Tag Archives: birthday cake

Pistachio Cake with Honey-Vanilla Frosting

I disappeared for a while. I know. But I have the best excuse ever. No really. I spent the month of January in Paris and Dusseldorf, working for my old company and running around Europe with a good friend.

Fortunately there was a lot of eating. We enjoyed croissants, house-made bratwurst, German style red-cabbage, fondue… the list goes on. Of course, me being me, most of it went un-pictured. I adore food, but I’m not exactly great about documenting my adventures in pictures. I generally leave that to everyone else.

What I am good at however, is baking. So when, a few weeks after my return, my friends and I decided to throw a surprise birthday party for my closest and oldest friend’s 25th birthday party, I knew I was making cake.

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And after a month in Europe, eating pistachio macaroons like it was my job (which it unfortunately was not) I made pistachio cake with a cooked honey-vanilla buttercream. It was my first time attempting this kind of frosting, but I’m pleased to say it came out perfectly. Not to sweet, soft, fluffy, and lacking that grit that tends to come from the traditional, powdered-sugar structured butter-creams. My favourite remains my beloved swiss-meringue buttercream, but this certainly takes less time and the frosting is less finicky.

The cake recipe comes from one of my favourite cookbooks, BAKED Explorations, which I have talked about before. I love their maple cupcake recipe, and I loved this recipe. I made a slight adjustment to the original, subbing an extra stick of butter in for the 1/2 cup of shortening it asked for. I have nothing against shortening per-say, but I believe natural ingredients are best, and butter is natural.

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This cake whipped up easily. I baked the layers on Friday evening, froze them overnight, and assembled the cake Saturday morning before heading up to Sacramento for the aforementioned surprise party.

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Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s idea of a perfect Saturday morning is crumb-coating at 8:00am.

And if it isn’t, then make this cake, it may just change your mind about Saturday morning activities.

Pistachio Cake with Honey Vanilla Buttercream (makes one three-layer 8-inch round cake)

Lightly adapted from BAKED: Explorations

For the Cake:

1 cup shelled pistachios

2 1/2 cups of cake flour

3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoons of salt

1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 3/4 cups of sugar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (TJ’s makes a Mexican vanilla extract that is really good and really reasonably priced)

1 large egg

3 large egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Process:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, flour and tap out the excess. Then line with parchment circles cut to fit the bottom of the pans.

2. In a food processor, process the pistachios until coarsely chopped. Stop the food processor and remove roughly 2 tablespoons worth of pistachios, place in a medium sized bowl. Process the rest until they are almost powder-like. Add to the coarsely chopped pistachios. Sift both flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into the same bowl as the pistachios. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment cream beat the butter until creamy. This should take 3-4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, roughly 3 minutes.

4. Scrape down the bowl, and add the whole egg, beating until just combined, turn the mixer to low.

5. Place a few ice-cubs in a measuring cup, then add cold water until just below the 1 1/2 cup mark. Wait a few minutes for the ice to melt and then measure water to 1 1/2 cups.

6. Add the flour mixture to the mixer in three additions, alternating with the ice-water in three additions. Begin and end with the flour. When adding turn the mixer to low to add the ingredients and then kick the speed up to medium for a few seconds to thoroughly incorporate. When done scrape down the bowl, and mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

7. In a medium bowl whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Believe it or not, you can do this by hand. It takes about 3 minutes and is a GREAT workout for your biceps and forearms. Do not over-beat (when I say soft-peaks I do mean soft) and then gently fold the egg-whites into the batter.

8. Divide batter into the three prepared pans, and smooth the tops with an offset-spatula. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes before turning the cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.

For the Frosting:

1 1/2 cups of sugar

1/3 cup of all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups of whole milk

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed and room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons of honey

Process:

1. In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together.

2. Add milk and cream to the saucepan and cook it over medium heat, whisking initially to combine and then every few minutes as it comes to a boil. After about 10-15 minutes it will have thickened to a glue-like consistency. Pull it off the heat and transfer into a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment.

3. Beat on high speed until the outside of the bowl is cool to touch. This takes about 7-9 minutes.

4. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter gradually. Ensure it is fully mixed in and then bring the speed up to medium-high and mix until the frosting goes fluffy and light.

5. Add the vanilla and honey to the frosting and mix until uniform.

Assembly:

1. Lay the first layer onto a cake stand or serving platter and trim the top to level the cake. Place a heaping cup of frosting over the top and smooth it out. Repeat with the next layer before placing the final layer on top.

2. Coat the outside of the cake with a thin layer of frosting – the crumb coat, and then place in the fridge for 15-30 minutes to set.

3. Pull out of the fridge and then spread the sides and top of the cake with remaining frosting. Garnish with crushed pistachios.

– Note: the cake keeps great in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days. If you’re worried though it keeps well in the fridge as well.

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Pear Cake with Salted Caramel Swiss-Meringue Buttercream

I feel like this cake deserves an apology, the pictures I am about to show you of this cake are not particularly inspiring. You see, I baked it for a friend’s birthday party in early December and I was running around like a mad-woman trying desperately to finish it off before I had to be at her house. I was losing light, I was out of time, and, well, I just snapped a few pictures and hoped for the best.

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See, it doesn’t look like much. But it is. It really, truly, and absolutely is. So for the sake of this particular cake I’m asking you to just look past its outside appearance. It’s what’s on the inside that counts anyways right?

The cake is a perfectly moist, dense-yet-still-fluffy, marzipan-almond-pear cake that I covered in a salted caramel Swiss-meringue buttercream. Let’s talk for a moment about how to make Swiss-meringue buttercream even more unbelievably delicious than it already is – add homemade caramel sauce, and then toss in a teaspoon or so of sea-salt.

I can see your eyes widening. I know, I know. Homemade caramel is scary. You have to boil water and sugar and remove it from the heat at exactly the right time or risk either burnt caramel (I’ve done it, it doesn’t taste good) or a caramel that is too mild in flavour and as a result simply tastes like sugar. Both are undesirable, and both are risks you have to be willing to take because let me assure you: homemade caramel is worth it.

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You just have to be ok with watching it as it does its thing. Stand over your stove and watch it. When it starts to go amber, keep watching, count to 60 then pull it off the stove, and carefully, in small increments to avoid a bubbling overflow of boiling sugar, stir in your heavy cream. You want it rich amber. Sure you can also use a candy thermometer, but I actually never have. Maybe I have just been lucky, but I’m confident that you’ll be lucky as well.

But let me talk about the cake for a minute because they caused me a lot of stress. You see, this recipe comes from a cupcake recipe that my personal hero Sweetapolita made a few months ago. I spent days drooling over her marzipan-pear cupcakes with caramel buttercream which she topped with the most beautiful gold-gilded marzipan pear toppers. I thought about making the cupcakes, but when my friend asked me to make her birthday cake (in actuality I sent her an email in reply to her invitation in which I pretty much begged her to let me do it) I though it might turn into a wonderful cake.

And it did.

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Fair warning however: this cake is finicky. I suspect it would have been less stress-inducing if I had made cupcakes. The dough is quite soft thanks to the brilliant addition of a lot of marzipan, and a lot of pureed pear. It makes for a delicious cake, but I have never been more nervous turning out cakes than the moment I flipped these out of the pans. Both layers nearly ripped as I transferred them onto the cooling rack, and I was only able to take them off and stack them because i used two oversized spatulas to support them from underneath.

I’m generally a pretty calm person, but when I’m moving delicate cake-layers I become a stress-ball. Seriously, I hyperventilate a little.

But in the end it was good. Actually, it was really, really good. I mean when you pair marzipan, pears, and caramel with a hefty amount of butter and sugar, how on earth could it possibly be wrong?

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So make this cake. It may not look like much, but it’s flavour more than makes up for its appearance.

For the Cake – yields 1 eight inch 2 layer cake:

Very lightly adapted from Sweetapolita

1 cup + 2 teaspoons unsalted butter at room temperature cut into chunks

240 grams of marzipan

2/3 cups granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons ground almonds
1/2 cup pureed pear (about 2 large pears)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter two eight inch cake pans. Add in some flour and coat the sides of the pan tapping out the excess. Then cut two parchment circles to fit the bottom of the pans and line the bottoms. I know it seems like a lot of work but it will allow your cakes to actually release from the pan, which is key.
2. In a medium bowl sift your dry ingredients together, whisk and set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter, sugar, and marzipan until light and fluffy on medium speed – around three minutes. Add the vanilla and beat to combine.
4. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the side of the bowl after each addition.
5. Add the dry ingredients, mix on low until incorporated and then beat on medium for about 3 minutes.
6. Using a spatula fold in the ground almonds and pear into the batter.
7. Divide between the two baking pans. If you want to get really obsessive you can weigh them to ensure they are even. It does ensure equally sized, evenly baked cake-layers!
8 Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake’s centre comes out clean. A warning that they will look rather soft and potentially a bit under-done, but so long as the toothpick is clean you will be fine.
9. Let cool in the pans for five minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack.

For the Frosting:
1 cup Sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt (start with a pinch an add more to taste)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1.5 cups of unsalted butter at room temperature.
4 large eggs whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Combine the water and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a small pot over medium heat, and stir consistently as it comes to a boil. Once boiling, leave it except to occasionally brush down the sides with a silicon pastry brush. Cook until the caramel is a dark amber, swirling the pot occasionally. Remove from the heat and slowly add cream, whisking as you go, and taking a break if it starts to look like it will bubble over. Add salt to taste, and then set aside.
2. Beat the butter in a stand-mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until pale- and fluffy. This takes about 4 minutes on a medium setting. Remove from the mixer bowl, and clean the bowl thoroughly. I like to rub it down with some vinegar as if there is any trace of grease the meringue will not whip up properly.
3. Transfer your egg whites and remaining sugar into the mixer bowl. Set the bowl over gently simmering water and whisk until the eggs come to 160 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
4. With the whisk attachment on, whip the egg whites and sugar until glossy and stiff peaks form, this takes about 3-5 minutes on high speed.
5. When the bottom of the bowl is no longer warm to touch, start adding in the butter one cup at a time whisking well after each addition. It may look like it has separated. If this happens, kick up the speed on your mixer and beat until it comes together – it will. I promise.
6. When all the butter has been added whisk in the cooled caramel.

To Assemble:
1. Carefully transfer one of the cake layers onto a turntable. Plop about 3/4 of a cup of frosting on-top and smooth around until fairly even.
2. Carefully place the second layer on top of the first one. Frost the entire thing in a thin layer. This is your crumb coat. Then place into the fridge for about 30 minutes.
3. Pull back out and cover in a thicker layer, using a bench scraper to even out the sides.
Devour. No seriously. DEVOUR.

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