I know I always say I don’t “do” cutesy. It’s partly a reflection of my personality/style, and partly because I’m too lazy/imperfection-loving (is imperfectionist a word?) to worry about things being just so. If you ever see me use tweezers on anything that isn’t a splinter or my eyebrows, please know that I am Not Myself, take them away, and buy me a Groupon for some alternative method of facial grooming. It’s just that I trust you–and that comes with certain duties.
So, this 6″ mini-cake isn’t cutesy. It’s practical. A perfectly-sized little fella of a cake, for a perfectly small and relaxing birthday celebration for your smartest, kindest, prettiest tax accountant rockstar friend. (Hey girl!)
What we have here is fluffy white cake, brushed with Maraschino liqueur syrup, filled with generous heaps of fresh-cherry-and-Maraschino mousse, and frosted with–get this–a buttercream that DIDN’T make me want to set my kitchen on fire and drive off into the sunset with “Everybody Hurts” blaring, a la Dwight Schrute.
More on each of those things below. (Except REM; I don’t think I have to explain myself there.)
I started with I Am Baker’s recipe for Perfect White Cake, but I really can’t comment on whether it is or not, because being me, I changed it all up anyway. The ingredients are cut in half here, but I also toned down the baking powder and added a bit of oil for extra moisture.
Where I really went rogue is the method. Amanda cuts the soft-but-still-cool butter into the dry ingredients, and combines the egg whites with the other wet ingredients. While I was intrigued–and will definitely try it that way sometime because that cake does indeed look perfect–it was so unlike the way I’ve made cakes in the past that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was playing a high-stakes game of “I actually really need this cake to turn out, and (flail, whine) I don’t want to make two.”
So, I went with tried-and true-methods: cream butter and sugar, add wet ingredients (minus the whites), add dry ingredients. Whip egg whites and fold in.
Zero complaints, zero surprises here. Whew. It does look like the original recipe produces a tighter crumb and really neat slices–and I’m thinking I’ll use it as a trusty springboard to experiment.
The mousse part of this cake is an adaptation from SugarHero!–one of my one true blog-loves (hi Elizabeth, please don’t be weirded out, <3U4EVER). Most fruit-based mousses that I’ve attempted never quite set right, and this one came out lovely. It’s really low-fuss; once I mixed everything together, I just stuck it in the fridge and LET IT BE, just like J-Len said. In 25 minutes or so, I had positively scoopable, spreadable, firm mousse. The magic is the white chocolate, guys. Genius.
Although I restrained myself in how much I used between each layer to avoid the potential of a big old mess, I think I really could have used it all. Limits are there to be pushed, right? (Unless the limit is 20 lbs for a kettlebell, in which case I’m happy to stay riiiiiight where I am, thank you very much. #notfitfluential)
Lastly, the frosting! I have to thank Megan / Take a Megabite for this one. It came into my life at exactly the right time. I don’t like buttercream that is just sugar and butter. You’re basically never getting to a texture that is workable and a flavor that isn’t just a mouthful of sugar (and I like sugar but seriously, gross). I’ve tried Italian meringue buttercream before, and while the results were splendid, it was a little intense. Sugar! Syrup! Thermometers!
This was just thickened with a little flour. I’d heard of this technique but hadn’t tried it–and if you’re apprehensive about flour-y taste, don’t be! That all gets cooked away. Lumps, if you have them, get strained out. All you’re left with is the loveliest, silkiest, not-too-sweet-est buttercream ever.
My frosting skills remain at a level I will call “fourth grader on her fifth juice box this morning,” but we all have to start somewhere, and it’s not like I do this every day. Will you forgive me if I forgive myself? Is there a Carrie Bradshaw quote for this?
A cake, mini or not-so-mini, is always a labor of love–and I’m damn happy with this one. It taught me a lot, put some new tools in the ol’ arsenal, and then made me a Mai Tai (I can’t prove it but you can’t disprove it, so let’s just OK OKOKOK I lied).
Still, this cake is basically a little superstud. I hope you’re inspired–it is adaptable to so many flavors and fun new takes. I know I want to make another already. When’s YOUR birthday, anyway?
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup milk at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 large egg whites at room temperature
- 3/4 cup fresh pitted cherries (frozen and thawed will work as well)
- 1 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
- 1 tablespoon water
- 5 ounces white chocolate, chopped
- 3/4 cup heavy cream, divided use
- Pinch salt
- 1 tablespoon Maraschino liqueur
- 2 tablespoons Maraschino liqueur
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (superfine sugar dissolves easier--but either is fine)
- 1 cup milk
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon Maraschino liqueur
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 6-inch cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, butter the parchment paper, then dust bottom and sides with flour. Tap to shake out excess.
- In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, 2 minutes or so. With mixer running, add the oil, followed by milk and extracts. Beat until just combined, then lower speed and add flour mixture. Beat until just combined--don't overmix.
- Clean beaters of your mixer very well and, in a separate medium bowl, beat egg whites on medium-high speed until they can hold stiff peaks.
- Fold beaten egg whites into the cake batter. Divide batter evenly between the prepared pans.
- Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 minutes or so. Cool for 15 minutes on a rack in the pans, then invert onto rack to cool completely.
- Pulse cherries in a food processor until they're finely chopped.
- Sprinkle gelatin over the water and set aside to soften.
- In a double boiler (or just a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water), combine white chocolate and 1/4 cup of the cream. Whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
- Microwave the softened gelatin for 20 seconds or so, until it liquefies. Stir into chocolate mixture, followed by the chopped cherries and maraschino liqueur.
- In a separate small bowl, use an electric mixer to whip the rest of the cream until it holds firm peaks. Fold into cherry-chocolate mixture.
- Refrigerate mixture until you're ready to assemble the cake (it should be firm enough in about 25 minutes).
- Combine all ingredients and stir well until sugar is dissolved (superfine sugar would be great if you have it--if not, no big deal). Set aside.
- In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup of the milk with the flour. Whisk until smooth, then place the mixture on the stove over medium heat and slowly add the rest of the milk, whisking constantly until it starts to steam and barely simmer. Reduce the heat to low and keep whisking until slightly thickened, then remove from heat. Keep whisking for another minute or so. Refrigerate for a few minutes to bring the mixture to room temperature, then pass it through a strainer to remove any flour lumps. Set aside.
- Cream the butter on medium speed with an electric mixer until soft, 30 seconds or so, then add the sugar and beat until pale and fluffy, 5-7 minutes.
- Lower mixer speed to low and slowly pour in the milk mixture., followed by liqueur and almond extract. Go back to medium speed and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
- When cakes are completely cool, slice in half horizontally. Brush layers with maraschino syrup (normally I do just one side, but since these are so small and practically fit my palm, I was able to brush both sides during assembly pretty easily) as you assemble the cake.
- In between each layer, pipe a ring of frosting around the edge and fill with about 1/2 cup of mousse (I had some left over). Repeat and frost outside as desired.