As I mentioned in my last post, when I started looking for recipes to try, I was looking for a vanilla based cake with a delicate flavor that would be simple to bake in large batches and could be paired with a number of different types of frosting. While I love reading through online baking blogs and follow a number of truly inspirational bakers and bloggers, I wanted to start with a recipe a little more classic – something a little less innovative. Something where I could start with the basics to find my own baseline as I explore. That’s how I landed on a recipe from Southern Living Magazine for an amaretto cream wedding cake with Swiss meringue buttercream!
Overall Pros & Cons:
Pros: great taste, almond comes through distinctly but is not overpowering, frosting silky smooth and easy to color, fondant flowers simple to make and full of detail, freezes well and defrosts easily.
Cons: very light and airy and less of a dense crumbly cake, gets denser – which for me was a pro because I like dense cake but it does change after storage which may not be an overall pro – after storing (both storing in fridge and freezing then defrosting)
Taste Test: B
From this recipe, I made two batches which I used to fill 3 – 9 inch round cake tins and 2 – 6 inch round cake tins for my two-tiered cake. The bottom layer was 3 layers and the top layer was 2. The almond flavor comes through really beautifully. It’s definitely a strong and present flavor, rather than the light almond aftertaste that most yellow cakes with almond extract get. The texture of the cake is fairly light, though certainly not too airy. The recipe calls for whipped egg whites which are then folded into the batter which puts a lot of air into the cake. At room temperature after decoration, the cake was pretty light and airy. Almost too light and airy for my taste, as I prefer a slightly denser cake. The lightness of the cake felt a little less celebratory than I hoped. The airiness made the cake feel like a light addendum to a meal, which, while delicious and good for some occasions, is not how I want my wedding cake to be. I don’t want it to be a light final note to the meal, but rather a memorable, flavor packed cake that will be the cherry on top of a terrific meal that causes that last button that’s been bursting at the seam all night to finally pop off. I did not brush the tops with apricot jam, but rather went straight for the buttercream. In the end, I think I would have liked to brush the top with a light jam (probably apricot or peach) because I think the strength of the almond flavor, while delicious and a definitely plus for this recipe, needed something slightly more tart to cut through to really bring dimension to the recipe, rather than just a straightforward almond cake with no frills or depth.
The frosting was brilliant. It was marshmallowy and silky smooth. I did a Swiss meringue buttercream rather than a classic American buttercream. The Swiss meringue buttercream, like the classic American buttercream, uses a lot of butter. But the difference is that the Swiss meringue buttercream uses egg whites and granulated sugar, as opposed to confectioners sugar. It makes for a much silkier, smoother and slightly less sickly sweet frosting than the classic American buttercream. I didn’t try to pipe anything, rather opting for a pretty solid and sleek cake. I don’t know how piping would work with such a silky and flowy frosting, however having done piping in the past with an Italian meringue frosting, I imagine it would work similarly. With an Italian meringue (which also uses granulated sugar and egg whites, though through a different method), piping is possible, though because it is so silky, piping more structural shapes like flowers do sometimes require freezing before placing the structure on the cake. I give the frosting an A+ on its own.
Freeze Test: B
I wrapped the top tier of the cake in three layers of plastic wrap and covered it with a layer of aluminum foil. After freezing the top tier of my cake for a month and allowing it to defrost in the fridge overnight, I found the texture of the cake had changed reasonably. As opposed to the airy and light texture that the cake originally had, the cake after a month in the freezer was more dense and clearly had lost a lot of the air. Like I mentioned, I didn’t mind this because I was a little disappointed with how airy the cake had come out, but it is worth mentioning. Even after a few days in the fridge, the original tier of cake that had not been frozen was a bit denser.
Decoration Test: A
I decorated the cake pretty simply, trying my hand at fondant flowers for the first time. I think gum paste flowers probably allow for more detail and a more delicate and realistic texture for flowers, though I’ve heard gum paste is much more finicky to use. Fondant was pretty easily available for me, so that’s what I went with. I used a veining mold to texturize the flowers. Then I used powder color to dust the insides of the flower (with a q-tip!) to add some depth of color. Also, in case you didn’t already know, fondant is mostly decorative and tastes weird. I didn’t bother to taste the flowers, so I can’t speak to the flavors or textures at all.
For the tiers, I used standard wooden dowels. This presented a bit of a challenge getting it even, but it was my first try at a tiered cake so I think my own technique needs a bit of practice!
Frost Test: A
The frosting was easy to color and easy to spread. I opted for a crumb coat and then layered colored frosting on top. The frosting froze beautifully and defrosted beautifully as well.
Batch Test: C+
It was easy enough to double the batter, which I did, however because the batter requires whipped egg whites to be folded in, you need a lot of bowls to pull this off. If you are using a stand mixer, make sure you have more than one fitted bowl, or you’ll have to do a lot of washing and moving. I think whipping the egg whites also added a pretty hefty step that I’m ultimately not sure was worth it. The cake had a lovely delicate texture because of the whipped egg whites, but as I’ve said, it was not what I was looking for. More work and not my goal. Not bad at all, but not a keeper in that respect.
Overall Score: B- Overall, I love the flavor I achieved. I’m incredibly interested in an almond based cake after this endeavor, though I think I will want to continue to explore almond based cakes, especially ones where the almond flavor really comes true. The frosting recipe is such a keeper though. I might come back to it later when I’ve found the right cake recipe (though I’ll keep trying new frosting recipes to see if I can find one that’s even better!)