Happy New Year to you and yours! In the aftermath of the holiday season, on the 2nd day of the new year, I slowly began taking down the Christmas tree. Our IKEA tree was duly packed up in its green zip-up case and resigned to the kellar. A few vestiges of Christmas still remain around the house though. My little nativity scene, for example. In theory, the nativity scene stays until today, the 6th of January, the feast of Epiphany, when the three magi (wise men) visited the baby Jesus. But aside from this very traditional reason for holding on to the nativity, I’m still not ready to let go of all things Yuletide-related.
Christmas this year was the warmest we’ve been this winter. With gorgeous sunshine flooding the dining room most days during Christmas break, I was of course, reminded of Christmas in India. Give me a white Christmas and I’ll be happy, but give me a sun-splashed Christmas, and I’ll be as chirpy as a song bird.
This Christmas, we made a big deal of Santa for the first time. Our three-year old is now at the age where he has an opinion on everything, and demands to know ‘why’ things are the way they are. On Christmas eve, he asked me where our chimney was. I should have known what was coming, before pointing to the chimney over our hob. “But how will Santa come through that?” he was reasonably bewildered.
New Year was nearly as quiet as Christmas this year. Some of our plans to meet with friends over winter break fell through due to various kids’s illness. And since I’m so used to having a full house usually, I thought this would land up being the dullest winter break ever. Turns out, a mellow Christmas and New Year is not so bad after all. We visited a museum in Lucerne, watched Frozen (first movie the toddler ever sat through) had copious amount of food and wine. And as a bonus, we had a good amount of snowfall this week, good enough for some playtime, snow ball fights, snow angles and sledge rides in the park.
I made this cake for our New Year dinner with friends. It was originally planned for a larger group, which included 7 children. Since our plans fell through, and we were just 2 families, it turned out to be too much cake for our little group. But as a testament to its deliciousness, none of it remained a day later!
This cake, meant primarily for the children, was inspired by Unicorn colors, and frosted in buttercream tinted with blue and pink, with a jam and buttercream filling. I also made my first batch of French Macarons, which turned our just about ok – the macs spread out too much and the glossy sheen on the surface wasn’t there. However, for a first attempt at macarons, I’d say I did reasonably well! I’ll be trying more macaron recipes soon, and hope to hit success at some point. I did use some of the the macarons I made to garnish the cake. I simply crushed them and sprinkled them over the top, for some texture.
For the cake layers, I used a fool-proof recipe by Dorie Greenspan, which uses only egg whites and no yolks. The result is a beautiful white cake, denser than an angel cake. In short, the perfect party cake.
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Perfect Party Cake with Cranberry Buttercream
- 2 1/4 cups cake flour see notes for substitution
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cups buttermilk see notes for substitution
- 4 large egg whites at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 1 stick 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Cranberry Buttercream:
- 5 egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 350 gm unsalted butter cubed, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Cranberry jam or cranberry syrup
- Extra cranberry jam for the filling
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 150 C (300 F). Butter two 8 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
- For the cake layers:
- 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 beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, using either a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer
- The butter and sugar should become 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
- Give the batter a a final 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 40 minutes minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch - a skewer 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 cranberry buttercream:
- Set a saucepan filled one-third full of water over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer.
- Whisk together the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a large heatproof bowl. Set over the simmering water and whisk until the mixture is hot to the touch and the sugar has dissolved.
- Transfer the mixture to a large metal mixing bowl. Use a stand mixer of best results. I use a hand-held mixer, which takes around 30 minutes to whip the buttercream until it is set.
- Beat on low speed for 2 minutes. Increase to medium-high until stiff peaks are formed.
- Continue beating at medium-high speed until the mixture is fluffy and has cooled (the mixing bowl should feel cool to the touch).
- On medium-low speed, add the butter, a few cubes at a time, beating until well incorporated before the next addition. The buttercream will appear to curdle, which is normal. This happens because the the butter 'shocks' the meringue when it is added.
- Add the vanilla extract and the cranberry jam or syrup, and food coloring, if desired. I added a couple of drops of gel food coloring.
- Beat until the frosting is thick and completely smooth.
- To Assemble:
- Using a serrated knife, slice each cake layer in half to get 4 layers.Spread a heaped teaspoon of cranberry jam over one layer, and smooth it out using an off-set spatula. Over this pipe out some buttercream and spread this with a spatula. Cover with the next layer of cake. Repeat with the next three layers. Using an offset spatula and a turntable to frost the edges neatly. Optionally, top the cake with some crushed meringue for texture. I used raspberry flavored macarons, which I crushed and sprinkled on top of the cake.
2. Cake Flour is flour with low gluten content, which can be measured by its protein content. Cake flour should have a protein content in the range of 7-8%. In Switzerland, we don´t have easy access to cake flour. All purpose flour (APF), also called as Weissmehl, has a protein content of 12%. Convert APF to cake flour by using the following ratio: 1 cup of cake flour = (1 cup of all purpose flour - 2 tablespoons) + 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
3. To make buttermilk, which is not easily available in Switzerland, you could mix yoghurt and milk in the ratio: 1 cup buttermilk = 1/3 cup whole milk + 2/3 cup yoghurt. Mix this well and use in place of buttermilk
4. As with most cake recipes, always make sure all ingredients you use are at room temperature, keep your eggs, buttermilk and butter on the counter at least an hour before you begin baking
5. A word on Swiss meringue buttercream (SMBC) - This is a very stable, fluffy and light buttercream, a favorite in my books. The light texture is due to the meringue that is created with the egg whites. The amount of sweetness is much less that regular buttercream which uses confectioners sugar and butter. It is perfect for frosting a cake, and spreads easily and very evenly. Extremely resilient, SMBC can stay fresh if kept on the counter at room temperature for upto 24 hours and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. SMBC should ideally be served at room temperature. If kept refrigerated, you can take it out when needed, let it reach room temperature and re-whip it for 5 minutes.
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