This weekend, we were celebrating not only the Great American Father’s Day, but also two anniversaries – my parents’ 32nd and my great aunt and uncle’s 63rd. Yes, 63rd wedding anniversary. And they’re so incredibly in love.
Anyway, they kind of snuck up on me, these celebrations. I’ve been having this incredible roller coaster ride this month, full of parties and shows and weddings, and have really lost track of time! So I hadn’t really planned out a gift. To help make up for it, though, I decided I’d bake a from-scratch cake for my family’s anniversaries. And since I’d done a lemon cake for Mother’s Day and neither my mom nor sister should have strawberries or lemons all that often, I figured I’d change it up a bit and do an almond-flavored cake.
I had planned to add ground almonds, but my sister suggested that it probably wasn’t the best for mom’s digestive issues, so I used almond extract and almond butter instead. And I was surprised at how nicely it turned out!
First, mixing the filling – I made a buttercream (recipe straight from the C&H powdered sugar box) using almond butter in place of most of the real butter. It was a little too wet (my fault for chilling it and spreading it right out of the fridge) but tasted great.
I used the standard yellow cake recipe from my battered copy of Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (the gold standard in cookbooks for generations on both sides of my family). It’s not necessarily the most interesting recipe (and I saw one yesterday on Bakerella that I’m kind of curious about) but it’s kind of a no-fail one. I added almond extract to the batter – several tablespoons – and removed a little of the milk so it wouldn’t be too runny (I love almond and vanilla together, so I left in the vanilla extract too). I didn’t have any cake flour, so I pulsed all purpose flour in the food processor. To tell you the truth, even though it worked, I miss using my feathery cake flour and need to get some more before the next time I bake. I actually used one and one half recipes, so I could make a tiered cake, and greased four baking pans (two standard 8″ cake pans and two of my beloved 6″ vintage Pyrex) and lined them with parchment paper (I didn’t grease the parchment and was a little nervous, but it worked like a CHARM). Here are two of the baked cakes.
I cooled for 10 minutes in the pan, separated the sides of the cake from the sides of the pan with a butter knife, and flipped them over. I peeled off the parchment paper, and voila! – the easiest cake release I’ve ever had. And I’ve had some messy ones.
I attempted to cut the layers to even sizes. Of course, I know how you’re supposed to do it – with spacers and measures and a large serrated knife, after they’re 100% cooled… But I was under a time crunch and didn’t plan ahead enough. So I settled on the large serrated knife after they were 75% cooled. They got kind of mangled, but it’s okay. I slathered the first layer with a leetle too much of the yummy almond buttercream (you’re only supposed to cover the inner 75% or so of the cake – and of course I went all the way to the edges before I remembered that). As you can see, it wasn’t the prettiest cake when it was being stacked. Also I didn’t have enough parchment paper to properly place underneath the first layer, so the whole plate ended up getting full of frosting later on… (and no comments about the entire contents of my herb/spice/baking cupboard being out on the counter behind it… I couldn’t find the almond extract!).
I had the hardest time with the frosting… Should I make a standard buttercream? Too sweet. Smitten Kitchen’s swiss buttercream? My mom would flip out about uncooked egg whites (plus I was feeding three people over eighty and I don’t want to be responsible for giving anyone food poisoning). I finally decided to go with a whipped cream frosting, but I wanted it to stand up to not being in the fridge the whole time. So I found a sort of recipe online (I can’t remember where, it wasn’t a cooking blog or site, just a forum someplace) and went with it. I wish now that I’d used more of the gelatin, but the basic recipe was for me to scald (er, heat?) 2 tbsp cream and add it to 2 tsp unflavored, powdered gelatin dissolved in 2 tbsp of water and chill it for 20 minutes before adding it to the rest of the pint of cream, whipped with 2 tbsp powdered sugar and 1 tsp vanilla. Later on, I saw the same recipe elsewhere, but it used the whole packet of gelatin. I think if I do this again I’d use the whole packet, and probably chill the frosting before spreading it. As it was, it was sort of messy, but it ended up setting up nicely once I popped the whole frosted cake in the fridge for a half hour. I don’t like refrigerating cakes, because I think it gives them a different texture than fresh cakes, but in this case it was worth it.
We stuck a few pansies from my mom’s garden on the top of the cake to serve. Pansies (when grown pesticide-free, of course) are totally edible (they taste, well, flowery) and I love how pretty they looked. You can see in this photo how much firmer the frosting looks (and this was after we’d had taken the cake out of the fridge and had it on the table for about an hour).
Of course, the really distracting part was that, as you can see, the cake sprung a leak. This is why they tell you to not overfill the darn thing. And also why I’d add more sugar next time to my filling (it was just too liquid). Regardless, it was all tasty!