I purchased cake flour for the first time in my life and, proceeding with hopeful caution, modified Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake recipe. Why cautiously? Honestly, I didn’t know that it would work. I ditched the lemon zest, substituted vanilla extract for lemon, and did away with the raspberry filling and coconut. There’s a distinct reason I feared baking for so many years: unlike cooking, there’s no way to taste-test before serving, lest you hack off a piece of somebody’s else’s birthday cake – but even then, if you screw up, you can’t add a little of this or that to doctor it up. Baking is a science of leaveners and acids; a science I’m learning but on which I'm certainly not an authority.
The original from Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. Photo from a fellow food blogger.
Fortunately though, the baking gods smiled upon me and it was better than I could have hoped: moist but spongy, airy but firm, and it rose perfectly and evenly during baking, eliminating the need to even the tops out with a serrated knife. The two nine-inch layers (that I cut in half to make 4 layers – I had a ton of frosting) were a perfect, gorgeous canvas for my also-experimental strawberry cream cheese icing (see part 3).
Here’s my modified recipe, and a link to the original:
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups half and half
1 tsp red wine vinegar (trust me)
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and place a large baking sheet on the top rack of your oven (I'm not sure how, but I believe this has something to do with the evenness of the cake tops). Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered wax paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the half and half and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and the butter in a mixing bowl, and beat with a hand or stand mixer at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the vanilla extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
I know it seems very specific, but even though I happen to hate sifiting, I followed the instructions to the letter and arrived at the best cake I’ve ever pulled out of my oven. It’s worth it to do as Dorie says.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a toothpick inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes. Cool to room temperature (or be impatient like me and stick them in the freezer), turn over on to a plate and remove wax paper. If you choose to cut the layers in half to double up, use a serrated knife and make a clean cut halfway through each layer.
Next up: frosting and assembly.