Monday, December 2, 2013

Birthday Cake

Okay, so I'm a little obsessed with The Lord of the Rings. I'm a big Tolkien nerd to the point where I wrote a research paper in high school about Aragorn. I used to watch all three movies at least once a month. I once got into an argument over whether Barad-dûr was built before Isengard or not. Even now, I will watch at least one of the movies once a month.

I was watching The Fellowship of the Ring on Friday, and not for the first time, was drawn to Bilbo's Eleventy-first birthday cake. Seriously though, how good does that look? I just imagined layers of deliciously light vanilla cake, wrapped in smooth frosting, topped with berries. I resolved to make a cake right then and there.

Of course, I didn't want to stop watching at that moment, and Saturday was my very own birthday, so the cake-making was put on hold until Sunday. The idea morphed slightly, to a basic two-layer vanilla cake with whipped cream frosting, with raspberries in the middle and on top. Not only were raspberries on sale, but I didn't really feel like buying flowers and candles for decorating what is essentially my own birthday cake...

Carrying on. Since I only have one round cake pan, this cake took longer than it should have. Janky kitchen adventures continue. Including photographing, cooling, and frosting time, this cake took about three hours. I'm fairly sure it could be done in about two, if you are prepared.

 For the cake, you will need:
 -3 cups of flour, sifted (see what that means here)
 -2 cups of white sugar
 -1 tbsp and 1 tsp of baking powder
 -3/4 tsp salt
 -12 tsp (1 and 1/2 sticks) of unsalted butter, chilled and in small pieces
 -1 cup of milk (divided into 1/4 cup and 3/4 cup)
 -5 large egg whites
 -1 large egg
 -2 and 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract

Oven temperature: 350˚ F

Ignore the vegetable oil. I changed my recipe halfway through the ingredient assembly. Hur dur!

On separating egg whites: you don't need two little bowls or cups or fancy gizmos. All you need to do is crack the egg, then very carefully and slowly split the shells. Transfer the yolk from one half to the other, letting the white fall into the bowl below. It will take about six transfers to get it all. Try not to break the yolk! Very messy. Once the yolk sits all alone, put it into a separate bowl and brainstorm ways to use it up at a later time.

Combine the egg whites, the one whole egg, 1/4 cup of milk, and the vanilla extract in a bowl. Mix well but don't beat the egg! You just want it to be one nice mixture. Set this to one side.

Mix together your dry ingredients all in one large bowl. That'll be your flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Just use a fork or whatever, not a huge deal. Combine it evenly. Then, taking your chilled butter, mix it in with an electric mixer.

It will look like this when fully mixed in. Note: do NOT freeze your butter. That's what I tried to do and it failed miserably. Like, it wouldn't mix in with the dry ingredients. It was a little butter rock for a few minutes. Just keep it in the fridge, trust me on that.

Next step: add the remaining 3/4 cup of milk. I didn't take a photo, but mix it in until it has the texture of cookie dough. It will be very thick and sticky.

Finally, while mixing, add a third of the egg mixture. Stir it up. Then add a third more. Stir stir stir. Then add the last bit. Stir, then scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Stir some more. It should look like the above. It will be fairly runny.

Grease and flour a round cake pan. Basically, I sprayed some Pam, then sprinkled about half a tablespoon of flour. Shake it all around. You will probably end up slapping the pan, but it's really crucial that you do this. Make sure the bottom and sides are all coated!

Once it's all coated, pour half the mixture into the pan and put it in the oven for about thirty minutes. It will be done when a toothpick inserted into the middle emerges clean (or with only a few crumbs). I checked first at 25 minutes, then gave it three more minutes. Let it cool for a little while (about fifteen or twenty minutes), then flip the cake out. Grease and flour the pan again, pour the remaining batter in, then repeat.

Important! The cakes must be cool before you attempt to frost them. Otherwise the frosting will just melt off. How sad. While your cakes are off to the side cooling down, you can make the whipped cream frosting!

For the frosting, you will need:
 -3 cups of heavy cream
 -5 tbsp of granulated sugar
 -1 and 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

Homemade whipped cream is stupid easy. All you need to do is beat the heavy cream on a medium-high setting for a few minutes (about five, I'd wager) until it starts to thicken. Add your sugar, and continue to beat until soft peaks form. See above for a "soft peaks" example.

At this point, add your vanilla extract and whisk together by hand until stiff peaks form. See above for stiff peaks! It takes very little time to go from soft peaks to stiff peaks, so do not use an electric mixer.

Boom! That's it! Your frosting is now complete. Once your cakes are cool, you can begin to assemble.

Plonk one cake upside-down onto a plate or stand. Try to make it centered, just for aesthetic purposes. Glob about a third of your frosting onto the cake, and spread it around. All you need is a nice even layer, and cover the sides.

Really, you just need to cover all visible cake. Whipped cream frosting is extremely light, so keep that in mind when you think that your frosting is too thick.

Next, take your raspberries (or any fruit of choice, really) and press them into the frosting. I tore my berries in half so that they would maximize surface area and not take up too much vertical space, but you do you. Use about a third of your berries for this--if you're employing the "tear in half" trick, they'll seem like a lot more!

Now, very carefully, align your other (right side up) cake with the bottom cake... and drop! You want them to be aligned as two aligned things in aligned land... you catch my drift? You've eaten a layer cake, you're smart, I'm sure you know how it works.

Repeat the frosting drill. The picture's dark because I was getting pretty darn into it. Go for broke with the frosting--use as much of it as you'd like! My roommates ate the leftover frosting and were pretty happy about it, so keep that in mind!

Adorn with whole berries. Just look at them glistening away. I put a lot of them on top, and I probably could have put more. Maybe next time?

Now cut yourself a slice, champ! You're done, and you earned it!

It's a pretty light but very flavorful cake, and the frosting is a dream. The berries add a nice punch of flavor, and are definitely the star of the show. I had originally thought of using strawberries, but raspberries were on sale... I would suggest using any strong berry. The tartness lightens up the cake beautifully.

Maybe it's not exactly Bilbo's cake, but this one is my precious... I highly recommend it! Not too difficult and a delicious, impressive result.

I found my recipes and loosely followed the instructions of Sweetapolita for the cake and Fine Cooking for the frosting. All credit where it's deserved!

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