Happy 4th of July Birthday Cake!

This 4th of July Birthday Cake was baked in our kitchen. As it turns out, we do not enjoy (suffer?) the sorts of summer temperatures other folks in the USA enjoy. In spite of our California address and proximity to the beach, summer in San Francisco is a chilly affair. “June gloom” turns to July gloom. July gloom gives way to August gloom. You get the picture. So, while the rest of the country celebrates summer in the warmth of their backyards, we don our hoodies, crank up the oven, and bake our hearts out!

Our cake was inspired by, and is a modification of, the gorgeous blueberry cake created by The Little Epicurean. Maryanne is a wildly talented baker who shares her creations on her excellent blog. We wanted to play with flavor and color by creating this patriotic take on Old Glory. Freeze dried strawberries and blueberries bring beautiful color to the cake and frosting. Lemony cream custard adds a nice pale stripe between the blue cake layers. The resulting flavors are bright and fruity and summery.

We’ll be thinking of the rest of you lounging about your backyards soaking up the sun and sweating in your 90+ degree weather. For us, a windy July daytime high of 60 means multiple layers and a blazing oven. But we’ll still be enjoying an ice-cold beer or two as we celebrate the nation’s birthday and all the good stuff summer brings!

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Blueberry Cake with Lemon Mousse and Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Blueberry Cake

Adapted and inspired by: The Little Epicurean 

1 6 inch round cake & 1 dozen cupcakes

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
8 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp lemon zest
4 large eggs, room temperature
6 oz kefir, room temperature
7 oz blueberries, pureed and strained
1.2 oz package freeze dried blueberries, unsweetened, ground*
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter, flour, and line with parchment a 6-inch cake pan. Butter and flour a muffin tin or add muffin liners to the tin. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside.

Cream together butter, sugar, brown sugar, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add lemon zest. Add eggs one at a time and mix until fully incorporated.

In a measuring cup, combine kefir, blueberry puree, blueberry powder, and vanilla.

Alternate adding flour mixture and kefir mixture into creamed butter. Mix until just incorporated. Scrape down bowl as needed to ensure thorough mixing.

Divide batter into prepared cake round and cupcake tin. Level batter using a mini offset spatula or the back of spoon.

Bake cupcakes for 15-20 minutes; bake 6” cake for 30-35 minutes until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan on a rack before removing from cake pan. Can be prepared a day in advance or up to a week or more if freezing the cake.

White Chocolate and Lemon Curd Mousse

Adapted from: Epicurious

1.5 ounces white chocolate chips
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup whipping cream
pinch of salt
1/4 cup homemade or store bought lemon curd

Combine white chocolate and 1 tablespoon whipping cream in a medium metal or heat-safe glass bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir constantly until chocolate is soft and almost melted. Remove bowl from over water and stir until white chocolate is melted and smooth. Cool white chocolate mousse base to room temperature. Add the lemon curd and whisk until incorporated. Set aside.

Beat remaining 1/2 cup whipping cream in large chilled bowl until firm peaks form. Gently fold in the cooled lemon curd and white chocolate. Set in the fridge to cool until ready to use,

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Inspired by: The Little Epicurean

1.2 oz package freeze dried strawberries, unsweetened, ground in blender
10 ounces powdered sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
6 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp milk or whipping cream
pinch of salt

Sift the ground strawberries and powdered sugar together, discard the strawberry seeds. Set aside.

Cream together butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Scrape down bowl as necessary to ensure mixture is smooth.

Add vanilla, milk or whipping cream, and blend together. On low speed of the mixer, add the strawberry powder and powdered sugar. Mix until throughly blended and smooth. Add additional milk or whipping cream, 1/2 tsp. at a time, until smooth and spreadable.

Assembling and Frosting the cake

Split the cake horizontally so you have two layers. Add a good amount of the white chocolate and lemon curd mousse to one of the layers and smooth out to the edge. Add the top layer of cake and smooth around the edge to crumb coat the cake with a little of the mousse. Wrap in plastic and place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes or up to a day.

When ready to frost, remove the cake from the freezer and frost with the strawberry cream cheese frosting.

Coat fresh blueberries in warmed apricot jam and strain off the remaining jam. Decorate the cake with the blueberries. Enjoy!

Baking a Birthday Cake

I’m not a baker, so things were likely to go awry when the non-baker decided to bake a birthday cake for the baker’s birthday. To make matters more interesting, Jason’s response to my question “what kind of cake would you like,” was a funny “the Queen’s 90th birthday cake.” Ha! But he seriously wanted a three tier purple and orange cake and that is what he got.

From the get-go, I doomed my effort to the panic of a last-minute frenzy by getting a very late start. I didn’t appreciate how much time it takes to bake and decorate a cake. Cooking shows make it look like it can be done in minutes, maybe an hour or so, but certainly no longer than two. But there I was, birthday afternoon, with dinner reservations looming and a growing pile of buttery dishes in the sink.

There were ample opportunities to seek the wise counsel of the birthday boy baker. He suggested early on that I make small cakes. I ignored him. Having stretched a recipe to include a larger-than-called-for cake pan, my cake tiers were thin. The cake itself turned out well. The crumb is tender, but dense and rich. I had to halve them horizontally to add a filling and so, with a smile and lots of patience, Jason jumped in to demonstrate how to cut a cake round into layers using a long serrated knife and a cake decorating stand. He really is a master at this stuff!

With the cakes halved, we brushed the cut sides with Grand Marnier and spread apricot jam or fig butter on alternating base layers of each cake round. Then came a layer of frosting followed by the top layer of cake. Frosting is magic! We increased the amount to give a bit of height to the thin layers. What I didn’t expect is just how difficult it is to get the hang of applying frosting to the outside edges of round cakes using an offset spatula.

We made the frosting and decorated the cake in just under two hours. To make our dinner reservations on time, we quickly showered while the frosting was whipping away.  It felt like we were competing on The Great British Bake-Off, and our reward was a night out at Bon Marché. We were both pleasantly smiling and having fun, but I secretly think we were both doubting our ability to finish on time and get to the restaurant.

My advice to the first time cake baker: start a day ahead and listen to your husband. If you can follow a recipe, you can bake a delicious cake. But unless you’ve done this a hundred times, the chemistry, the textures and temperatures, the timing of it all – none of this is necessarily intuitive. Not to the novice. Be patient and take your time.

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A Queen’s Birthday Cake
The Whiteout Cake from Baked Bakery
Yield: 1 (10-inch; 8-inch; 6-inch) thin layer cake or 1 (8-inch) cake

For the white cake layers

2 1/2 cups of cake flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups ice cold water
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the white chocolate frosting (this recipes was increased by 1/2 to ensure proper cake frosting coverage)

9 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 1/4 cups (4 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 teaspoon pure orange extract
food coloring (optional)

Make the White Cake Layers

Preheat the over the 325 degrees F. Butter cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the egg, and beat until just combined. Turn the mixer to low. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the ice water, in three separate additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean (smaller cake pans will require less time [cupcakes will take about 20-25 minutes]). Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

Making the White Chocolate Frosting

Using either a double boiler or a microwave oven, melt the white chocolate and set it aside to cool, but not too cool that it solidifies.

In a medium heavy-bottom saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream to cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium high speed until cool. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Add the orange and vanilla extract and white chocolate and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Crumb Coating the Cake

Refrigerate the frosting for a few minutes, if necessary (but no more), until it can hold its shape.

Sprinkle the cake stand with a little sugar. Place the 10 inch cake layer on the stand and using a serrated knife, cut the cake through the middle, horizontally, making two equally thick layers. Spread a thin layer of apricot preserves or fig butter on the bottom, then add about 3/4 cup of the frosting, spreading it over the cake layer evenly. Add the top layer and evenly spread about 1 1/4 cups of the frosting on top. Transfer the layer to a large plate and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Repeat the crumb coat frosting step for the next two cake layers.

Assembling the Cake

Divide the remaining frosting among three bowls in proportion with the cakes. The bowl with the least amount of frosting will be colored light orange (or whatever color you desire). Do the same with the other two bowls of frosting (light purple and a little darker purple in our case).

Transfer the largest layer of the cake back to the cake decorating stand. Frost the bottom cake layer with the frosting from the fullest bowl. Add the frosting to the top of the cake first and, using an off-set spatula, move the cake decorating stand as needed, frost the top of the cake pushing the frosting over the sides. Next, positioning the spatula at 90 degrees next to the cake sides, turn the stand and frost the sides of the cake until all sides are covered. Transfer the layer to a display cake plate/stand and refrigerate.

Repeat the above steps for the next two layers. Transferring the finished layers to the bottom tier of the cake. Clean-up any flaws with more frosting as needed. Garnish with sprinkles, nonpareils, ribbon, or anything your heart desires. Refrigerate for 15 minutes to firm up the finished cake.

This cake will keep beautifully in a cake saver at room temperature (cool and humidity free) for up to 3 days. If your room is not cool, place in a cake saver and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.