living up to my name

spencer’s birthday was tuesday, and because i was overloaded with projects to do, we delayed celebration. i know, shame shame. spencer’s cake tastes tend towards traditional; yellow cake with chocolate frosting is always requested. i tend to be a little bit of a baking snob, and as easy as box cakes are, and as great tasting as they can be, i feel very strongly that nothing can beat a scratch cake. truly. since this is his favorite, in honor of his 34th, bake it and eat it for him… since we’re on weightwatchers, and won’t be eating it very often.

because i don’t have 8 inch round pans, i just make it in my 9’s. if you cared about how tall your cake was, smitten kitchen has a scaled up version that makes it much taller, but the height doesn’t really bother me. it’s still good cake.

the frosting is my go-to frosting – a swiss meringue buttercream, with melted chocolate stirred in. i use this chocolate frosting in any cake it’s appropriate. please use dark chocolate when you make it, i usually use 60% cacao. the frosting is super sweet in its vanilla iteration, and semisweet chocolate isn’t quite enough to cut down on the sweet. at least that’s my thoughts when it comes to the frosting. it’s a little fiddly, but absolutely worth making – it’s lower in sugar, but higher in butter, so there’s always a tradeoff. the initial recipe called for a fudge frosting, and while it’s an excellent frosting, the smoothness of the buttercream really plays well against the cake layers.

i’ve also noticed across the blogosphere that the eggs are cooked to lower temperatures than what i’m advocating – i was serv-safe certified when i worked for starbucks, and i guess old habits die hard. i take mine to 160, the temperature recommended for egg dishes. whether or not that affects texture, i couldn’t tell you, because i don’t go lower, and the frosting is still great.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake

adapted from Sky High Cakes

4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 9-inch round cake pans or spray to coat with vegetable oil. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and grease the paper.
2. Put the eggs and yolks in a medium mixing bowl, add the vanilla and 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Whisk to blend well.
3.. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl; whisk to blend. Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup buttermilk to these dry ingredients and with the mixer on low, blend together. Raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
4. Add the egg mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing only until thoroughly incorporated. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared pans.
5. Bake the cake layers for 28-32 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes; then carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely.
6. To assemble the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread 3/4 cup of the frosting over the layer, right to the edge. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and use the remaining frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. With an offset spatula, smooth out the frosting all over.

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream

5 egg whites
1C granulated sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2tsp vanilla extract
1C bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

1. Mix egg whites and sugar in a clean mixing bowl, and whisk to combine. Place over a pot of simmering water, whisking occasionally until mixture hits 160F.

2. Move mixing bowl to the stand mixer, and whip on high with the wire whip attachment until stiff peaks form and mixture is cool.

3. Switch to low speed, and add butter one chunk at a time ( I add in 2-3T increments), and then add vanilla. Once all the butter and vanilla are added, turn up to med-high until frosting hits a pseudo-mayonaise texture. It should be a little fluffier, but silky. If the frosting separates when butter is added, just keep mixing as sometimes it just takes a little longer.

4. Turn to low, and mix in the chocolate. Turn up to high for about 5 seconds, and then stop and scrape the bowl to ensure even chocolate mixing. Mix on high for a few more seconds, and frost!

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