Successes and Failures, But In The End There Was Cake…

One of the things I love to do in the kitchen is revision a recipe, adjusting the flavors, or presenting the final dish in a new and exciting way. So when we were wrapping up with the Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Icing I started giving thought as to how I wanted to approach the next cake. I started having all sorts of ideas. But what is it they say about the best laid plans? 

First up was the cake. Two years ago I made a cake from Williams Sonoma’s Cooking for Friends called Rosewater Vanilla Cupcakes. In the recipe they gave variations one of which was to make it as a cake rather than cup cakes and another was to add in chopped pistachios.

Rosewater Vanilla Cake (1)

The cake was fun and different. We liked it well enough that I wanted another go at it. In the original recipe it has you make a single pan cake, ice the top with a basic American buttercream, and it recommends decorating it with edible fresh rose petals. I opted for coloring the icing pink and making my own icing roses using whole pistachios as leaves. It was cute and would be a perfect mother day cake. It’s floral aroma and subtle flavors made this cake almost seem feminine and delicate.

I got the idea that this year I wanted to make it into a layer cake as well as ice it with Swiss Icing instead. With the last piece of chocolate cake defrosting I forced myself to make the rosewater vanilla cake. I hadn’t gotten much sleep and was feeling a bit out of it but I pressed on. I should stop right here in the story and mention something else I have noticed over the years. What I noticed is the sentiment that you can feel the chefs emotions in the food is all too painfully true. When I am feeling great the food just has this extra awesomeness that I can’t explain BUT when I am not it’s like the cooking gods are making me the star of their very own sitcom. Nothing goes right, things I have done many times and have worked are a disaster, and no matter what I try it only gets worse.

So back to my story… remember how I wasn’t feeling well? Yeah, so I started with making the cake. Normally when I make a cake I beat the butter, sugar, eggs together to make a light fluffy mixture and gently fold in the dry ingredients. Sounds ok so far, right? Well, the instructions call for you to beat the butter till smooth first. I don’t ever do this because it just gets plastered to the sides of the bowl and does nothing. It then tells you to add the sugar and beat. Then it has you add the eggs ONE AT A TIME. I call the out because I was like “that’s silly” or so I thought. I put all the eggs in, all 6 eggs! The mixer must have run for nearly 20 minutes. I first started with the paddle attachment but that got me nowhere fast. So I swapped it out for the whisk. That helped but the eggs never whipped up and the butter stayed looking like tiny fat solids were floating in the egg. I even tried setting the mixing bowl on the stove with the oven preheating to hopefully warm the mixture enough to get the butter to melt or soften enough to mix in better. It gave me a little improvement but nothing. At this point my mixer felt like it was starting to over heat. I finally decided what the heck and added the dry ingredients. I mean, it couldn’t make it worse, could it?

With the dry ingredients in I mixed it more throughly than I normally would have to try to help smooth out the batter. It “looked” ok but I am very worried I over worked the batter and made a tough cake. I have yet to find out. I then added the pistachios and “poured” it in to the pans. It was so thick! More like a brownie batter rather than a cake mix… Oy vey! I tried to level it out but this stuff was so thick I wouldn’t cooperate. I went a head and baked it.

When it came out of the oven it was VERY lopsided. No idea why. I don’t think I have ever had a cake come out that uneven. Even if there’s a hump usually when it cools it will fall enough that I don’t worry about trimming it. The issue now with this one was that it was so uneven that if I leveled it off I would loose nearly half the cake! So, I left it. I hoped I could stack the cake in such a way that reversing the lopsidedness from each other they might level out. Calling it a day I wrapped my cakes in plastic and stuck them in the fridge.

This takes us to yesterday. Buttercream. This is my nemesis. American Buttercream is well, gross. It’s way too sweet, dense, and waxy. It makes for much easier piping but it does really do anything for the cake it’s covering. So, when I saw the recipe for European Butter cream in Miette I was not optimistic. The first time I made it the result was gooey and disheartening. A couple weeks ago though I decided to give it another shot. This time it worked! I was shocked! It was light and subtly sweet. Both my husband and I really enjoyed it. That being said it was not without it own headaches in making it. First she wants you to melt the sugar on the stove and then with the mixer running she wants you to slow drizzle the hot molten sugar into the egg whites. It was a mess! This lead me to googling around for video’s on buttercream to see how others did it to see if I missed something. This works well for me as I am a visual learner. That’s when I came across a video about Swiss buttercream. This sounded so promising as it spoke to all of my issues that I had to try it! My first opportunity was with this Rosewater Vanilla Cake.

Finally, yesterday afternoon I set out on making the frosting and assembling my cake. Swiss Buttercream starts with you putting your egg whites and sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer and putting that over a pot of simmering water, essentially turning it into a double boiler. You whisk the egg whites and sugar until the sugar is melted and the temperature is around 140ºF. Loved this! This addressed the issue of making a giant mess with the hot sugar. You then put the bowl on the mixer with the balloon whisk and whip until you have stiff peaks and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, roughly 10 minutes. I did this however my mixture was registering 70ºF long before the 10 minutes. So I moved on. I think this was a mistake.

I should also take a moment to talk about the egg whites. So the recipe I had called for 240ml of whites. Say what?! Thankfully I do everything by weight so as I separated my eggs I was weighing the whites. It ended up being 7 whites! This meant I had 7 yolks. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them but I remembered in Miette they had a recipe for Pastry Cream that is often used as a filling on cakes. I thought “heck, why not” so I set out on making the pastry cream. Interestingly enough this worked out perfectly! Best part was that with living in northern Iowa and it still being winter, I was able to put my pastry cream out on my porch to chill rather than the fridge! (I think it was 7ºF outside.)

Back to the buttercream and after the whites are whipped the recipe has you add a combination of butter and shortening. The shortening should offer better structure to the icing and be more resilient to hot weather. Once all of that is added it then has you add powdered sugar. I am not a fan of the taste of powdered sugar icings but I stuck with the recipe. I never quite saw the stiffness and lightness I was expecting but I moved on. The next step was coloring the icing. I am a big fan of experimenting with using natural ingredients to color foods so I opted for making part of the icing pistachio and part strawberry. For the pistachio icing it has you add pistachio paste. So I threw a bunch of pistachios in my food processor and made paste. I then added it to the icing. After doing that my icing just looked wet and gooey. I had a hard time getting it to look smooth and crisp. As for the strawberry icing I added a strawberry sauce I had made last summer with roasted strawberries from the farmers market. The icing worked but for some reason it got super stiff and almost waxy after I added the strawberry sauce. This left me with one too thin and one too thick. I will admit though I loved the colors I was able to achieve.

Rosewater Vanilla Cake (3)

Even with all the success and failure I pushed on. I unwrapped my cakes and put one on my platter. (I do square cakes and trying to find square platters is near impossible. I ended up getting a marble cheese plate but plastic wrap never wants to cling to the underside.) I piped a boarder out of strawberry and then filled it with my pastry cream. So far things were looking OK.


I then took the second layer and placed it on top. WOW! The gaps between the layers were huge! With the cake being so uneven it didn’t make a tight seal around. The icing and the filling just wanted to fall out. This left me with no option but to ice the sides. I don’t typically do this anymore but I didn’t feel as though I had another option. The issue then arose that the pistachio icing was so loose it was hard getting the crisp smooth sides I was looking for. I was going to garnish the cake with roses made of strawberry icing but I chose the wrong tip for the job and didn’t use a coupler so changing the tip was not going to happen. This lead me to doing little squiggles that were to look like rose buds but they just looked like squiggles that were uneven and haphazard. To try to save the “look” of the cake I threw some dried rose and hibiscus petals in my spice grinder and dusted the cake.

Rosewater Vanilla Cake (2)

Tonight will be the first taste of this cake and I will write another post about it tomorrow once we have tried it. I am not optimistic. I am expecting every dense cake with a filling that will be too loose and just ooze out when I try cutting it. I don’t have a balance of the strawberry and pistachio icings which is a bummer but in the end we have cake and real, how bad can it be when you have cake?



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