Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lavender Lemon Verbena Cake

I can still vividly smell the sweet lavender of this exquisite cake (helps that I just had a smidgen of a leftover piece for breakfast...). And although I do not recommend turning on your oven on a hot 90+ degree summer day, if you're going to do it, this is the cake to make it worth your while. I've been plotting to bake a cake using some of the vibrant summer herbs we've been getting in at Saltie. It seems like I'm always plotting some type of cake.... but that's besides the point. This cake needed to be made. So when my uber eager friend, Lauren, messaged me about a little one-on-one baking session for her blog, chasing chi, I was all in. I love a good excuse to bake a cake. 

A bright summery cake incorporating seasonal aromatic herbs would be the perfect fit for Lauren's blog post (and for our taste buds). The pieces just fell together from there; I had just made the most amazing lemon balm ice cream at work, which I couldn't get enough of, Lauren confessed her undying love for lavender, and that same day we got some beautiful lemon verbena in at Saltie from Guy Jones. I love a good lemon lavender combo. Really any herb with lemon... So with some herbal advice from my boss (the herb guru), I decided to infuse my favorite chiffon cake recipe with lavender and lemon verbena,  make a lemon balm lemon cream, and lavender buttercream. Lemon balm has a beautiful but somewhat subtle lemon scent and since it doesn't tend to hold up to heat very well, folding it in to an already cooled lemon cream seemed like the way to go. Lemon verbena on the other hand has a much more intense smell and tastes more lemony than lemon balm. It's integrity, along with lavender's, would hold up nicely in a 325 oven for 45 minutes, no problem. Lavender buttercream was just a given.

Lavender Lemon Verbena Chiffon Cake (adapted from Tartine's Basic Chiffon Cake)
makes two 9" rounds cakes or two 8" square cakes

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp basking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 large egg yolks, room temp
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
10 large egg whites, room temp

1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp lavender, ground (I like to grind mine in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of course sea salt to help break it up)
1/4 cups lemona verbena, minced

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of cake pan with parchment paper cut to fit exactly. No need to grease the pan. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, 1 1/4 cups of the sugar, salt, and the prepared lavender and lemon verbena. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, egg yolks, water, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Make a well in the flour, add the yolk mixture, and whisk thoroughly and quickly for about 1 minutes until very smooth.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a medium size mixing bowl with a hand mixer), beat the egg whites with the whisk attachment until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and beat on medium-high speed until it holds soft peaks. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar slowly while beating on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks. Add a third of the egg whites and fold into the flour/yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in the rest of the whites until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top if necessary. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-55 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once cool, run a thin knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake an then release and lift off the pan sides. Invert the cake and peel off the parchment.
Lemon Cream with Fresh Lemon Balm (adapted from Tartine's Lemon Cream)

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp lemon juice
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
3/4 sugar
pinch salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup lemon balm, minced

In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the lemon juice, eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Whisk them together constantly until very thick, or 180°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat and let it cool down until warm to touch or 140°F on a thermometer, stirring occasionally to help release some of the heat. Place the lemon cream in a blender, add the butter in small pieces. Allow to cool completely before folding in minced lemon balm. (You may refrigerate it, but allow to come to cool room temperature before using.)

Lavender Buttercream (adapted from Miri in the Village)

2 cups milk
2 Tbsp lavender
10 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Pour the milk into a sauce pan along with culinary lavender. Put the pan over medium heat and stir the lavender thoroughly throughout the milk. Heat until scalding. Turn off heat and let steep for approximately 20 minutes. At this point you can strain the lavender out if you want a more refined buttercream, or leave some of the flower bits in for a more rustic frosting. Turn heat on low and gradually whisk in the flour, 2 Tbsp at a time until well blended. Continue stirring until it has reached a consistency of cupcake batter. Immediately remove from heat and sink the entire sauce pan into a bowl of ice water. Let cool for approximately 15 minutes. When the mixture has reached room temperature, stir in the vanilla. Using the stand mixer paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. At the cooled milk and flour mixture and beat for about 10 minutes, until light and fluffy. 

Now for the best part! To assemble the cake, first make sure all components have cooled completely. Cut each cake in half horizontally into four equal layers. Place the first layer on a serving plate lined with parchment paper around sides. Start by brushing the first layer with lemon syrup. This time I used a preserved lemon syrup by Morris Kitchen because it looked really yummy and I'm a sucker for made-in-Brooklyn specialty food items. It was good but probably not worth the money. Making your own lemon syrup is super easy - 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup lemon juice. Bring water and sugar to a boil over medium heat. Let cool before chilling in refrigerator for about 30 minutes, and then stir in lemon juice. Next time maybe I'll try spicing it up with some cardamom and pink peppercorns like the Morris Kitchen syrup.

Next spread 1/3 of the lemon cream as evenly as possible. Gently place the second cake layer on top and repeat with lemon syrup and lemon cream. Once you have the fourth cake layer stacked, moisten with the remaining syrup, cover the cake with plastic wrap and let cool for two hours (or overnight). Unwrap the cake and using an offset spatula, spread the room temp buttercream all over. Smooth or leave textured. Whatever you prefer. Decorate with whole lavender flowers. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wedding Cake Chronicles: An Introduction

Ahem. I have an exciting announcement to make. No mom, I'm not pregnant. I'm baking my first wedding cake!!!! Well, technically it's a "love party" cake for my friends, Bobby and Emma (I believe Bobby coined that one himself). These two love birds are such beautiful, down-to-earth people, I'm just over the moon that I get to contribute to their big day. I love making cakes for special occasions and this is just about as special as they get. Meet Emma and Bobby.


So when is this Love Party taking place? August 11th to be exact. I have two and half months to obsess about cakes. And obsess I shall. I've read blog after blog on first time DIY wedding cakes, I've had some great chats with bakers and cake decorators, I've flipped through books galore, and I've already baked two test cakes. I will be sharing all of my cake learnings here throughout the process. Hopefully this will be a comprehensive go-to guide for those planning their first wedding cake. Here are some initial questions to ask to kickoff the planning process: 

  • How many guests? Or if it's too early to know for sure, a min and max is a good starting point.
  • What is the time and location of reception?
  • Will it be indoor or outdoor, and if outdoor, what are the likely weather conditions?
  • Will there be enough space to assemble and decorate on site? Transporting beautifully stacked cakes sounds like a meltdown waiting to happen.
  • Name and contact info for wedding coordinator.
  • Does the reception venue have cooler space available for cake storage?
  • How many tiers should the cake be? This is both a matter of preference and practicality.
  • Does the couple prefer square or round cakes? Fondant or frosting?
  • What type of cake(s)??? One of the best parts of the planning process, for sure.
  • How will it be decorated? Are their prominent wedding colors or themes? 
  • And once you have all these questions answered, you can start figuring out what baking/assembling/decorating/serving supplies are needed. 

No need to cover all the details now (there will be plenty of follow up posts), but here's the gist of it. Summer wedding Love Party on a farm in Connecticut. 125-150 guests. Three tiered (12", 9", 6") round cake with two different cake flavors: a tiramisu inspired cake for the top and bottom tiers (because it's Bobby and Emma's favorite dessert EVER) and some type of lemon/seasonal berry combo for the middle tier and back-up sheet cake (hoping to get the berry's from the farm they're getting married at!). The final look will be saved as a surprise until the very end. And as with all of my baking, I will be using the very best ingredients available to me, choosing local and organic whenever possible. Not only will this make the cake 10x better, but it will truly be Emma's cake. Her passion for quality ingredients is inspiring.

Here are a couple pictures from my tiramisu test run. My mom and dad's birthday weekend lent the perfect excuse for some extravagant cake baking. Espresso soaked chiffon cake, mascarpone filling with scattered bittersweet chocolate chunks, Italian buttercream. This Tiramisu cake was divine. 

Photo by shantilly picnic
Photo by shantilly picnic

Pretty right? I got the cocoa decorating idea and bits and pieces of the recipe off Smitten Kitchen. Everybody loved this tiramisu birthday cake! I'll be experimenting just a tad more with the espresso syrup, type of liquor used (I used brandy in this first cake and it was good but very subtle), and I definitely need to find THE buttercream recipe. Lots to come, including final recipes, my recommendations for supplies, assembly tips, and pictures of the Love Party Cake. Stay tuned!