Sunday, March 30, 2008

Easter Sunday and The Perfect Party Cake

Matthew 28:5-7 

 The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, Who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.' Now I have told you."

This year Easter plans got off to a slow start. My youngest daughter was to be going to Central Oregon with her husband to visit his family, and our good friends the Yeatons, who often get together with us on Easter, were going somewhere else, and I was having a hard time pinning down the other daughters. Then on a day early in the week before Easter my mother calls and says that she wanted to have a family Easter get-together at the retirement home where she lives on the week after Easter. Somehow that just didn't seem like a good idea to me so I found myself saying why don't we have the event at my house on Easter. She thought that was a great idea. Perhaps that is what she was fishing for all along. Now the group I'm talking about is the same that came on Thanksgiving, and that was over 40 people. But this was late notice, and I was figuring we wouldn't have that many people. I suggested to Mom that she do the inviting, and that it would be pot-luck. We decided that she would bring the greens for a salad, and how much she brought depended on how many came. She had wanted to bring a Chinese chicken salad made with lettuce, but I knew I would be serving ham and scalloped potatoes and that did not seem like a good combination. And besides, at my house we make Chinese Chicken Salad with cabbage.

Mom called back a couple days later and said that the only family member available to come was cousin Jennifer and her fiancé Haig, as well as my Mom and Dad. That is interesting, because they weren't there at Thanksgiving. She also said that she couldn't get an answer out of my brother George - no surprise there. I just figured he wouldn't show. That made a perfect number for dinner - 10 at the table plus Emily at the corner in her highchair. I felt good about how things were working out. And also, that meant that the Daring Baker cake would be just the right size for dessert. If 40 people were coming I would be in trouble.

Easter Sunday Menu

green salad with orange salad dressing
French bread
fruit salad (brought by Jennifer) with yogurt dressing

baked glazed ham
scalloped potatoes
steamed asparagus with butter and garlic

the perfect party cake

I had much earlier purchased the m&m candies for the Easter hunt, but I decided that I didn't have the energy this year, and Christian hasn't really seemed to have gotten into the spirit of the whole thing anyway. When I was a kid we all loved the hunt, but there was eventually 8 of us in on the hunt, and that makes for a lot more excitement. But at the last minute I came up with a terrific solution. I got a lovely large basket from the basement (there's amazing amount a things in my basement) and I put some tissue paper in the bottom, topped with a linen napkin, and then poured in all the candy, putting some of the candy into about a dozen little plastic eggs. Then I topped it off with a very cute little bunny I found on the third floor and a great big bow on the top of the handle, punctuated with some silk violets, also just found laying about. Then I put the basket on the "lion" in the front hall. People could just take what they wanted and it turned out to be a very well received idea.

The entry from the front hall to the living room is about 11 feet wide and on either side, jutting into the space, are two 30 inch high things we call "the lions" because they remind us of majestic entries in Hong Kong, where we once lived. There used to be a pillar on each "lion", but they were removed way before our time. I have a tendency to give everything a name of some kind. That way people know what I'm talking about. One of them can be seen here in this picture of my grandson Christian.

On Easter morning the first cooking I did was to get the bread started before we went to church, and Riley made blueberry muffins. Afterwards family members gathered at our house to get the dinner and the house ready. Emily and I started right in on the cake as the bread was not quite ready for its second rising. I wasn't going to make the butter cream until after dinner, but the layers needed to be made. Emily thought that the lemon was delightful, and she was quite pleased to able to help get the pans ready. We actually did two sets of pans because I missed the part in the directions that called for 2 inch pans, which luckily I did have down in the basement.

Mid making the cake the bread was ready to be punched down and ready for its second rise. Again Emily was a very willing helper. I absolutely love people with enthusiasm and Emily gets an A+ for enthusiasm.I'm so glad that she likes to cook. Between the two of us we got the bread dough all punched down, rested a bit, and the smushed for the second rise. Emily was so delighted with the dough that she put her face right to the dough and took a bite.

Right about this time daughter number two started in on her scalloped potatoes. This is Annie, and she also loves to cook. I think daughter number three helped her somewhat. This is Corey, and she's not quite as fond of cooking, but she's good at it when she decides to cook. And also at about this same time the Yeatons arrived unexpectedly. They brought us a cute little bag filled with Easter goodies. Right away they began to help. Ken set the table and Marilyn did the washing up. It's so nice to have good friends. While we were all working we all had tea. After about an hour Ken and Marilyn left, as they were having dinner out of town.

Shortly after the Yeatons left my parents arrived, and then Jennifer and Haige arrived and it really began to feel like a party. More tea was made, but Riley gave a Scotch to my dad. I've never seen my Dad drink tea. The girls all enjoyed getting to know Haise, who is talkative but pleasant and enthusiastic about things. By 2:30 the bread was done and we all sat down for the first course of salads and bread. The bread was a huge success, and most of it was gone before the main course.

Just as we were finishing the salad and Emily was being taken upstairs for a nap my brother George showed up with his two boys, Taku and Tatsu. We quickly made room for them at the end of the table. More salad was made and the bread was passed around again. I was glad they came, and I think they had a nice time. George later helped me with the photographs of the cake. We were still all sitting at the table talking by 5 o'clock. I still hadn't put the cake together, but Jennifer and Haige had to leave, as they were having guests at their house.

But as soon as they left I started in on the butter-cream. First I got a cake plate out, put a doily on it, and cut the layers in half. I chose rhubarb-cherry jam for the filling, as daughter number three did not like the idea of raspberry. Then I put on a pan of water, put the egg whites and sugar in my mixing bowl and set it over the pan of steaming water and stir until the mixture was warm to the touch and the sugar looked disolved. This is always the scary part. Then I wupped up the egg whites until they were cool, and tossed in the very soft butter, one cube at a time, and mixed very well. The butter-cream went together very nicely, and in no time I had the cake ready for the coconut. I'd never coconut all over a cake before. It's a bit of a pain, or should I say it takes a pains taking effort. I should have decorated the cake more, but it was definitely time for dessert, so I went with a cake that looked as much like the picture in Dorie's book as I could manage.

The cake was very well received by everyone, and when all was done there was less than a quarter of the cake still left.

Well I'm just leaving for Seattle for the Opening Day of Mariner's Baseball, and I will finish this blog later.

Now I'm back. We had a great time in Seattle, but it sure is colder up there than it is down here! The Mariners won the opening game of the season, but it took J J Putz longer than usual to close the top of the ninth, and the next day they lost when a Ranger got a home-run off of him. This is VERY unusual. Turns out he has an injury, and now he's on the DL for fifteen days. I sure hope he gets all better. He's my favorite player, though I'm fond of most of the Mariners.

My Critique of the Perfect Party Cake

Well like I said, the cake was very well received. I suspect that I might have been the only one who wasn't so fond of it. But for me the problem was that I put the coconut on it at my husband's request and it made the cake too sweet for me. I think that coconut would be better on a seven minute frosting, or white mountain frosting, but not butter cream. But this was not the cake's problem, but mine.

The cake was very easy to make. The only hitch was when I didn't think it was cooked enough because it was soooo pale. But it's a white cake, and white is pale.  I didn't think the layers rose enough and I would like to try this cake with whipping up the whites separately and folding them in.  I'm a really big fan of cakes that use no artificial leavening.  

The butter cream came together very easily. Maybe the reason it seemed easy was because I have already made butter cream for the December Daring Baker event. Nothing like having a little experience.

But I had to serve the cake immediately after assembling it, and I think it would have greatly benefitted from being chilled a couple of hours. I like my butter cream to be hard.

I didn't use the lemon essence because I didn't have any and I don't like a phony lemon taste. But I think I would have liked the cake to taste more lemony.

I'm not a fancy cake decorator and when I began to look at what other Daring Bakers did to decorate their cakes I was absolutely blown away. They got so creative, while I just followed the recipe. My husband thought that my chocolate ganache would have been a great filling. How about it one used the chocolate filling with the flavoring as orange, and maybe some brandy added somewhere. And I liked the idea of topping the cake with toasted almonds. And what if one used candied toasted almonds.

Great cake really. I must try it again sometime, with variations of course.

The Perfect Party Cake

for the cake

2 ½ cups cake flour
 ( or 10 ounces all-purpose flour, sifted)
1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (you can add some lemon juice)

4 large egg whites

1 ½ cups sugar

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

for the butter-cream

1 cup sugar

4 large egg whites

3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

for finishing

anything you like to put between the layers of the cake, like jam or curd or berries

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease two 9 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or wax paper and lightly grease the parchment.

To Make the Cake

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 or another large 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 beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the 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 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean

Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.

Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Butter-cream

Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan 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, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.

Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 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. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

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 butter-cream.

Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).

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 it gently all over the sides and top.


The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. [I (Molly) think it is better if it is in the refrigerator for a couple hours]

Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.


The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around

Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." 
Albert Einstein


Passionate baker...& beyond said...

Hey Molly...thanks for stopping by. Love your blog name...& loved reading yr DB post. Emily is absolutely PRECIOUS...& the entire family as predictable as families can be! What fun...hope the cake was enjoyed! Lol

Deborah said...

It sounds like a wonderful Easter! Great job on your cake!

glamah16 said...

What a beautiful and loving family. That chid is adorable(your little helper).

ruthEbabes said...

Hey Molly! thanks for stopping by my blog!

Your cake looks fab, love the idea of the rhubarb cherry jam in it too!

Jennifer said...

Great looking cake, and a great post! :) Happy Easter.

Lunch Buckets said...

Good job (all of you)! I don't think I've ever tasted rhubarb, should probably remedy that!

Miss Ifi said...

Congratulations on your beautiful cake! hmmm I wonder how big the cake would have to be to feed 40 people!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A delicious looking cake! A nice Easter dinner dessert... Very well done!



Judy said...

What a busy Easter you had! The cake was lovely and the dinner sounded delicious. I would second the idea of using a chocolate ganache as a filling for the cake.

Sheltie Girl said...

You did a wonderful job on your cake.

Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

familiabencomo said...

Oh, how I envy your huge family celebration! How fun! Love your cake too. Successes all around.

xoxox Amy

Gabi said...

You are so lucky to have a large family and friends that feel they can just show up! Your cake turned out beautifully- really nice layers. Thanks for your very nice comment on mine :)

jasmine said...

Rhubarb-cherry jam? Wow...that sounds really good...


Cookie baker Lynn said...

Your cake looks beautiful - perfect for an Easter gathering!

Go Mariners!

BC said...

You are one busy woman!

When I look at the other Daring Bakers amazing cakes, I wonder too. How can they make such beautiful cakes - mine are very rustic!