There is something just plain fun about making layer cakes. I shared this thought with Ben as I put the finishing touches on this cake that I’d started working on almost 24 hours earlier. Cookies, cupcakes, brownies, bars, etc. are great because they are typically pretty easy, not terribly time consuming, you can make enough for a big group, and they are hard to screw up. Cakes, on the other hand, can be troublesome for me because I worry about them not turning out and then not having a single thing to show for my hours spent in the kitchen. Not to mention you have a big, sugary, calorie laden commitment on your hands…unless you’re giving the cake away or serving it to at least 12 people. You also are not as free to taste test with a cake. You can sneak a cookie, or a cupcake (or 2) without being found out, but steal a slice of cake before it’s served and everyone notices the big gaping hole and the crumbs you’re trying to wipe from your mouth. Despite all that, making a layer cake is therapeutic and the end result is more rewarding than a batch of cookies. I feel the same way about pie. They are both big glorious circles of sweet goodness, meant to be displayed on a pretty cake plate and served on those lovely dessert plates you never use. Am I being too dramatic about baked goods? I guess it wouldn’t be the first time…
For some reason I was in the mood for strawberry cake, maybe it was all the pretty pink cakes I’d been seeing on Pinterest. I’ve made Spinkles strawberry icing before, but never the cupcakes. So I printed the recipes off of Martha Stewart and headed to the store, a girl on a mission to make a delicious cake. I was pretty excited about it.
I doubled the cupcake recipe to make two 9-inch cakes. I made 150% of the frosting. At first I thought about doubling it but when I realized that meant 4 sticks of butter I decided we would just make do with less, and it was plenty.
The cake is dense, not too terribly sweet, and not at all like the strawberry cake you can make from a box. I wonder if it’s even possible to create a cake from scratch that is close in texture to a box mix. If you know of a recipe, please send it to me! Those soft textured cakes do tend to fall apart when frosted and stacked too high, so a dense cake is probably better when you’re planning on stacking 4 layers. I usually grease my cake pans, line them with parchment circles, and then flour them. Somehow I’d managed to run out of parchment and not buy any more. So with a bit of fear I simply greased and floured my pans. They came out perfectly! That was a nice surprise.
The frosting is SWEET. Quite possibly too sweet, not for me, but for the average person. I like sweetness and sugar…a lot. If you are not as much of a sweet fan, maybe use half butter and half cream cheese for the frosting to give it a little tang. Now that I am thinking about it,strawberry cream cheese icing sounds pretty incredible, so I might have to try it myself. The frosting has little strawberry seeds, and some people may not like that. So, use a sieve to strain the seeds from the puree if you’re one of those people. I like my frosting stiff when I frost a layer cake so that it doesn’t start to fall off the cake. In order to achieve this I had to add more powdered sugar than the recipe calls for (which explains the sweetness) but really does make frosting and decorating less stressful.
Here are some tips for layers cakes that I’ve found helpful.
- Bake the cakes and let them cool completely. I like to do this either in the morning or the night before. If I do it the night before I wrap the cakes in plastic wrap overnight so they don’t dry out.
- Make the frosting on the thicker side. (Unless you’re frosting a really delicate cake. It will pull on the cake too much and cause it to fall apart.)
- Level your cakes so that when stacked the cake is not domed or slanted. I use this, but some people are amazing and are able to just use their eyes and a serrated knife.
- If you’re slicing the cake layers in half, measure to be as close to half as possible.
- Use an offset spatula for frosting. It is just easier, buy one. I use them for loosening the sides of a cake from the pan as well.
- When you start frosting, plop a little frosting in the center of your cake plate and center the bottom layer on it. This will keep the cake from moving around.
- After layering, put a thin coat of frosting on the cake (your crumb coat) and then chill it for at least an hour. This will allow your next layer to be smoother and free of crumbs.
As far as decorating goes, there are so many beautiful things you can do. I am not so great at the decorating. I used my extra frosting to pipe around the bottom and top of my cake. Here
is a great resource from King Arthur that will help you. This kind of thing takes a lot of practice, so you’ll have to practice, and probably mess up. When I was piping the top edge I noticed I’d started using more pressure as I was going around the cake so that when I finished there was a huge difference in the size of the rope. I carefully wiped off what I’d done, smoothed the icing and did it again. A good way to practice, if you ever find yourself with extra icing, is to use different frosting tips and just pipe onto wax paper.
I hope you think of an excuse to make a layer cake! If you can’t, then try this recipe for cupcakes.
From Sprinkles via Martha Stewart, doubled from cupcake recipe
- 1 1/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 4 large egg whites, room temperature
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 2 9-inch cake pans; set aside.
- Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about 2/3 cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree; set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.
- With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.
- Divide batter evenly among prepared cake pans. Bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer cakes in pans to wire racks and let cool for 10 minutes. Then, carefully remove cakes from pans and let cool completely on wire racks.
- 3/4 cup whole frozen strawberries, thawed (I used fresh)
- 1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) unsalted butter, firm and slightly cold
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
- 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Place strawberries in the bowl of a small food processor; process until pureed.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy.
- Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners’ sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and about 6 tablespoons strawberry puree (save any remaining strawberry puree for another use); mix until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.
- Use frosting to top cupcakes or cake.