Classic Vanilla Layer Cake with Fresh Berries (Project 150718)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I don't know if I was going to do, or if I was even able to do a good enough cake as last year's, but that's what pushing the envelope means. There wasn't much debate (in my head) what kind of cake it would be. Summer called for a fruit cake and this time, I was going to exploit ... er ... showcase the best of BC's produce - its berries! All types of it, in fact. It was going to be a berry-licious delight - with nature's bounty of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.

It warranted a simple vanilla cake to serve as a carrier for all the moist juicy goodness, and after a bit of research, I settled on one by Martha Stewart. Also most of the berry cakes I saw had a cream cheese frosting and hey ... why reinvent the wheel? So that was settled then. It would be a classic vanilla layer cake with fresh berries and cream cheese frosting!

This cake truly tested my skills. But I'll get to that later ... so read on. Good thing we didn't really have an elaborate feast around it. Asian culture dictates a birthday celebration should have noodles, because the long and winding pieces of starchy gluten signifies a long life ;) That was almost non-negotiable because of the presence of the 'esteemed maternal figure'. But since it was unbearably hot, I also had Max assemble a fresh medley of greens with an Asian themed dressing to accompany it. And that was the only thing on the table that wasn't disastrous! Lol!

The tablescape ... a simple affair with Chinese style longevity noodles and Mandarin cashew salad with Asian style dressing.

What 45? ;)

Vanilla Layer Cake
1 cup softened butter
1 & 3/4 cups sugar
4 eggs + 2 yolks at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla
3 cups cake flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 & 1/2 cups buttermilk

1. Grease, line, and flour three 8"(yields a taller layer) or 9" (what I used) cake pans.
2. Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, and salt in another bowl.
3. Position two racks in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
4. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
5. Beat in the eggs one yolk at a time, then the vanilla.
6. Fold in a third of the dry ingredients, then half of the buttermilk. Repeat, ending with the dry ingredients.
7. Pour the mixture into the cake pans, bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating them once risen.
8. When a skewer comes out clean, cool in the pan for 5-7 minutes before taking them out to cool completely.

Cake syrup
4 tbsp Grand Marnier
4 tbsp simple syrup

Cream Cheese Frosting
225 g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (or 115 g) softened butter, at room temperature
3 & 1/4 cups icing sugar
1 pinch orange/lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp heavy cream

1. Beat the cream cheese and butter until soft and light.
2. Beat in the icing sugar one cup at a time until smooth.
3. Beat in the zest, vanilla, and heavy cream until incorporated.

Assembling the cake
1. Set down one layer on a cake platter, brush with cake syrup, then frost the top with a 1/3 of the frosting.
2. Repeat until all three layers are stacked.
3. Artfully mound the berries on top of the frosting with a few sprigs of mint.

So you stuck around for the juicy stuff ... here's what went awry (to put it mildly). They say a good cook can make fantastic food, but a great one can fix the not-so-fantastic stuff. Well, this was a testament to not only skills, but imagination.

So the cake came out very well. The icing, however, not so. I multiplied the amount to 150% because it didn't look like a lot to me and forgot, or rather, just didn't add on enough icing sugar because, you know, I'm trying to cut down on it. Besides, it was tasting too sweet already. Then I placed the icing in the fridge to 'harden' coz it was on the soft side.

When it was time to frost the cake, I had initially placed berries between the layers and that's when it started to go from bad to worse. The cake layers, weighed down by gravity, started oozing the 'too soft frosting' out of its sides and down the perimeter. And because I wanted a 'naked' cake, this didn't bode well.

As we started piling on the berries on the very top, that's when the magic started to happen. Haha... that's when cake-mageddon started. Suddenly, well, actually, in slow motion, I saw the frosting carrying my gorgeous berries down its sides. OMG! I was almost freaking out. My first reaction was to freeze the whole cake, and so we did, for 5 minutes. Before I had a lightbulb moment. Then I took it out. I was going to re-imagine this cake. After all, I had a photo from pinterest I was trying to emulate. Scrap that!

We removed the cake from the freezer, scraped all frosting and berries from between the layers and on top of the cake. Then laid the three cake layers atop one another, sans the offending frosting. Used a bit of drenched berries to make a mound on top, keeping clear of the sides, and fortunately, had a ton of fresh berries (I shop at Costco) to decorate the top of the cake. Joy, of course, keeps fresh mint handy and that worked beautifully to break the monotony. Whew!

You can't always get what you want, or aimed for. But with a bit of imagination and creativity, you not only avert a hopeless situation, but more importantly, find out what you are made of ;)

The cake looks good, not great. The frosting was too sweet, and I'm glad I scraped a load off, but the berries - luscious, juicy and succulent, saved the day. It tasted great, everyone loved it, and I slept well.

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