I turned 25 on Monday which gave me the perfect excuse to spend an afternoon baking a wonderful layer cake rather than learning the many exceptions to the hearsay rule and the difference between the common law and the MPC for murder. It is a little hard to believe that I am 25 because some how I feel like I would be more established, more adult-like. But I guess that is what happens when 3 years gets sucked away to law school. My Mom claims she didn’t really feel like adult until I was born (she was 37) so I guess I really have some time. But making a (successful) cake from scratch, rather than from the oh so simple (and what the hell is in it) box, makes me feel a little older and wiser.
After looking at the recipe indexes of a few of the usual suspects, I decided to actually pull a book off my shelf and see if any inspiration struck. I knew that I wanted to use chocolate ganache because I had stocked up on Valrhona bars during my last Trader Joes run and strawberries because I have been a bit obsessed. I decided to start with Dorie’s “Perfect Party Cake” and simply omitted the lemon and add a little vanilla.
It was indeed the perfect party cake. I started it at 2PM and it was ready and out the door by 6. I brought it with me to a joint birthday dinner (my best friend Roman turned a few years over 25) at one of my favorite vietnamese spots and we then enjoyed it at a bar over games of pool and darts and tasty Belgium Beers. A Happy Birthday Indeed.
Vanilla Cake with Strawberries and Chocolate Ganache.
Adapted from Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake (p. 250) *I omitted the lemon zest and extract and added vanilla*
For the Cake:
2 1/4 cups cake flour (I used 2 cups cake flour and 1/4 AP b/c I ran out-worked fine)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 Egg whites (save the yolks for some homemade pasta!)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: sliced strawberries or other fruit that is in season or preserves (go crazy and experiment!)
For Chocolate Ganache:
12 oz of good bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 cups of heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350F. Spray two 9X2 inch round cake pans with cooking spray. (Dorie suggests lining the bottoms with greased parchment or wax paper but I didn’t bother and the cakes came out of the pans fine).
Sift or stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl (or the measuring cup like I did). Cream the sugar and butter together in a mixing bowl with the paddle attachment at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add 1/3 of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining 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. Lastly, give the batter a good 2 min beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. [I think this is the most important step to make the cake very light and fluffy.]
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth out the tops if necessary. Bake for 30 to 35 mins, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch. A thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 mins. Run a knife around the sides of the cake, unmold them. Invert and cool right side up.
Make the ganache as follows: Bring cream to a simmer in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate until smooth. Transfer ganache to a bowl and chill, covered, stirring occasionally, until thickened but spreadable, about 1-2 hours.
Assemble the cake: Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard round or plate. Spread with some of the ganache. Top with sliced strawberries or preserves. Top with another cake layer and repeat. Using the remaining ganache to ice the entire cake. Top the cake with quartered or sliced strawberries. [I finally spent the $4 for an offset spatula. If you don’t have one, it really makes icing a cake super easy and way more fun.]