On Sunday evening, at around 5:13 pm, I had a frosting related nervous breakdown. This breakdown involved near tears, a wayward icing knife and a big ol’ mixing bowl of butter cream. How did I come to such a lowly state? Let’s start from the beginning (times are an approximation…it was all a haze):
On May 13, 2010, as I was sitting at my desk at work, the idea of making a strawberry layer cake popped into my head. Thinking I could use my favorite vanilla cake recipe, I decided to pick up some strawberries on Saturday at the 14th & U Farmers Market to turn said cake idea into a reality.
On May 15, 2010, I pick up some lovely strawberries from Garner’s Produce for said cake idea. The rest of the day is spent enjoying the National Zoo, free wi-fi at Tonic (I’ve been told I get way too excited when I find a wi-fi hotspot…I don’t disagree with that assessment) and pointing out issues with the latest Dr. Who episode.
On May 16, 2010 (starting at 9:25 am), I spend the morning lazing about and thinking about my cake baking/decorating strategy. I read over Joy’s post on frosting a cake, making sure to note all the tips she suggests for a painless, beautiful frosting experience. On more than one occasion, the thought, “This won’t be hard” pops into my head. I will live to regret that flippant attitude.
At 12:00 pm, I start chopping up strawberries while listening to Warner Herzog’s interesting spin on documentary narration. I keep waiting for him to burst out into “This is Sprockets!”
At 12:13 pm, I make a strawberry filling using strawberries, water, sugar and corn starch. When I think it’s thick enough, I take it off the heat and set it aside to cool. This turns out to be a mistake.
At 12:35 pm, I painstakingly set up the mise en place for the cake ingredients. Since I’m using my go-to cake recipe, whipping up the cake batter is relatively painless. This lulls me into a false sense of security as I place the cakes (my dumb ass only used TWO cake pans, when I should have used three…I’m a moron) in the oven and sit down to pay full attention to Herr Herzog.
At 1:27 pm, I check on the cakes and am surprised to find they are still jiggly in the middle. This raises the first red flag in my head, as it usually only takes 25 minutes to bake these cakes. I reset the timer for five minutes and go back to the couch.
At 1:34 pm, I check again on the cakes…still jiggling like Pamela Anderson’s breasts. Panic begins to creep up in the back of my neck. I brush it aside, thinking, “Perhaps I should have poured some of the batter into a third pan.” I reset the timer for another five minutes.
At 1:36 pm, I check on the strawberry filling…and discover it hasn’t thickened at all! What the hell?!?!? The panic pushes its way back up to my neck, almost laughing at me. I’ll just add more cornstarch, I think. I set the pot back on the stove, add another teaspoon of cornstarch and start whisking.
At 1:42 pm, the cakes are STILL jiggling in the center, the strawberry filling looks like red snot and I haven’t even started on the butter cream. And where the hell is the pedestal to my cake stand??????
At 1:47 pm, the cake starts to firm up BUT it’s also starting to get a little bit more brown than I’d like. Wait, is that side starting to burn a little??? AND WHAT THE HELL IS UP WITH THIS STRAWBERRY FILLING????
At 1:53 pm, the cakes are finally done (cake testers confirm this). In desperation, I throw the strawberry filling into the refrigerator, hoping the cold will thicken it up a bit.
At 1:59 pm, I start on the butter cream, which is also a go-to recipe. All is well as I’m whipping up the batch of frosting. That is until I realize the resulting batch won’t be enough to frost the entire cake. That damn panic’s now up to the nape of my neck, taunting me. I scramble around to make another batch. Then I’m struck with “inspiration” and decide to put some of the strawberry filling into the butter cream. This will turn out to be another mistake.
At 2:13 pm, I sit down again and pray that the voices of panic will SHUT THE FUCK UP!
At 3:03 pm, I start making our lunch for the week: cream of asparagus soup with green garlic. I am trying my hardest not to think about the cake or how the hell I plan to decorate it. Especially when I discover I CAN’T FIND MY PASTRY BAGS!!!! AND WHERE THE HELL IS THE PEDESTAL TO MY CAKE STAND?????
At 4:35 pm, I decide to start frosting the cake. At this very moment, I also can’t seem to find my flat icing knife and instead must use the bent one. In my mad dash through our gadget drawer, I pitch the box grater out in hopes of finding my flat icing knife. When I don’t find it, I leave a trail of gadgets on the counter as I walk away with the bowl of frosting. The Boy is left to put the gadgets back into a semblance of order…he senses the coming storm and wisely decides to stay out of my way.
At 4:45 pm, I create a fortress of frosting on the top of the first cake layer to keep the filling from oozing out. This will turn out to fail miserably. I try to take a few pictures but am tired, have poor lighting at my dining room table and overall, just don’t give a shit anymore.
At 5:13 pm, I curse the day I ever thought this was a good idea. Strawberry filling is oozing out like a festering wound. The butter cream is separating because SOMEONE thought adding some filling to it would be a good idea. The damn frosting won’t stay on the sides and The Boy is just looking on in horror.
At 5:27 pm, I realize I’ve lost the battle and just slather on the last of the frosting. I get the cake to look as normal as possible, top it with strawberries and half heartedly attempt to take pictures of it. The lighting sucks no matter where I put the damn cake and I just don’t care at this point. I cut a slice off for The Boy to eat and walk away in a daze.
I faintly hear him say it tastes good, but I’m too far gone. I’m in pastry shell shock and all I can do is stare at the wall and occasionally blink. At some point I take a bite of the cake and I’m snatched out of my stupor. It tastes incredible. The frosting is delicious, even though it doesn’t stick to the sides all the time. The filling is bursting with strawberry goodness and it (finally) thickened to the perfect consistency. And the cake itself is moist and vanillalicious. I just wish it didn’t look like a four year old’s craft project.
Recipe: Strawberry Layer Cake (adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes)
- For the cake:
- 3 3/4 cups cake flour
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 tbsp plus 2 3/4 tsps baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 1/2 sticks (20 tbsps) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups plus 1/3 cup buttermilk
- 5 whole eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 tsps vanilla extract
- A bunch of whole strawberries for decorating
- For the filling:
- 1/2 cup strawberries, chopped
- 2 cups strawberries sliced
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 tsps corn starch
- For the butter cream (enough to frost the entire cake):
- 2 cups of egg whites (approx. 12 large eggs)
- 3 cups sugar
- 10 sticks butter, softened
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsps strawberry filling
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour three 8 inch round cake pans.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using the paddle (or flat) attachment of a stand mixer, mix together the dry ingredients for about 30 seconds.
- Stop the mixer and add the butter. Turn the mixer back on to medium speed and then slowly add 1 1/4 cup of buttermilk. Continue mixing until all of the ingredients are thoroughly blended together.
- In a smaller, separate bowl, whisk together the remaining buttermilk, the eggs, the egg yolks and the vanilla extract. Add the egg mixture to the batter in thirds, mixing for about a minute between each addition.
- Once all the egg mixture is incorporated into the batter, pour about 3 cups of the batter into each prepared pan. Bake the cakes for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester stuck in the middle of them comes out clean.
- While the cakes are baking, start on the filling. Combine the 1/2 cup of chopped strawberries, water and sugar in a saucepan.
- Over medium low heat, whisk the mixture until the strawberries start releasing their juices (about 2 minutes). Slowly whisk in the corn starch making sure to avoid any lumps.
- Continue whisking the strawberry filling until it thickens to an almost jam like consistency. Remove the filling from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- For the butter cream, add the egg whites and sugar to a heat resistant mixing bowl. Place a saucepan of water over medium high heat and place the bowl over the pan. Stirring constantly, allow the sugar to melt into the egg whites. You can use a double boiler for this step if you have one.
- Once all the sugar is dissolved into the egg whites, remove it from the heat. Wipe off any condensation from the bowl and then add the mixture to a mixing bowl.
- Using the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until the mixture is white and the egg whites have doubled in volume. Add the vanilla extract and whisk until it’s thoroughly incorporated into the egg whites.
- Add the sticks of butter one at a time and continue whisking. The mixture will start to curdle and look like cottage cheese but DON’T panic. Continue whisking until the butter cream is the consistency of mayonnaise.
- Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and fold in the strawberry filling (make sure it’s COMPLETELY cooled) with a spatula.
- To assemble the cake: Cut a small layer of cake from the top of each cake so that each layer is even. Place either parchment/wax paper or a cardboard round on a cake stand.
- Put a small dollop of frosting on the round to keep the cake from moving around. Place one cake on top of the paper or round and spread a thin layer of frosting along the top.
- Using a pastry bag, pipe a bit of a border around the edges of the cake. This will (hopefully) serve as a barrier to keep the filling from oozing out. Spread half of the filling inside the frosting border.
- Put the second cake on top of the frosting/filling. Make sure the cakes are in line with each other. Repeat the frosting process above (thin layer of frosting/frosting border) and spread the remaining filling inside the frosting border.
- Place the final cake on top of the frosting/filling. Once again, make sure the cakes are in line with each other.
- Finally, frost the entire cake (I suggest following Joy the Baker’s frosting tips) as best as you can! Decorate the top of the cake with the whole strawberries and serve!