White Cake Fail
A friend of mine asked me recently if I would make a cake for her daughter's first birthday, and, of course, I obliged. The party-throwing mum opted for a white cake as the one that might appeal most widely to children and adults alike. So, for the past couple of weekends, I've been trying out recipes to find the perfect one for what will surely be the birthday party of the year for the under-5s at least. The problem is that, here in Northern Ireland, 'white cake' seems to be synonymous with Victoria Sponge: an egg-based cake served layered with fruit or jam and cream, and sprinkled with icing sugar (see the photo below from Wikimedia Commons). When it's done well, it can be very tasty indeed, but frequently it's a bit too dry for my taste. And, to be very honest, having grown up with buttercream frosting, a cake just isn't complete, in my mind, without lashings of the stuff.
Anyway, I started my experimentation with the white cake recipe in Peggy Porschen's accessible if, contradictorily, intimidating book, Pretty Party Cakes. Perhaps I should've taken my cue from the incredibly ambitious designs Porschen creates - those that I hope, one day, I'll be able to imitate - or even from the fact that her recipe for a basic white cake is called 'Victoria Sponge'. But, I had made this recipe before as cupcakes and remember it as being exceptionally moist and delicious. As 8- and 10-in layers, however, the recipe fell short. Despite the vanilla-pod flavoured sugar syrup with which I lovingly and repeatedly brushed the two layers I had made, the crumb was very dry. It tasted nice but wasn't anything to write home about, and, frustratingly, Porschen's recipe for buttercream frosting also disappointed. Made essentially of equal parts butter and icing sugar, it was super sweet and overly butter-y, even for my buttercream-educated palate. Not only that, it was very stiff, despite vigorous beating at high speed in my Kitchenmaid, and even thinned down with a drop of milk, it proved difficult to spread and almost impossible to pipe, especially for a novice cake decorator like myself.
Bravely, hubby's work colleagues taste tested the end result for me and sent home encouraging messages of gustatory satisfaction and delight. I suspect they may have been blinded by their desire for continued taste testing opportunities, though, and, as such, were overly generous in their assessment. Not quite an epic fail, but certainly not a success. *sob* (Don't worry; all turned out well. Pictures and recipes to follow.)