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Cutting (Cake) Corners: Cakespy Experiments with a Daring Bakers Challenge

In case you didn't know it, the Cakespy team is part of a group called the Daring Bakers. Each month, a challenge is posted for members, and each member posts their results on the same day on their websites. This month, we were encountered by a challenge that was tres exciting to us: the Perfect Party Cake by Dorie Greenspan. But--and here's a moment of honesty--when we started looking through the recipe, it seemed awfully...involved. (Of course, at Cakespy, as much as we admire fine baking, we are the first to call ourselves expert tasters, novice bakers). And so, making like Shary Bobbins in the Simpsons, we decided to see how much we could get away with by "cutting every corner". But truly, this was an experiment of curiosity rather than pure brattiness. Though we suspected that our end result would be less than bakery-caliber, we wanted to know--would it be completely inedible? Or would it be, you know, kind of ok? Here's how it went.

Here's the original recipe, and the ways we messed around with it in blue italics:

For the Cake
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour (we used all-purpose)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (we used soy milk)
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (we left this out)
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature (we got impatient so we nuked it)
  • ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract (we left this out--no lemon handy)

For the Buttercream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice from 2 large lemons (we left this out)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing (we left this out--just frosted it, plain and simple)
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut


Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 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. (We didn't have parchment or waxed paper so we just buttered those babies and hoped for the best.)

To Make the Cake

  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
  3. 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. (since we had no lemon zest, we just added it to the butter and proceeded to step #4)
  4. 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.
  5. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. (we just added the flour mixture).
  6. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
  7. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
  8. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
  9. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
  10. 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
  11. 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. (ours came out just fine! yess!!)
  12. 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). (We put it in the fridge to kind of speed up the process, but then got nervous about it cooling unevenly and took it back out again to do it Dorie's way).
To Make the Buttercream
  1. 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.
  2. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. (Ours did, sort of).
  3. Remove the bowl from the heat.
  4. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
  5. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
  6. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
  7. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. (It did curdle, but we beat on and it did come together again--whew!).
  8. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. (We had no lemon juice to add).
  9. 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.

Sweet Cake MischiefSweet, Sweet Mischief 
To Assemble the Cake
  1. Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
  2. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. (We just put it on a plate).
  3. Spread it with one third of the preserves. (We skipped this, and just applied the buttercream to the sides and top).
  4. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
  5. 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).
  6. Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
  7. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top. (We didn't use any coconut, but we topped it with our favorite melty mints, which made it very happy-looking and, you know, covered a multitude of sins).
And so, having broken half of the rules in the recipe, how did it all turn out? Well, if we're completely truthful, our result was more "charming" in that only-a-mother-could-love-it kind of way, as opposed to say, showstoppers like this or this (both entrants who *ahem* followed the recipe...or, more so than us anyway). While the taste was good--certainly, our plates were cleaned without effort or complaint--it wasn't truly great. Ultimately, each step or ingredient that we deemed unnecessary during the baking process showed its importance in the final result--it lacked the certain je ne said quoi that the lemon likely lends to the final product; the presentation, while "rustic", lacked the panache and beauty that the preserves and strawberry would have given.
So, would we do it again? Well, OK, we might not be completely converted to following the recipe exactly--but we'll likely try much harder next time. After all, a lot of thought, testing and tasting goes into these recipes--and by people far better at baking than us--and hey, it's the least we can do to try to honor that expertise if we want a truly delectable baked good.


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Reader Comments (82)

Sometimes you need to cut corners, and this looks like it worked! Very cute!

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

What fun...I love the cake. It's so cute!

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterClaire

LOL at charming. That is a lovely way to put it. You rule breaker you. :)

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterPeabody

Super cute!

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I need to get some of those melty mints! Your cake looks great to me!

Very adorable! My little nephews would love that cake!

I love the melty mints! Where can I find them?

i love how you decorated with the pastel "melty mints"!! The cake looks yum yum yummy!

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterAlison Nicole

Sometimes you can break the rules and not be broken. I can go with charming.

That cake looks so yummy. I want a piece!

There are those yummy little mints again. I could eat those until I have a tummy ache, well I have actually. I was even so rude as to eat someone's at work one time because they let them sit around too long. UGH!

My kids would have sucked those mints right off that cake. Very fun...

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterLesley

I really like the retro look of this cake. Your writing is very entertaining, as well!

I LOVE it! I would devour that thing in no time flat :) Can't wait to join you all next month! I do love your blog!


March 30 | Unregistered CommenterC.L.

Linda: Thanks! True, the pastel minties do make it festive, don't they!?

Aran: Tee hee. Well, you know, it was really a matter of curiosity. Hope it didn't come off as disrespectful, but when we started talking about all the steps, it was hard not to wonder where the line could be drawn, etc! We did come out of it with a high respect for recipes--those steps are designed for a reason! By the way, yours was an inspiration!

Amy: Yup! It was a lot of fun! And it looks like your work paid off--yours is gorgeous! Bet it was super fun that night...

Ann: Ah! I forgot to add the links! They are added. I think I need to add yours too! It is like a Wayne Thiebaud painting!!

Sequana: You're right--we do have more respect for the recipe now :-) The naughtiness is out of our system!

GP: You're right. It was interesting to see how it would effect the finished product. It was heartening to see that it still tasted good, though it gave us a higher appreciation for why those steps are in place--we could definitely see where it could have improved.

Slush: Yea!!!!

Nancy: True--once you've been touching, smelling, and just "being" with a baked good like that, your taste is altered. You almost don't need to eat it. Almost.

And oh, those melty mints. They have them in the bulk aisle at the gourmet grocery store by our house. I have seen them at whole foods' bulk aisle too I think. They look like nonpareil chips!

Glamah16: Melty mints make everything better!

Rosie: And we're children at heart, so it was perfect for us! :-)

Cupcakelady: Oh, we still ate it. Don't get us wrong. ;-)

Recipegirl: Exactly! They made it very, very happy!

Krysta: Ooh, yeah! Would make a nice cupcake topper for kids' parties, methinks!

L Vanel: Ooh, thanks!

Wandering Coyote: You're right, and we know it. Just like in art school, we learned--before you break the rules, learn them!

Frantic foodie: thanks!

Passionate Baker: Thanks! Glad it still charmed you :-) Yours looked fan-tas-tic!

A. Grace: Oh yes, the best show!! Glad you too are a mad taster -- you can relate!!

CB: You're too cute, and glad you liked the reference--one of the best episodes EVER!!

Lydia: Thanks! Glad you forgive us :-)

Breadchick: Yeah, it was interesting! Just a little cultural experiment. But next time we think we'll follow the recipe a bit more faithfully.

Moonrat: I'd love to put a piece in a padded mailer so you could taste it...but it might be...er...compromised by the time it got there.

Lizzy: You're right! It still is a happy cake.

VeggieGirl: oh, thanks! You're too kind.

Eat Me, Delicious: yes, those melty mints forgive a multitude of sins!

Deborah: Thanks! :-)

Claire: Thank you so much! It is rather cute, isn't it?

Peabody: Yep--charming summed it up. Cute like a bulldog's ugly little face or something :-)

Karen: Thanks!

Proud Italian Cook: Thanks!

Stickygooey: Usually bulk aisles in grocery stores will have them, or confectionery shops.

Alison Nicole: Thanks! And aren't they festive?

MyKitchen: Nice way to put it! We broke the rules, and though we were left bent, we weren't left broken!

Jessy: Come over and have one!

Obsessive Foodie: Ha! I would probably do the same. If they didn't appreciate them enough... truly, their own damn fault.

Lesley: Funny, we did that too!

Prettytastycakes: Thanks! We loved your cake!!

CL: Can't wait to see yours next month! Merci!

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

It looks really tasty and fun!

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

You cake is simply lovely! The cute colorful circles added a wonderful touch :)

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterAnne

you rebels!

looks yummy and funky.

March 30 | Unregistered Commenterkate

Your melty mints make the cake look so nice and colourful! very very cute :D

March 30 | Unregistered Commentercoco

Looks great! I guess you cut the right corners.

Rebel or genius, it depends on one's perspective, doesn't it?

March 30 | Unregistered Commentermarye

Cakespy, I love your version of Dorie's cake - it looks joyous with the melty mints on top. Good work!

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterCakelaw

OOOOh! I haven't had those mints in Ions! They look like a great accompaniment to this cake. Great job!

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Nicely decorated!

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

I think this is the reason I don't bake -- in cooking, when I don't have an ingredient, I know how to substitute and manipulate the recipe to get an equally interesting, if not identical, result. In baking, I don't know the formulas and the science behind it, so if, for example, I didn't have lemon -- I'd just not make the cake! Hooray for you for trying it your way.

Fantastic post!

Your cake looks fab though! Those melty mints make it look so much fun!

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterruthEbabes

I think it looks beautiful and homemade and delicious!!

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterGeggie
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