Everything about this Raspberry Buttercream Cake says “happy”! Happy Valentine’s Day, Happy Birthday, Happy Spring, Happy Summer, Happy to be Happy! The secret to the all-natural deep pink color and true raspberry flavor is freeze-dried raspberry powder. Total dream.
I don’t know if I love Valentine’s Day because it falls during my birthday week, or if I love my February birthday because it falls during Valentine’s Day week.
But both have always been celebrated with a theme of pink as the backdrop to most all of my February memories.
There is the pink birthday cake Mom always made, and strawberry dream shakes. There was always February special-ness in the air at our house, with pink Valentine boxes from Lieberman’s on the table that my dad left there for his three Valentine girls (how I wish I had a photo of them!). The origami-level wrap on those boxes was as exquisite as what we were to find within, always a pretty piece of jewelry like a pink heart necklace or fresh water pearl earrings with tiny amethysts.
I’ve gone on here in the past that pink is, essentially, my signature color. A couple of years ago, a gorgeous pink birthday cake arrived at my door from my sisters-in-law (for real, a cake arrived), and I’ve wanted to make my own version of that glory ever since.
I’ve worked on the piped twirl cake, which was glorious but also requires a massive amount of buttercream. So I opted for the Bill Knapp’s style flat-frost.
The flourish here is in the incredible shade and flavor of the raspberry buttercream, so flat-frost is no step-down. I used my mom’s chocolate buttercream method, which is American-style buttercream with just butter, confectioner’s sugar, and flavorings. Where cocoa powder is used for her chocolate buttercream, I used freeze-dried raspberry powder. The powder whizzes up with ease in food processor.
In place of vanilla: rose water. Because there is no finer pairing in food sensory glory than rose water with red berry. Restraint with the rose is essential, but rose water plays a perfect supporting role to the red berry diva.
And because I have a longstanding obsession with buttercream flowers that began with my grandmother Alice Abowd’s same obsession, I got after video upon video to see how one can make a simple, single rose for the center of my cake, or to top cupcakes as I did last year for Mom’s birthday. I have my grandmother’s kit of piping tips with instruction books, so I feel I come by all of this by way of family legacy.
The results of the pink cake adventure will knock the socks off of you, your Valentine, your cake plate! While I do love my fluffy white cake recipe, the cake is not the showstopper here. Even a footed cake plate adorned with roses, while glorious, is a member of the chorus. Use any white cake you will (I won’t tell, *boxed cake*), and any lovely plate in your pantry. It really doesn’t even matter what you, the Valentine, wear (so go ahead and be comfy), because once you layer this cake up on its plate and frost it up, then cut your slices, all eyes are going to be on that raspberry buttercream.
Cut the slices nice and big, and know that with this one, it’s worth it.
Raspberry Buttercream Cake
The secret to the natural deep pink color and raspberry flavor in this buttercream is freeze-dried raspberries. I also use freeze-dried strawberries for an equally beautiful color and flavor. Rose water is a perfect pairing with red berries, and in this buttercream? Divine. The fluffy white cake sets off the pink buttercream here, which is the star of the show--so feel free to use your favorite white cake recipe (or *box*...I won't tell). I made a buttercream rose for the center of the cake following many random how-to videos. You can do that too, or decorate with more sprinkles in the center of the cake, or fresh raspberries. The cake can be made in advance and frozen until ready to use. The cake can be frosted and refrigerated a couple of days in advance of serving.
For the cake:
- 5 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1 whole egg, room temperature
- 1 cup whole milk, room temperature, divided
- 2 teaspoons teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups cake flour, sifted
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold and cut into ½ tablespoon pieces
For the buttercream:
- 1 pouch freeze-dried raspberries (1.3 oz)
- 1 pound unsalted butter, softened
- 7 cups confectioners' sugar
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- 2-4 tablespoons whole milk, room temperature
- 1-2 tablespoons white sprinkles
For the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
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. This takes some time, but the fine crumb will happen with patience! 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 to incorporate everything.
Scrape the batter evenly into the pans. 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 over-bake! Start checking at 20 minutes.
Let the cake rest for 10 minutes, loosen the sides from the pan with a knife, then shake to loosen the cake from the bottom of the pan. Flip the cakes out carefully onto plates or other flat surface.
For the buttercream and assembly:
To make the raspberry powder, process the freeze-dried raspberries in the food processor until pulverized. Sift twice through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds.
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter until it is smooth. Add the raspberry powder and beat on low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl to get it all incorporated. 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 rose water, and then add a tablespoon of milk as you add the 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 but spreadable.
Slice the cake layers in half crosswise to make four layers; we're using three layers for this cake, so set one layer aside for another use (wrap well and freeze for later!).
Place one layer of the cake with the flattest side down so the cake will sit evenly. Coat the top with about 2/3 cup of the buttercream. Repeat this with a second layer. For the top layer, make sure the flattest side face up. Coat the exterior of the cake with buttercream. Smooth the sides and top.
Decorate the cake with sprinkles, buttercream roses, or raspberries.