Atonement by cake

I find failure and guilt, both, to be extraordinary motivators in all aspects of life, even baking.

First, the guilt. It’s mid-August, and still no birthday cake to celebrate R’s 28th. I could convince myself that we were traveling, that the birthday ice cream sandwiches in San Francisco were celebration enough, but then the memory of failure creeps in to seal the deal.

Specifically, my bitter recollection of last year’s botched attempt at “luscious chocolate layer cake”, which yielded a disappointingly dry cake with a not nearly thick enough layer (or perhaps too thick given the result?) of overwhipped frosting.

So, with the two-fold objective of celebrating a birthday as it should be done (with cakes and candles) and of bettering my less-than-stellar cake-baking record, I set out to redeem myself. And what better way than with a White on White Birthday Cake from Bonnie Stern’s Essentials of Home Cooking? And what better occasion than a BBQ with a few close friends?

The result was a light and moist (verified by the official tasters/guests) white cake frosted in sweet (but not too sweet) vanilla icing and adorned with toasted coconut. (The coconut was a last-minute addition after a minor panic attack that our friends would find a white on white birthday cake to be a tad uninspired.) Next time I would take the toasted coconut even further and add a sprinkling between the cake layers as well, although I think the cake was tasty enough to stand on its own if necessary.

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
6 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups milk

Vanilla Icing:
1 cup butter, at room temperature
6 cups icing sugar, sifted
1/3 cup milk (approximately)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare two 9” square or round cake pans by greasing them and lining the bottoms with circles of parchment paper.

In a large bowl or electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until very light. Beat in egg whites two at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Measure out milk. Using a wooden spoon, blend flour into butter mixture alternately with milk in three additions, beginning and ending with flour. Do not overmix.

Divide batter between the two pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted in the centre. Cool in pans for 10 minutes and then invert onto racks to cool completely.

For the icing, in a large bowl, beat butter until light. Gradually beat in about 4 cups of icing sugar. Beat in milk and vanilla. Gradually beat in remaining icing sugar. Cover icing tightly with plastic wrap if you are not using it right away. (You may have to beat in a bit more milk if you make the icing ahead and it thickens.)

Place one layer of cake, top side down, on a serving platter. Spread with about 1 cup of icing. Place second layer of cake on first layer, top side up. Spread with icing.

Makes one 9”, two-layer cake.

The Casual Baker Touch: Spread 1 1/2 cups sweetened coconut flakes in a rimmed baking pan and toast in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 4 minutes, or until golden. This should be enough coconut to either coat the entire cake or coat the side(s) of the cake and between the cake layers.