I’m always skeptical of recipes deemed ‘perfect,’ be it the New York Times’ perfect chocolate chip cookie (though I’m sure, as many food bloggers will attest, they may in fact be the best chocolate chip cookie in existence) or, in this instance, Dorie Greenspan’s perfect party cake. Upon first glance, the recipe (from the truly lovely blog A Tender Crumb) does sound delicious: moist lemon cake, raspberry jam, a light buttercream, and a shredded coconut exterior. However, I was inspired to try a cheesecake-influenced take on this cake. I replaced the buttercream with a light cheesecake filling and chose to use strawberry jam instead of raspberry (though I’m sure raspberry’d be just as delicious) and a light cream cheese frosting.
Because of my school schedule, I’d arrived home at the beginning of June as opposed to mid-May; thus, I had missed multiple opportunities to catch up with friends whom I had so dearly missed. Thankfully, this cake went over well with everyone in attendance at the picnic I brought it to, with one friend even proclaiming that it was the best cake she had ever had. I can’t say much about that, but I think the real trick to making this cake was to bake it with a good friend (who is exceptionally intelligent and talented at cooking and is probably the real reason this cake looks and tastes presentable), finish at about 9 p.m., and then talk until 4 in the morning. It makes it extra special. Either way, the result was a mesh of flavors that I think truly made a perfect birthday cake.
Perfect Birthday Cake
(makes 12-14 servings)
Cake (Dorie Greenspan)
- 2 1/4 cups cake flour
- 1 tbsp baking power
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk
- 4 large egg whites
- 1-1 1/2 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you prefer)
- 2 tsp grated lemon zest
- 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 tsp lemon extract
- one jar of strawberry jam (varies depending on how much you’d like in your cake!)
Cheesecake filling (modified from Joy of Baking)
- 1 8-oz package of cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/4 cup (or less) of sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- squeeze of lemon juice
Cream cheese frosting (probably from Allrecipes)
- 2 8-oz packages cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 tsp vanilla
- another small squeeze of lemon juice
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate, medium-sized bowl, whisk together the milk and egg whites.
2. In another bowl, place the sugar and lemon zest and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and beat at medium speed (if you have an electric mixer; you can also do it by hand) for a full 3 minutes until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract.
3. Add one third of the flour mixture, still beating. Add in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Continue beating for another 2 minutes to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
4. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean.
5. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the cakes if needed. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).
Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy; scrape down the sides and beat in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream until soft peaks form; gradually fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture and squeeze the lemon juice into the mixture.
Cream cheese frosting
Cream together the cream cheese and butter; mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Squeeze the lemon juice into the mixture.
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one-third of the cheesecake filling. Top with another layer, and repeat. Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and frost the cake with the cream cheese frosting.
Decorating: There are infinite amount of ways you could decorate this cake; I simply thinly sliced some strawberries and arranged them radially on top. Don’t put the strawberries on the cake until at most 1 hour before serving, otherwise the juice from the strawberries will run down the sides of the cake and you’ll have to re-frost the sides! (Why yes, I am speaking from experience…)
The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days; just bring it to room temperature before serving. If you are freezing the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.