Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Happy Birthday Cake from Baking Illustrated!

Recently, my very good friend Susan Parker asked if I'd bake the cake for her mother Ruth's 80th birthday. I was very happy to say yes, and I wanted this cake to be extra special. I've met Ruth a number of times over the years, originally when my daughter Meghan and Susan's daughter Christi were immediate best friends in 3rd grade at Greenfield Elementary School. As their friendship flourished, Susan's and mine did as well. There were many special moments and events that we shared, some of my happiest memories during the girls' growing-up years. Susan was a great mom to her growing family, and is an incredible grandmother now to an ever-expanding family. I have to imagine that the blueprint for Susan's commitment and devotion to her family has its foundation in her early years, that Ruth started something that continues today not only with Susan and her siblings, but also with Susan's three daughters - Melanie, Christi, and Erika - terrific young women, married with families of their own now. (Susan and her husband Tom also have a son, Michael, who's a very involved uncle!) Mellie has a son and a daughter, Christi has five children (two sets of twins - two boys and three girls!), and Erika has three daughters. Ruth's legacy is going strong and her family is so fortunate she is able to participate in her great-grandchildren's lives, continuing to create new memories.

So, for such a special mom/grandma/great-grandmother, I wanted to create a cake that would not only be pretty but would taste as good as it looked. I turned to my Baking Illustrated cook book, such a trusted resource. I settled on the Classic White Cake, and the recipe did not disappoint in the least. Unlike a traditional white cake recipe, this one does not use whipped egg whites.  The egg whites are there, in abundance, but they are blended in gently which the editors of the cookbook explain results in a moister, more tender cake. So, it's less complicated than other recipes - basically a blending of wet and dry ingredients - none of that whipping and folding - and it's a better cake. Win win! I also made cupcakes, fearing that the cake would not be enough for the large Parker family.  Here's a photo of the cupcakes, followed by the recipe for Ruth's birthday cake:

I was so happy to hear that Ruth loved her cake, and that the family said it was delicious. Music to my ears!  Happy, happy 80th birthday, Ruth Boucher. I hope you have a wonderful year, and many more!


Meghan's Mom

(very closely adapted --almost word for word-- from Baking Illustrated)
Like all B.I. recipes, this is very detailed and provides every step for a successful result.

2 1/4 cups plain cake flour
1 cup milk at room temperature
6 large egg whites at room temperature (important)
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanill extract
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
4 cups (1 pound) confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
Pinch salt

Raspberry-Almond Filling
1/2 cup blanched almonds, toasted and chopped coarse
1/2 cup seedless raspberry filling

For the cake:  adjust an oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Generously grease two 9-inch round cake pans and cover the pan bottoms with orunds of parchment paper or waxed paper.  Grease the parchment paper rounds and dust the cake pans with flour, tapping out the excess.

Pour the milk, egg whites, and extracts into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup and mix with a fork until blended.

Mix the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl of a standing mixer set at low speed.  Add the butter; continue beating at low speed until the mixture resembles moist crumbs with no powdery streaks remaining.

Add all but 1/2 cup of the milk mixture to the crumbs and beat at medium speed (or high speed if using a hand-held mister) for 1 1/2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of the milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Return the mixer to medium (or high) speed and beat 20 seconds longer.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans; using a rubber spatula, spread the batter to the pan walls and smooth the tops. Arrange the pans at least 3 inches from the oven walls and 3 inches apart. (If your oven is small, place the pans on separate racks in staggered fashion to allow for air circulation.) Bake until a toothpick or a thin skewer inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clear, 23-25 minutes. (NOTE:  my oven took 30-35 minutes).

Let the cakes rest in the pans for 3 minutes. Loosen from the sides of the pans with a knife if necessary, and invert onto wire racks. Re-invert to additional wire racks. Let cool completely, about 1 1/2 hours.

For the frosting: Beat the butter, confectioners sugar, vanilla, milk, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer at low speed until the sugar is moistened. Increase the speed to medium-high; beat, stopping twice to scrape down the bowl, until creamy and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. Avoid over-beating or the frosting will be too soft to pipe.
*I did not use this frosting recipe for Ruth's cake. I used my own buttercream recipe that is especially good for food coloring and piping because I decorate so heavily...

For the filling: Before assembling the cake, set aside 3/4 cup of the frosting for decoration. Combine 1/2 cup of the remaining frosting with the almonds in a small bowl and spread over the first layer.  Carefully spread the jam on top and cover with the second layer.  spread the frosting over the top and sides of the cake.  Pipe the reserved frosting around the perimeter of the cake at the base and at the top. Cut the cake into slices and serve.


  1. I love a nice white cake. Maybe I'll make my show-stopper 4th of July cake with this recipe!

    Thanks for posting it!

    1. And thanks for your comment, Mo! What does your 4th of Jully cake look like?

  2. Sweet story...sweet friendship...sweet cake! Here's to Ruth and her BIG 8-0, and here's to you, Jeannie, for always being the icing on the cake for our special occasions! I hope to stop by Skidmore tomorrow afternoon around 2:00 so I may bestow upon you my little token of appreciation for the joy you bring to all of us through your blog, in the form of the old family baking heirloom that I mentioned to you before! I'll be on my way to an appt, so I will not be long, much less in case you are too busy anyway!

    1. Weez, thaks so much for this comment, and even more, for stopping by to see me at work today! It was great to see you, and I am so grateful for the beautiful silver pastry server you gifted to me! I will do your Mom and Granmother proud when I serve a lovely pastry in it! Thanks so very much again. It means more to me than you can know. ~ Jeannie

  3. When I read this of course I cried! Yes, I am in pain from something wrong with my neck…(it better not be a long lasting ailment which has always been a nightmare of mine)…but mostly from the genuineness of this post….It could certainly be about my mother! My own mom sought out to make family the most important thing. She held family traditions very dear as she did not grow up with them. Her main goal as we grew up moving from state to state was to make her family close! Thanks to her, we are a very close knit family and we get together as often as possible! I was blessed to have married into a family that is just like mine or even more so! Family is what is important….so celebrating a woman that started all of this is huge and such a wonderful and exciting thing to commemorate! What a testimony to her faithfulness to her children! I feel certain it was the most beautiful ( and delicious ) cake she's ever seen or tasted! Hopefully I will be able to test the recipe myself one day soon! Thank you, Jeannie!

    1. Carolyn, your family's connectedness shows in everything you write and every photo you post! You are so fortunate to have your Mom in your life, and for the legacy of love that she's handed down and you have inherited with such grace. I always love to read your stories!

      I hope you are feeling much better soon, and if you do make this cake, please let me know how you like it!

      Thank you SO much!

  4. Thought I posted on this But can't seem to find it. Wonderful tribute to Ruth . love the story very heart warming and the cake , well the picture speaks for itself. My favorite cake yum raspberry filling. Beautiful words from the heart and beautiful cake . Sharron Eddy Cataldo

    1. Thanks Sharron! Appreciate your kind words. And the cake IS terrific! Try it! Happy weekend to you...