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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)

Well, I just got a sugar buzz looking at this! That's definite get down and get funky party cake!

Your cake looks fun! I'm sure it tasted delightful.

Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterSheltie Girl

Sometimes pure brattiness is totally acceptable! As a rule, I love to eat stuff that's super involved to make, but I don't like to make it. So I'll bake vicariously through you.

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterSurcie

your cake looks adorable! i'm new to your blog and i loved your description/breakdown of the recipe. i will be back...

March 31 | Unregistered Commenterkitten

Rolling on the floor as I laugh! Okay, a few comments. A) I love the corner cutting B)soy milk doesn't have the same level of acid in it as buttermilk, so that probably made your cake a little less tender; if there's a next time consider tossing in 1 Tbsp vinegar C)good call on mixing in all of the flour at once. I think I'll try that and see how it works.

March 31 | Unregistered Commenterchou

Your cake is such fun! Great job :)

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterKelly-Jane

I love cakes that only a mother would love! Your's is totally more accessible than some of your "followed the recipe to the t" fellow bakers.

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterEB

This is such a pretty cake! Love the Cakespy creativity! You really "owned" this recipe and made it yours. Now that's what I call a Daring Baker! ; )

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterAnali

Nice work on the challenge, your cake looks like it would be right at home at a fun party!

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

that cake looks very yummy! and what a fun thing..to be in a cake challenge...


March 31 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Evans

Love your post with all the corners cut! Cute cake- nice job!

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterGabi

Your cake is gorgeous! I love love love the mints! They're adorable!

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterAstra Libris

Now, who needs to be a slave to a recipe anyway? It's just a piece of paper ...

Woo I just joined Daring Bakers. Can't wait to give it a go!

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterJade Is Green!

LOL, I was rereading and saw how you broke the rules. That would be me. If they ever let me in daring bakers, they would kick me out just as swiftly letting the big revolving cyber door hit my brioche azzzz thrice times on my way out. *does not play well with others*.......damn kindergarten teacher had NO right to put that on my report card.

this is sooo cute cakespy!! never mind the breaking rules thing (oopps) what counts is that this cake is stunning and beautiful!!

April 1 | Unregistered CommenterDhanggit

Hey, if the creative side of you itches for something different, I don't see anything wrong with that! :) Looks scrumptious!

April 1 | Unregistered Commentercakewardrobe

yeah.. it's cool to hear an honest blog about what can and can't be skipped in a recipe. we are always making little tweaks. :) the cake turned out really cute. :) i'll have to try those little mints on cupcakes

April 1 | Unregistered Commenterjoanh

Megan: Thanks, it really was!

Anne: thanks! Aren't they happy?

Kate: Yup, bad to the bone, we are :-)

Mary: Well put! Certainly none of us had any trouble getting rid of the evidence ;-)

Cakelaw: Yes, it was joyous! Those happy little chips brighten up any day!

Chris: Yeah, they're the best--and they make all the difference visually!

Candace: Thank you!

Lydia: Thanks! Yeah, it was tough to get past that mental block--like, if it comes out badly all those ingredients are wasted! But it was not a waste in the end--woohoo!

Ruthebabes: Thanks, don't they just make everything more fun?

Geggie: Thanks! We ate it with little effort :-)

Catherine: Ha! We're get down and get funky spies.

Sheltie Girl: It wasn't bad, it wasn't bad! Though maybe not as good as some of the other entries!!

Surcie: with you on that one. We love eating those complicated desserts, but when it comes to making them...it just seems so...well, hard.

Kitten: Thanks! :-)

Chou: Ooh, I figured the soy milk must be doing something but wasn't sure what. I guess I can see how it made it a little tougher. We're not vegan but prefer soy milk so it happened to be what was around--thank you for the vinegar tip, because regardless, we sub soy milk all the time!

Kelly-Jane: Thanks! It was fun!

EB: yeah, definitely a mother's love for this cake--we can't help but feel protective of it. It was definitely not gourmet, but super fun.

Anali: Thanks! Nicely put, and we like that spin. We ARE daring!!

Hannah: Yeah! Everyday is a party with cakes like this!

Diana: Thanks!

Gabi: Thank you! Nicely cut corners, eh?

Astra: thanks! We love those mints so much it hurts.

TW: Yea! Color outside the lines!

Jade: Bitchin'! Can't wait to see your entries.

Obsessive foodie: Ha! Exactly, like getting in trouble for drawing outside of the lines, all over again. Luckily the Daring Bakers police seem to be friendly.

Dhanggit: Thanks!! You're too nice to us. Hope your travels were nice!

Cakewardrobe: Thanks! We did have fun and that counts for a lot!

Joan: Thanks! We were scared we'd outrage people but it seems everyone does it a little bit! :-)

April 1 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

What I love about these challenges is everyone's different take on it!

April 1 | Unregistered Commenternoble pig

Cake is still cake, yum. Still, I would challenge you to actually do the butter part the "right" way next time and see if it makes a difference in texture. There is a lot to be said for the creaming process, it adds air to the cake!

April 1 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

Sweet!! I need to join that daring bakers thing.... sounds like fun :-)
So great to meet you this past weekend!!!

April 1 | Unregistered CommenterVegan_Noodle


And extra points for mentioning Sherry Bobbins!!!

April 1 | Unregistered Commentercreampuff

What a fun looking cake! My son would want a big old slice of that! Anything with sprinkles is top of the charts.

Noble Pig: Yea, isn't that fun?

Jenny: Ok, ok :-) Consider us chastised!

Vegan Noodle: Yeah, and show us all up! AWESOME MEETING YOU too!

Creampuff: Thanks! And xoxo for the Simpsons love.

Cookie Baker Lynn: So right--like rays of sunshine when you add rainbow stuff!

April 1 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy
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