We have a whole bunch of new readers here at Rose Water & Orange Blossoms, which is why I’m both thrilled—and mortified!—to welcome you with . . . cake. Thrilled because, well, you’re here and cake is cake, and when a new friend comes over, a cake is just the ticket. Mortified because, well, you’re here for Lebanese recipes, we all are, and this—this is not one!
I promise we have many (many!) more Lebanese recipes to come. But it has been pointed out to me more than once that my cookbook, and probably this blog, are nearly as much sweet as they are savory. This is not traditional Lebanese-style; it’s traditional Maureen-style. Sometimes it seems I wrote the book just so I could enjoy the adventure of pastry and dessert recipe development, my own kind of fantasia (I’m not called Sugar Shoes for nothing).
I must have missed all of that recipe testing, for all of the recipes that work and even those that don’t, because I put myself back at it recently with cake. And not just any cake. A wedding cake. One I’m baking, filling, crumb-coating, decorating, stacking in tiers and delivering to a wedding reception as though I’m a pastry chef or something.
My thing for cake extends far back, and I will say I my urge for cake decorating is as much a family legacy as the koosa-stuffing or the grape leaf-rolling. My grandmother Abowd baked and decorated cakes the way she did everything (and she did do everything, same as my mother): like a pro. I keep Alice’s cake decorating kit always at-hand as good karma, if not for actual use. I pulled it out when I baked my sister’s high school graduation cake, and then when got all over these gorgeous cookies a few years back, but that clearly was just prep for the wedding cake crazy bake-off I’m into right now.
Dan and I both have a thing for cake, so much so that our wedding cake was waaaay oversized, far bigger than what we needed. But wedding cakes aren’t really about need to begin with, are they? I loved that thing as much as my own gown, and the whole family must have been acutely aware, because this past week when Dan and I celebrated our first anniversary, he and Steven gifted me with a replica of the top tier of the cake! Oh! No better gift than cake, especially this beauty.
And what good timing, because I’ve been testing and retesting recipes for the wedding cake I’m baking for my adorable friend Kelsey, who is getting married, just like we did, in Harbor Springs this weekend.
I had no idea how near-impossible it is to bake a white cake from scratch that tastes great with a light and fluffy texture. You may find that ridiculous and if you do, I beg you to send me your recipe. I’ve baked every kind of white cake and asked every person on the planet I know who bakes cakes, wedding and otherwise, about their cake and their buttercream and anything else they’ll tell me. Seriously, it comes up in the grocery checkout line, pumping gas, etc.
Last year when our own wedding cake was being made, I took a little trip over to Cheboygan the day before the wedding (cray cray bride) to watch them put it all together at Bella e Dolce, the north’s finest cake bakery. Those consummate pros were gracious, letting me come in and take photos (and notes) to see how it’s all done. I didn’t know I’d bake a wedding cake a year later, but I must have hoped I would get to do this somewhere along the line, for the study I made of it.
Before you get scared that I’m going to give you a useless wedding cake recipe here, not to worry. As Dan said when I finally landed on a fluffy white cake rather than the dense bricks I’d been churning out: this is just a real good one to have going forward.
For birthdays. For Christmas. For Fourth of July. Because who doesn’t want a nice slice of flag cake after you down a couple of hot dogs in the backyard, as long as you’re indulging? Our people really do, because the big ole’ flag cake we bake every year is gone with the wind before the parade is done. But up until this year, I was totally unsatisfied with my white cake recipe.
You’d think I would just cave and use the boxed white cake mix that puts out an unnaturally good fluff of a cake. I was shocked when a baker downstate told me she uses a box when I asked after she made a glorious (and waaaay oversized, just how I like it) cake for Dan’s birthday back in December. And same with a few other bakers I’ve spoken with. But the pastry chef wanna-be in me won’t let me do it. Even when I was on my third test cake of the week last week and was back at the grocery store for more cake flour, and Dan came down the aisle with boxes of white cake mix saying “how ‘bout these honey?”—I was tempted, but had to Just Say No.
So here: here is a fluffy white homemade cake you can count on. Use it for your flag cake this weekend or any other cake obsession you may have, with the buttercream that makes you happy (here, it’s American-style, with no egg whites at all). Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram to see how the final wedding cake turns out later this week!
- For the cake:
- 5 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1 whole egg, room temperature
- 1 cup whole milk, room temperature, divided
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or pure lemon extract
- 3 cups cake flour, sifted
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon fresh baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold and cut into ½ tablespoon pieces
- For the buttercream:
- 1 lb. unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 lb. cream cheese, softened
- 6 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 3-5 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla or lemon extract
- pinch of salt
- For the flag decoration:
- 5 pints raspberries
- 1 pint blueberries
- For the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour one 18x13x1½-inch pan (pan size can vary, just fill to about halfway up the sides of the pan, or less, and use batter in more than one pan if needed).
- In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk the egg whites, whole egg, ¼ cup of the milk, and vanilla. Set this aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the dry ingredients until combined. Using the paddle attachment on low speed, add the butter one piece at a time until the mixture is a fine crumbly texture. Add the remaining milk and continue to mix on low for about five minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches, mixing on low until light and fluffy, another 3-5 minutes. Scrape and fold the batter.
- Scrape the batter into the pan and spread it evenly. Bake until the cake is spongy in the center when touched with the tip of your fingers, or until a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs when inserted in the center, about 30 minutes. Be very careful not to overbake! Start checking for donness at 20 minutes.
- If you’re serving the cake from the pan, cool the cake in the pan on a rack. Otherwise, let the cake rest for 10 minutes, loosen the sides with a knife, then flip the cake out carefully onto the back of a sheet pan or other large surface for serving. Frost the cake when it is completely cool.
- For the buttercream:
- In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until it is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar in several batches (to avoid a big poof when you turn on the mixer) and mix on low to incorporate. Add the vanilla or other flavoring and the salt, and then add a tablespoon of milk with each addition of confectioner’s sugar—but only enough milk to make the buttercream smooth; be careful not to add too much liquid. The buttercream should be thick and spreadable, but still holding its shape.
- The buttercream can be made several days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using.
- To decorate the cake, smooth a couple of cups of the buttercream over the top (and sides if it's turned out of the pan. Or not! Exposed sides are lovely too). Score the cake with a knife for the stars and stripes as a guide. Use a piping bag fitted with a flower tip, or simply fill a gallon-sized plastic ziplock bag with buttercream, and snip off the end. Pipe rosettes or simple large dots for the stars in the upper left corner, and top each with a blueberry. Make four double horizontal rows of raspberries for the strips, piping icing decoratively in between. Beautiful! Delicious!