Daniel's 7th Birthday Cake
When I first had children and started celebrating their birthdays, I'd bake my own birthday cakes for their parties. The very first one I did I used a recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible book and it turned out really well. However, the frosting called for buttercream. While it was a really delicious and not-too-sweet buttercream frosting, it was still a LOT of butter! And I've always preferred fresh whipped cream whenever possible.
This recipe from Fine Cooking magazine has been my go-to cake recipe for all special occasions now. I've used it to bake birthday cakes and baby shower cakes. Just about any occasion that calls for a cake, I've made it. I'll tell you why.
Vanilla Butter Layer Cake with Fruit from House of Annie -- NOT a Bakery!
Better Than Store Bought
Firstly, the cake itself is so delicious and yet so easy to make. Secondly, I'm not a really good cake decorator so being able to pile on fruit makes a cake look so pretty without too much effort. Thirdly, fresh whipped cream is THE BOMB as frosting on a cake and can be easily whipped up and spread on the very day the cake is needed. Finally, the cake looks so professional (you know, people think layer cakes are hard to make) and I've had many people ask what bakery I bought the cake from.
The cake itself is a vanilla butter cake and the flavor is seriously amazing. The vanilla sings, and the texture is light without being spongy or airy (which you will find if you get a cake from an Asian grocery store). It is the perfect cake for layering with sweet fruit and lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream.
Easier Than You Think
And making it is a dream! When I first started baking cakes, I thought there was only one method for making a cake--you know, the creaming method which involves creaming butter and sugar until it is light and airy.
Well, this cake is much easier. It basically calls for all the dry ingredients to be sifted together and then add butter and just quickly mix, followed by the wet ingredients and finally eggs. But the time used mixing the ingredients are so quick that it really whips up in a jiffy!
The only caution I have is you have to bring the ingredients to room temperature so do prepare some time for that. And you can bake the cake the day before the party so that it's even quicker to assemble and decorate the cake on the day of the party.
Ok, I can't help myself, I have to say it again. Please, please get yourself a digital kitchen scale! You really need one when baking and it makes life so much easier too (as in you don't have to wash another measuring cup or extra bowls).
Ok, I won't say it again.
In this post anyway.
Talk About the Frosting
The frosting is also really easy. It's basically fresh whipped cream with a little bit of sugar and some vanilla. You could easily change the flavors and the color of the frosting up if you want. I've pureed and strained berries and mixed it into the whipped cream before to get a pink frosting (my daughter is sooo girlie and wanted a pink cake last birthday! Sigh! In case I haven't told you, pink is not my favorite color. Can you guess what is?).
Esther's Pink Birthday Layer Cake
Some tips for whipping heavy cream. Firstly, you want to make sure that your cream is cold and your mixing bowl is cold and your whisk is, you got it, COLD! Secondly, if you're using an electric mixer to whip the cream, stop shy of it being fully whipped and finish whipping by hand. This way you can get the best texture for the whipping cream and it will have a nice smooth, glossy finish. (How do you know when the cream is ready? When you lift up your whisk, the cream will form a nice, stiff peak.)
Be Creative With Your Fruit
As for the fruit toppings and sides, you can use any fruit you like. I like to use berries when they are in season--strawberries, blueberries and raspberries make a really pretty cake. And you could keep it even simpler by just putting a layer of whipped cream and then piling berries, and then repeating with each layer without bothering to frost the sides. This is a great look for a tea or shower party with a round cake.
Round Layer Cake with Whipped Cream and Strawberries
At other times when berries are not in season, I've used canned mandarin oranges and peaches as well as fresh kiwi. These are all great fruit for decorating a cake. They make any cake look professionally done. My friend used mango as her fruit of choice and she said it turned out really well too. And you could always use lemon curd or passion fruit butter/curd to fill your cake as well. Very delicious!
So really, your limit is your own creativity. If you're like me and sometimes don't feel too creative, go check out a few cake shops and get ideas from them! I shamelessly steal ideas all the time!
Look Between the Layers
So this cake calls for four layers. When I'm making a rectangular cake (you'd have to double the recipe to do this size), I usually only fill the middle layer with fruit. What I do with the first and third layer is spread on some thinned jam and a little bit of whipped cream to sandwich it together.
In the second layer, I pile on a much bigger amount of whipped cream and tons of cut up fruit (this is where you use the fruit pieces that aren't as lovely looking--yes people, please select the nicest ones to decorate on the outside). Of course, you can choose to do whatever you like so if you want to fill every layer with fruit, go right ahead!
Vanilla Butter Layer Cake with Fruit from House of Annie
Vanilla Butter Layer Cake Recipe
Makes two 9-inch cakes.
Nonstick cooking spray for the pan
10 1/2 oz (2 3/4 cups) cake flour (and yes, please use cake flour for best texture)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp table salt
6 oz (12 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature
3/4 cup whole milk, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1. Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Lightly coat two 9x2-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
3. Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed (#2 on a KitchenAid mixer) until the ingredients are well combined.
4. Add the softened butter pieces and mix on low speed for 20-30 seconds to mix the butter into the dry ingredients--the mixture should look a little lumpy, with the largest lumps being about the size of a hazelnut.
5. Add the milk and vanilla extract and mix on medium speed (#5 on a KA) for 1 minute to thoroughly blend the ingredients and aerate the batter. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
6. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on medium speed for about 15 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the bowl after the second egg.
7. Divide the batter equally between the two prepared pans (how? yuppers...kitchen scale! Oops! Sorry, I did promise, didn't I? Ok, zipping it now) and use your spatula to smooth the surface.
8. Bake until the cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes.
9. Set the pans on a rack, run a table knife around the edge of each cake and let cool in the pans for 30 minutes.
10. Invert the cakes onto the rack, lift the pans, peel off the parchment, and reinvert back and let cakes cool completely. If baking ahead, wrap cakes in plastic once fully cooled.
Vanilla Whipped Cream Frosting Recipe
Yields about 7 cups, enough to fill and frost a 9-inch four-layer cake.
3 cups heavy or whipping cream
5 Tbsp sugar (I normally use only about 4 Tbsp)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2. Slow the speed down to medium and gradually pour in the sugar. Continue to whisk until soft peaks form.
3. Add the vanilla extract* and continue to whisk by hand until the cream is smooth, and stiff peaks form (the cream will stand up straight when the whisk is raised).
*Instead of vanilla, you could also make a raspberry or strawberry "pink" whipped cream by subbing the vanilla with 2 1/4 cups raspberry/strawberry puree (puree the fruit in a blender and strain) and add an extra 2 Tbsp sugar to the whipped cream.
1. If the cakes have a slight dome after baking, cut to level them (best to use a serrated knife). Then, cut cake in two layers. I use a Wilton cake leveler that I got from Michael's for that purpose but using a knife will do just as well. If I had to use a knife, I would trace a line around the middle and then cut following that line (sometimes I poke toothpicks around the center to give me a guide).
2. Prepare the fruit (you will need about 6+ cups of fruit if you fill every layer). Choose the nicest strawberries and if possible look for the ones that are closest in size to each other and slice in half. Chop up about half a cup of strawberries for filling in the center. Peel and slice kiwis into rounds (about 3 kiwis). Chop up the end pieces to use in the middle filling. Drain any canned fruit you might be using.
3. Place the first layer (bottom of one cake) on your cake plate or board (if I'm using a rectangle, I just cut out a piece of cardboard a little bigger than my cake and wrap it in heavy duty aluminum foil). Depending on how you want to decorate, you could spread some thinned jam (you could thin with water or some 3 Tbsp liqueur, like brandy or Grand Marnier) and a thin layer of cream OR you could take 1 1/2 cups whipped cream and spread right to the ends of the cake and add fruit.
4. Add second and third layers and add more jam/cream or cream and fruit.
5. Finish by placing the final layer (I like to use the flat bottom of the second cake as the top so that the cake is nice and flat at the top). Spread the last of the whipped cream on top and if covering the entire cake, make sure that you have left enough to cover the sides as well.