A few days ago, I received a Facebook message. It went something like this:
I have a totally last second, off the wall request that you can absolutely and totally say no to. I am trying to figure out plans for my one year anniversary. One thing I was thinking about was that we never saved a piece of our cake for our one year. And so I was wondering if maybe, you possibly could whip up a small little cake that looks like the one you made for our wedding… I know it’s last second so if it’s too late for a request like this, I TOTALLY understand, but I think it would be such an awesome surprise for Liz…
This is the same man who, a few months ago, chased down a Super Shuttle his wife was riding in just so he could throw her forgotten sweater through the window. After a series of location-triangulating confirmation texts, the exchange was made on the side of a major Los Angeles freeway… all because Chris didn’t want Liz to leave for Michigan without her favorite sweater. Honestly, how many husbands out there would chase down a van through morning rush hour like that???
So yes, I had to make this cake. What else am I going to do with the leftover spool of navy blue ribbon from their original cake a year ago?!?! There was only one glitch that I didn’t count on: hydrangeas (that were used on the original cake) aren’t normally available in November. I found this out the hard way… on a Sunday afternoon at the local nursery (times three or four nurseries and local florist shops). Eventually, I gave up and at 6:30 PM, half an hour before the local craft store closed for the night, I skipped in with my 40% coupon to buy a stem of silk hydrangeas.
It was 6:59 PM when I arrived home. No matter how many times I looked at this stem of hydrangeas, they just looked… fake. Artificial, limp, lifeless… soul-less. The threads at the tips of the blossoms were coming apart, and lastly, it smelled of plastic. In short, this was not the shining symbol I was hoping for.
Then a thought occurred to me. It may not be hydrangea season… but I know that pansies are available (my favorite edible flowers), and the local home improvement store wasn’t going to close until 8:00 PM. In this moment, I made an executive decision to ditch the fakies and sped off to buy a crate of pansies. In the back of mind, I said a silent prayer… Please let them be okay with the pansies… please please please. Just in case, I was going to keep the hydrangeas and used them if the pansies didn’t turn out. [See also: contingency plan for the contingency plan.]
By 12:15 AM, the cake was frosted. It was too dark to add the flowers, so I waited until morning. I also figured that maybe I was being too hard on hating the hydrangeas; maybe they would look better in the sunlight? (As it turns out, I was very, very wrong about that one. If you can imagine, cheap and fake looks even worse in daylight… kind of like hookers.) At 7:30 AM, I decided the pansies were going to stay. After comparing this to the original cake, I figured I was close enough.
I could not have made this cake for two nicer people. Chris and Liz, Happy First Anniversary! I am so thrilled to have a part in your celebration… Cheers to many more anniversaries to come.
Vanilla Bean Cake with Raspberry Filling, Italian Buttercream and Fresh Blue Pansies
A white cake infused with vanilla bean, then filled with strawberries and wrapped in Italian buttercream, this small cake is the perfect size for a couple celebrating a special occasion.
~ Serves 2 to 4 ~
~ Ingredients ~
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (124 g)
- ½ tablespoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 large egg whites
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 batch Italian buttercream frosting: http://www.rusticgardenbistro.com/italian-buttercream-frosting/
- ¼ cup fresh raspberries
- 2 tablespoons raspberry preserve
~ Preparation ~
Preparation Time: 3 hours
- Minutes 1-5: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8x8x2-inch square cake pan and line the bottom with buttered parchment paper.
- Minutes 6-7: Put the sugar and butter in a mixing bowl. With the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 5-6 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
- Minutes 8-9: Combine in a bowl flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir quickly with a whisk for 10 seconds to combine ingredients.
- Minute 10: Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Cut vanilla bean pod open and scrape beans into milk mixture. Add vanilla extract.
- Minutes 12-14: Reduce mixer to low speed. With motor running, add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the milk-egg mixture, then half of the remaining dry ingredients. Once well incorporated, add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is thoroughly mixed, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Continue stirring the batter just until all ingredients are combined, then shut the mixer off.
- Minute 15: Pour batter into the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the cake is well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the center should come out clean.
- Minute 45-55: Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the side of the cake, unmold it and peel off the paper liner. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.
- Minutes 60-90: Make buttercream frosting: http://www.rusticgardenbistro.com/italian-buttercream-frosting/
- Minute 90: Cut away the four brown crust/sides of the cake. Then cut cake into four squares; you will need three of them to build the cake. (Eat the fourth layer as a prize for a job well done.)
- Minute 92: Mash fresh raspberries and raspberry preserve together in a small bowl with a fork or spoon.
- Minutes 95-120: Put one square cut side up on a cardboard cake square or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it one half of the strawberry preserve mixture. Top with another layer of cake, then spread the remaining half of the serves on top of that. Place the last layer of cake cut side down on top of the cake and then frost sides and top with buttercream. Finish with fresh pansy flowers.
Source: Rustic Garden Bistro**
**With acknowledgement to Dorie Greenspan, as my go-to white cake recipe is a riff of Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake, listed on page 250 of Baking from My Home to Yours, published in 2006. Thanks also to Jamie of My Baking Addiction, whose recipe for vanilla bean cupcakes back in July 2007 kick-started my own go-to vanilla bean cake recipe.