Dorie's Perfect Party Cake - Daring Baker's March Challenge

UPDATE: I've since revisted this recipe and you can find great pics here
March was my first month as part of the Daring Bakers. WOOHOO!!! I'm so excited I'm still bouncing off the walls :) This month's hostess was Morven over at Food Art and Random Thoughts and the challenge recipe she chose was Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake.

I love cake... and it's been at least 5 years since I've actually made a layer cake so this was a real treat. The recipe, as written, calls for raspberry filling... but my favorite combo is either white cake with raspberry filling or white cake with lemon filling. And because I'm just a bit of a rebel who considers most recipes to be more of a "guideline" than a rule-book, I decided to make this cake with both fillings. Yup, such a rebel. I admit... that's just how I roll LOL :) Keepin' it real I'll just state upfront that seein' as how white cake with lemon or raspberry filling is my most favoritest combo ever, and I was making this with both fillings, I knew this month's Daring Baker's recipe would challenge more than my culinary skills... yes indeed this cake would challenge my waist-line as well ;-)

You'll notice Dorie includes a lot of detail and that makes the instructions rather long... and seemingly complicated. Really, they're not. The end result is more than worth the effort!

Here's Dorie's recipe:

For the Cake
2 ½ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (use buttermilk if you're using lemon filling)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable

(note: I used 1/3 cup of the seedless raspberry preserves and 1/3 cup lemon curd, alternating them between layers)
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

Aside from assembling the cake (when my layers were slipping and sliding all over the place due to the magnetic forces apparently caused by some unreported UFO hovering over my house that pulled the layers in bizarre directions) the most challenging part of the recipe was the frosting. I have an aversion to anything that requires use of a double-boiler. Not sure why that is, but I'm sure it goes back to something in my childhood and relates to my mother's kitchen. Maybe one day I'll ask her... but I'll probably forget... and instead just continue my irrational, unexplained aversion to the double-boiler. Just bein honest ;-) The length of time it took to get my meringue to transform into frosting had me believing I'd most certainly done something wrong because it seemed to take forrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrever! The taste was great, I'll admit, but the amount of effort didn't seem worth it to me. Others, I'm sure, will disagree and I'm ok with that :)

The cake batter was excellent. Perfect texture and the taste was so incredible that I'll definitely make it over and over and over again. In fact, I think I may have found a new favorite cake-batter recipe. It's that good!!! DJ said it smelled fantastic while it was baking... the delicate scent wafted upstairs and drew him into the kitchen to see what I was up to :)

Overall, I'm glad I completed this month's challenge. If you get a chance to make Dorie's Perfect Party Cake, I think you'll be pleased with the result... I sure was.

Now that you've seen my interpretation of this recipe... go check out some of the other Daring Bakers to see what they did. My pictures are really not very good and don't do justice to how great this cake really is.

Have a happy day!