small pieces
1 1/3 cups milk, divided
5 egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the Frosting
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups dulce de leche, divided
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Spray 3 8-inch baking pans with nonstick spray, flour, and line with parchment paper.
Place the flour, sugar, baking power, and salt in the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix the ingredients for a few seconds, just to incorporate. Add the vanilla bean seeds (reserve the pod to make vanilla sugar!) and mix to incorporate. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add the butter a few pieces at a time (every 10 seconds or so). Add 1 cup of the milk and mix to incorporate. Raise the speed to medium, and beat until the batter is light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
In a measuring cup, whisk together the remaining milk, egg whites, and vanilla extract. With the mixer running on low speed, add the milk mixture to the bowl in 3 additions, scraping the bowl down every now and then. Mix only until just incorporated. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans (use a kitchen scale for accuracy).
Bake the cakes until they are golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto wire racks. Remove the waxed paper and allow to cool completely.
Once the cakes have cooled, prepare the whipped dulce de leche frosting. In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter on medium speed for 8 minutes (it will be pale and very fluffy). Add 1/2 cup dulce de leche, powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla extract and mix on low speed for 1 minute. Raise the speed and mix for an additional 6 minutes, until the frosting is smooth and fluffy.
To assemble the cake, begin by leveling the cakes. The easiest way to do this is to place one of the cakes in a quarter sheet pan and place a long serrated knife across the rims of the sheet pan. Using a gentle sawing motion, move the knife back and forth, slicing through the cake, while keeping both ends of the knife on the sheet pan. The top of the cake will come right off in one piece, and the best part is that all of your cakes will be the exact same height so you'll have even layers (and lots of cake scraps to snack on!).
Place a small dab of dulce de leche on a cake plate and place one of the leveled cakes on top, cut side down. Spread 1/2 cup of dulce de leche on top. Place another cake over the frosting, cut side down, and spread a layer of the last 1/2 cup of dulce de leche on top. Place the last cake on top. Crumb-coat your cake by covering it in a very thin layer of the whipped dulce de leche frosting to seal the crumbs. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes to firm up the crumb coat. Once firm, add a thicker layer of frosting all around the cake and frost as desired. Refrigerate the cake to firm up the frosting before slicing. Enjoy!
Makes 1 3-layer 8-inch cake