A light and sparkly butter cake for Spring
Today is the first day of Spring and I thought it was perfect timing to share this cake with which I recently fell completely in love. I made it over the weekend to celebrate Stella turning six months (!!!) and it was so festive and pretty I knew it would become a keeper in our household. Make it for Spring, make it for Easter, make it for Sunday dinner or just because you love someone.
Six months. Woosh! I thought time flew by when Jack was that young, but with a toddler keeping me busy at the same time things are going even faster. Stella is the happiest baby I have ever encountered and I’m so lucky she’s part of our tribe. She smiles the moment she opens her eyes and every time I glance at her. She’s curious and wants to have her hands in EVERYTHING. Her favorite person is her brother, by far, and she delights in watching him play, color, “read” to her, and run around wildly. I’m completely smitten with her and when I realized that six month milestone was coming around I decided to celebrate, even if only by myself, with an excessively happy cake. It’s fresh and light and sweet and pink and everything that comes to mind when I think about my little star baby. Stella girl, this cake will always be yours.
I found a recipe for a basic yellow butter cake in my grandmother’s stash. I don’t remember her ever making it but it’s exactly the cake she would have loved to have been served at a frilly spring tea party. It’s a classic, no-fail ratio of ingredients and I decided to swap in crème fraîche for the buttermilk. In my opinion, it has a little more “sparkle” this way. A fully frosted cake felt like overkill so I went with a naked cake flavored with raspberries from the freezer (also much less effort!) and topped it all off with a perfectly pink camellia from our garden, another nod to spring. If you prefer a fully frosted cake (and I wouldn’t blame you!) you can use seedless raspberry jam or lemon curd as the filling between layers and you’ll have plenty of buttercream to frost the outside in a traditional style. Just be sure to pipe a little frosting around the outer rim of each layer as you assemble it to create a “dam” and then fill in with the curd or jam. This will prevent it from squishing out and bleeding into your beautiful buttercream. You can also omit the raspberries entirely from the buttercream and simply color with food coloring, but then it’s not really the same cake, is it?
A few notes about storing:
This butter cake is extremely moist and, when wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, will keep in the freezer for about 30 days or in the refrigerator for about 4-5. It will keep at room temperature for 2. If the cake is completely frosted, you can store it for these same time frames completely assembled. The frosting helps seal in the moisture. Just be sure to place some plastic wrap on the exposed cake as you start to cut into it. If you decide to frost it in the naked style as I have it written here, it will dry out more quickly without the added frosting. If you do not plan to serve right away, I recommend chilling the assembled cake for an hour or two in the fridge to set the buttercream, and then lightly wrapping plastic wrap around the outside.
A few notes about timing your assembly:
First, I will tell you that YouTube and other cake decorating specific blogs will give you far better advice on how to decorate cakes than I can. Use them! As for my own advice, cold cakes are the easiest to work with and result in fewer stray crumbs. I like to cool my cakes completely, cut them into my layers while they are soft, and then wrap them up and put them in the freezer straight away (or the refrigerator if I plan to frost it later that day). When I’m ready to assemble the cake, I make my buttercream and pull the cake out of the fridge as soon as the frosting is done. If I made the cake in advance and it’s in the freezer, I’ll put it in the fridge the morning I make my frosting to thaw out a bit, or put it out on the counter directly from the freezer when I’m starting to make the buttercream. If the cake is completely frozen when you start to frost it, it will cause the buttercream to harden up and it will be more difficult to work with. Buttercream can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for a few days (covered with plastic wrap), but you’ll need to bring it back to room temperature and re-whip it to get it nice and fluffy. I just don’t like to be bothered with that extra step and dirty dishes, but it’s completely doable and may make your life easier if you’re having a party. Wait until just before your party or, better yet, serving, to top with fresh berries or flowers.
Crème Fraîche Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting your pans
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
1/2 cup crème fraîche
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing your pans
2 cups sugar
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 350F. Lightly grease two 8x2-inch round cake pans with butter and lightly dust with flour. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together both flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk thoroughly to make sure everything is fully incorporated and set aside.
In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, combine the milk and crème fraîche.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and continue mixing on medium-high until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, mixing and scraping down after each addition to incorporate.
With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk mixture, and beginning and ending with the flour. Stop to scrape down the bowl after each addition. You can stop before the final flour addition and mix that in by hand to avoid overworking the batter.
Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and place in the middle of the oven. Bake until lightly golden brown on top and a cake tester comes out clean when inserted in the middle, about 30-35 minutes. You may also want to carefully rotate the cakes about halfway to ensure even cooking. Allow to cool in the pan about 20 minutes and then gently turn the cakes out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
Raspberry Buttercream (adapted from Vintage Cakes)
6 to 10 ounces raspberries (you can use frozen raspberries, just be sure to thaw first)
6 egg whites
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups unsalted butter cut into approximately 1-inch cubes, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Over a bowl, mash the raspberries through a fine-mesh strainer to catch all of the seeds. Set the collected purée and juices aside and toss the seeds.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the egg whites and sugar. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisking constantly to avoid cooking the eggs, gently heat the mixture until very hot to the touch, the sugar is dissolved, and the mixture is smooth and fluid.
Remove the egg mixture from heat and place the bowl onto the stand mixer. Use the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed until the whites are stiff and glossy and will hold a stiff peak when you lift the whisk out of the mixture. The bowl should also be cool to the touch - continue mixing on low speed for another minute or two if it is not.
Switch your speed back to medium-high and begin adding the butter a piece at a time, mixing well after each addition and stopping frequently to scrape down the bowl. The buttercream will inevitably look curdled at some point. Continue adding your butter, have faith, keep mixing and eventually it will smooth out again.
When all of the butter has been added and the buttercream is fluffy and smooth and creamy, you can add your salt and raspberry purée. Start with about half of the raspberries and work your way up until you have the desired level of flavor and color.
To Assemble the Cake:
Using a serrated knife, slice each layer in half horizontally. You should also even up the tops of your cakes if they are at all domed. Wrap tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for about an hour. This will make your cake easier to work with and you’ll have fewer crumbs.
When you’re ready to assemble, use a dab of frosting to affix one layer to an 8-inch cardboard cake round. Use about 3/4 of a cup of buttercream and, using a large offset spatula, spread evenly onto the top of the layer. Place another layer on top and repeat, alternating buttercream and cake, until all four layers are assembled. Now is the time to see if everything is standing even and, with clean hands, gently adjust until your cake is straight.
Pile the rest of your buttercream on the top of the cake and smooth it across the top and start to work your way evenly down the sides, stopping every so often to scrape excess buttercream from your spatula back into your bowl. If you pick up any crumbs on your spatula, wipe that into a separate container and save it (for spreading on graham crackers!). You can clean up the sides using a clean offset spatula, a frosting smoother, or a bench scraper.
Top with fresh berries, flowers, or sprinkles and serve with a very cold glass of milk. Enjoy!