It happened!! Ben & I are officially engaged and now we’re one step closer to our dream wedding cake, made by yours truly. We got engaged three weeks ago in the courtyard of the Boston Public Library, which is also one of my favorite places in the world. It is absolutely beautiful and I’m so excited to start planning this wedding – especially the cake. In addition to all of the excitement of the engagement (which included a beautiful dinner with both of our families, a lovely afternoon tea for the newly engaged lovebirds and of course, a gorgeous ring), we thought it would be nice to have a dessert and champagne celebration with some of my friends back home. Naturally, I used this as an excuse to bake a cake.
I’ve been wanting to try the semi-naked cake trend for a while – not only is it absolutely beautiful but it lighter on the icing, of course. And while I love frosting as much as the next person, cake decorating requires a TON of frosting, most of which gets scraped off by caterers and guests anyway. Why not make my life easier, have less frosting to make and still have a cake that tastes sufficiently and deliciously frosted?
For this cake, I used Tara, from Smells Like Home’s, vanilla-bean birthday cake recipe. I paired it with a simple Swiss-meringue buttercream frosting. From her recipe, I made 3-9inch round cakes. I ended up only using 2 of the layers in my cake (cut in half) and froze the last one.
Overall Pros & Cons:
Pros: Although this cake used 9 egg whites and 0 egg yolks, it was still dense without being wet. As you’ll remember, the last cake I tried was a bit too fluffy for my taste, given the use of the egg whites. The texture of this cake was spot on. And, as Tara promised, it was truly, deeply vanilla. It didn’t taste like a “plain cake” it tasted like a definitive vanilla flavored cake.
Cons: For taste, it was great that the cake was VERY most, however that made decorating a bit difficult. Some of my guests said it tasted like cornbread, which I didn’t quite get, but was not my desired taste. Multiple people said this, too, independently of each other. I think if I were to do it again, I would maybe mix the buttermilk with regular milk or add a little bit more sugar.
Taste Test: B+
I enjoyed the taste of this one much more than the amaretto cream cake I made last month. The real star of this cake was the flavor – the vanilla flavor of it. I’ve found that a lot of times, vanilla is just the default flavor. It is often relatively flavor-less, in my opinion. This vanilla flavor was the real deal. The vanilla was not overpowering but it was also not the default plain vanilla flavor that is often what people mean when they say “vanilla.” The depth of the flavor was really impressive. First, you taste the vanilla and then you taste the butter, and then are hit with one more wave of vanilla. This was a cake that really had a definitive flavor, even though it could have ended up as simple and plain.
The only let down here is that I am not as enamored with the way the frosting blends with this cake. I think a denser frosting may have complimented the cake better, rather than a light and airy Swiss meringue buttercream. This has really inspired me to take on American buttercream, despite how sweet it is. I’m inspired to find an American buttercream recipe (or some hybrid recipe) that is light in flavor and not too sweet, but is a little heavier and creamier than a meringue based buttercream. I want the lightness of flavor of the meringue buttercream but not the lightness of the texture. I want something I can feel on my tongue a little bit as it melts in my mouth. Tara actually includes a buttercream frosting here which uses heavy cream in addition to butter, which I can only imagine pairs beautifully with this cake and I will definitely be sure to try as I explore frostings.
Freeze Test: TBD
Will update in one month when I defrost the layer I did not include!
Decoration Test: A-
I loved decorating this cake. I am so pleased with the outcome. As anticipated, this was a pretty simple way to decorate a beautiful cake. This particular recipe worked really well for a semi-naked cake because the outside edges of the layers of cake were so beautifully golden browned. That seems to be the key to semi-naked cakes, from what I’ve read. Another benefit of the semi-naked cake decoration is that the frosting you use is white and that’s what creates the look, so no need to bother with coloring your frosting! Cutting out steps but not sacrificing on the beauty is what I’m all about.
For the flowers, I used beautiful purple flowers that I found at the grocery store. I didn’t put the flowers into the cake until just before the party. When you’re using real flowers to decorate cakes, you need to make sure you have food-safe floral tape on hand. A lot of cake decorating is about illusions, if we’re being honest, and this is no exception. To decorate a cake with real flowers:
1. You clip the flowers down to basically just the flower itself, with about a centimeter of stem.
2. Hold a toothpick next to the stem and wrap the two together using food-safe floral tape. You’re basically creating the illusion of a longer stem, but the stem here isn’t a plant that will seep its liquids into your beautiful cake. The stem is just a toothpick.
3. Place the toothpick into your cake wherever you want the flower to be!
Batch Test: A
This was such an easy batter to bring together! The only slightly involved step here is separating a LOT of eggs. But it is a must and will probably be a mainstay of every vanilla based cake recipe. The egg whites keep the cake white, rather than the unsightly yellow that harkens back to everyone’s 5th birthday. Other than separating egg whites, it is a really simple, basic cake recipe that doesn’t require a million bowls.
Overall Score: B+ I am so pleased with the flavor of this cake, the simplicity of the recipe and the beautiful color of the cooked cake that facilitated a well executed semi-naked cake decoration. I would love to try this again with a mixture of milk and buttermilk to make it a little less savory.