Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Special Birthday Cake

My mother always made a big fuss whenever a birthday came around. Lots of presents, lots of attention, lots of love. A special dinner. A little reminiscing about how things unfolded at the hospital on the day you were born. And, of course, a special 

birthday cake, which was always a devil’s food cake frosted with whipped cream. She tinted the whipped cream in pastel colors—pink, yellow and green--a different one for each layer. I loved those cakes because they were so simple and pretty, and so delicious. 

Today, on a whim, I decided to make my own birthday cake for the first time in my life. The cake was inspired by my mother’s special birthday cake, but I frosted it with vanilla buttercream instead of whipped cream. I tinted the filling for each layer a different shade 

of pink, and topped the cake with pink sanding sugar and tall pink candles. The result is a birthday cake fit for a princess. Though I am far from that, I do like to eat special cake on my birthday, especially one that brings back a flood of good memories for my very happy childhood.

Devil’s Food Cake with Vanilla Chambord Buttercream

Makes two 9-inch cake layers
Storage: at room temperature, wrapped in foil, for up to 5 days

Devil’s Food Cake:
2 2/3 cups (11.3 oz/322 g) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups (17.5 oz/500 g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1.4 oz/41 g) natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup (160 ml) sour cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
10 tablespoons (5 oz/142 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup (160 ml) safflower or corn oil
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) ice-cold water

Vanilla Chambord Buttercream:
1 cup (7 oz/ 200 g) granulated sugar
5 large egg whites
3 tablespoons (45 ml) water
2 cups (4 sticks/1 lb/454 g) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 tablespoon Chambord raspberry liqueur
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pink food coloring

Pink sanding sugar for garnish

Make the cake layers:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans.  Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper, cut to fit. Grease the paper. Dust the paper and sides of the pans with flour and tap out the excess.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.
3. In another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs until blended. Whisk in the sour cream and vanilla extract until blended. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the melted butter and oil together at low speed. Add the cold water and mix to blend. Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix at medium-low speed for 1 minute. Add the egg mixture and mix for another minute until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
5. Bake the cakes for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Set the pans on wire racks and cool the cakes for 15 minutes.
6. Invert the cakes onto the racks, peel off the paper, and cool completely.

Make the buttercream:
7. Pour enough water into a skillet so that it comes 1/2-inch up its sides. Bring the water to a simmer; reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer.
8. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, egg whites, and water. Place the bowl in the skillet of water and whisk gently until the mixture registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer.
9. Transfer the bowl to the mixer stand and, using the whisk attachment, beat at medium-high speed until the meringue is cool and forms stiff, shiny peaks, about 5 minutes.
10. Reduce the speed to medium and beat in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Beat in the Chambord and vanilla. Beat at high speed until the buttercream is smooth, about 1 minute.

Assemble the cake:
11. Trim the domed tops off of each cake layer to make them even (reserve the trimmings for snacking). Cut each cake layer in half horizontally, to make 4 layers.
12. Divide the buttercream in half and divide one of halves among three small bowls. Color the buttercream in each of the three bowls a different shade of pink.
13. Place one of the cake layers on a cardboard cake round and frost the top with the darkest shade of pink. Top with another layer and frost it with the buttercream that is next lightest shade of pink. Top with another cake layer, and frost it with the lightest shade of pink buttercream. Top with the final cake layer, and frost with the untinted buttercream. Sprinkle the top of the cake with pink sanding sugar.