30 March 2008

Dorie's Perfect Party Cake *OR* When Buttermilk Isn't Buttermilk

It's that time of the month again. Time to post the Daring Bakers' Challenge. This month Morven hosted and gave us our assignment: Perfect Party Cake from the book Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.
Coincidentally, one of my favorite blogs, Brownie Points, had a post recently on making your own butter from whipping cream. The end result is equal parts butter and buttermilk. Since I needed unsalted butter and buttermilk for this recipe, I thought it would be the perfect time to try it out. I'm always excited for frontier-like recipes anyway. I whipped up the cream and some minutes later we had a lump of butter and about two cups of buttermilk. It was super easy and the fresh butter tasted waaaaaay better than the organic stuff I had just bought and opened that day.

Since we didn't have anything on our schedule for the day (Friday) except to anticipate Daddy's return from working the week in Atlanta, I decided that this party cake wasn't for a party, but would be made with a party of people. Feeling super laid-back, I invited the kids to help. They were ecstatic. Of course, a fight broke out immediately about who got to juice the lemons. But after my wise mediation (four halves, four kids, do you see the solution?) we were on our way. I must say that my favorite technique of Dorie's is to put the lemon zest into the sugar and rub them together until the sugar is fragrant and moist. The sugar I had bought was super sparkly and with the lemon, it was just gorgeous. (Click on picture for the beautiful details.)The cakes turned out great, albeit a little thin. Especially considering that they needed to be sliced in half.

Dug returned home from the airport Saturday morning at 1:30am. After a good chunk of sleep, he woke up to make us his Saturday Morning Pancakes. I gave him my precious cup of leftover buttermilk to use with the store-bought carton and told him of my frontier exploits in the butter/buttermilk department. Then he dropped his bombshell.
The leftover-from-butter-making liquid is not buttermilk. What!? But...but...but Brownie Points told me so. Then he reminded me that we used to make buttermilk by mixing a little buttermilk in with milk and letting it sit for a few days. (Another one of our frontier experiments.) Fermentation gave it that yogurt-like tartness. Dang it! I had forgotten that. Did I just ruin my cakes? Is that why they were flat-ish?

I couldn't turn my back on Brownie Points. I believed in her. She wouldn't post something that wasn't true, would she? While pancakes cooked in the background, I got online and searched for answers. First, I checked the butter-making post again, to be sure that I hadn't misread anything. Nope, it was all as I remembered. Then I googled. Of course, the first response was Wikipedia. And from there I learned that there are two types of buttermilk. Traditional and Cultured. Cultured is the type we buy in the store and is made with a, you guessed it, culture. Traditional is what is left over from the butter making process. I let out a sigh of relief. Hooray! Reading further, I found that, in the traditional method, fresh whole milk is left standing to separate the cream from the milk and during that time, some fermentation takes place. This means that when the butter is made, the leftover buttermilk is fermented. Not so hooray. I'm positive that my pasteurized whipping cream is a vast deal different than the slightly fermented, un-cooked cream from Bessy. Technically, my byproduct was buttermilk, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the buttermilk my recipe was calling for. Oh well. What's done is done. Too late now. (To clarify, I would be careful in which recipe you use your freshly made buttermilk, but I don't blame mine for my flat cakes since the recipe said I could used regular milk as well.)

The cakes finished, cooled and ready for me, I moved on to the frosting. I loved this recipe. It only required one cup of granulated sugar, as opposed to four cups of powdered that most recipes call for. First, in a double boiler, you whisk the sugar and egg whites until the sugar dissolves. (pictured above on left) Then you beat its brains out in a mixer until it is this beautiful glossy, meringue-y stuff. (pictured above on right. click on it, it's so perdy.) Once this gorgeous stage is reached, you add the butter and continue to beat, beat, beat. After the butter is incorporated you add the lemon juice and vanilla and...beat, beat, beat. It seemed like my mixer was on forever. Only after all this abuse is heaped upon these ingredients, do you get the light, fluffy, mildly sweetness that is Dorie's buttercream frosting.

My only change to the entire recipe was that it called for seedless raspberry preserves. I'm a lazy canner and my raspberry jam has seeds. Other than the seeds, I followed the instructions down to the coconut pressed into the sides.

Results? After scraping off the coconut, one daughter gave it a YUM. One son had two slices and said that it was good except for the jam. "I don't like jam in cakes, Mom." Another daughter said, "I liked it some. Only a tiny bit." The fourth son didn't want any, since he is just over being sick. That was last night. Between now and then, two more got sick and throughout the night puked a total of seven times. With that in mind, I'm thinking their lack of cake-tasting enthusiasm had a deeper cause.

Dug and I both thought the cake moist, flavorful and perfectly un-super sweet. It was delicious in its faint lemony flavor and the raspberry complimented it perfectly.

So there you have it. I've heard of Dorie Greenspan, but now that I've tried one of her recipes, I want to check her book out for myself. Below is a silly little movie I made of my assembly of Dorie's Perfect Party Cake. Enjoy!


Lunch Buckets said...

Turned out great! I'm very impressed that you make your own preserves AND your own buttermilk :)

Jenny said...

So for the next challenge, I fully expect a post about you making your own flour. That was amazing!

bethany said...

oh, you did a very good job with that!! yummy~!!

I am going to be daring backer beginning in April, yay...fun times.

Gabi said...

Your cake is gorgeous with or without the buttermilk- I was going to make a bad pun about Whey- but I am learning to restrain myself at least I try sometimes! ;)
Perfect job!

Sheltie Girl said...

Tricia - You did a fabulous job on your cake. I always make sour milk, rather than buy buttermilk. That way it's always around when I need it.

Can you contact me about baking the April challenge with the Alternative Bakers at glutenagogo AT gmail DOT com.


Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

tricia said...

lunchbuckets - we have a great berry season here in oregon and i love homemade jam. don't always make the buttermilk, though. i oscillate between crazily resourceful and unabashedly lazy. :-)

jenny - ha ha ha. i must admit that i've been tempted to get a flour mill on more than one occasion.

bethany - i'm so excited! it's so much fun. and there's no pressure since it's over the course of one whole month! yay!

gabi - i'm a fan of the groan-inducing pun. don't hold back, baby!

natalie - when i'm in a pinch i use sour milk. my hubby is such that when its his pancake day, if he has to "substitute" any of the ingredients, he postpones pancake day until the next morning. this includes subbing sour milk for buttermilk.

Tiffany said...

Great job!!! I loved your kid's responses....