perfect party cake (daring bakers march 2008)


I was excited to see that Morven chose a recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours for this month’s Daring Baker challenge. This book is extremely popular among food bloggers, but I had never made anything from it. Oh, and also, I love cake. And I had too many egg whites in the freezer left over from the pound cake experiments.

The cake came together easily. We were allowed to change the flavoring from the original lemon if we chose, but I didn’t because I was interested in the subtly-lemon flavored cake. I’m a major batter eater, and this batter tasted great, which is always a good sign.


Like a few of the Daring Bakers, my cakes didn’t rise as much as I expected. This may be a result of the previously-frozen state of my egg whites, but I suspect it’s because I used a bit too much flour. Apparently the copy of the recipe I used had a mistake (oops!) in the amount of flour called for. I was a little worried about cutting the thin layers in half and probably would have skipped that step if this hadn’t been a DB challenge. However, Dorie refers to this cake as “sturdy” and I imagine the extra flour makes it more so, so I had no problems whatsoever cutting my thin layers in half.

The buttercream is my favorite of the few meringue buttercreams I’ve made. The lemon juice gave it a flavor beyond lightly sweetened butter. It came together quickly and was easy to work with.


I’m glad I was able to halve each layer, because the alternating stripes of raspberry jam and buttercream is so pretty. I was a little surprised that Dorie called for one quarter of the buttercream to be used in between each layer, leaving just one quarter for both the top and the sides. I tried to use less in between the layers, so that I’d have some more to work with on the outside. In the future, if I’m serving the cake immediately, I might make just ⅔ – ¾ of the buttercream recipe, and leave the sides of the cake bare. I think it would be really pretty. Plus it would cut down on the ridiculous amount of butter involved in this dessert.

Overall, I thought the cake was delicious. The lemon, the raspberry, and the sweet cake were great compliments. The cake was easy to work with, “sturdy”, as Dorie refers to it. I thought it was maybe just a bit dry, so I was relieved to hear that I used too much flour, because now I can say that the first recipe I made from Dorie Greenspan lived up to all the hype. And in fact, I bought the book a few days later!


Perfect Party Cake (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

Dorie note: Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless opportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

For the Cake
2¼ cups (9 ounces) cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1½ cups (10½ ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready:
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.

To Make the Cake:
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat 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. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

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. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. 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).

To Make the Buttercream:
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
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 it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze 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.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.



  1. This looks delicious! I love your pictures! Dorie’s recipes are wonderful- glad your first turned out so well!

  2. absolutely stunning cake bridget! the layers do look gorgeous! i want a piece!

  3. Your cake is beautiful!!! Congratulations on yet another successful challenge.

  4. Your cake is gorgeous. The toasted coconut adds that little bit of something extra that makes it so pretty.

    I was too scared to cut my layers in half so I actually made another batch to avoid it. It’s good to know that the cake held up well to being cut in half. Hopefully next time I’ll be gutsy enough to cut mine.

  5. What a beautifully presented cake – so pretty!

  6. I’m a major batter-eater too. Since the batter tasted good, I knew the cake would be tasty too. My cake turned out pretty moist. I think I was afraid of over-baking it. Yours turned out very pretty!

  7. Oh, dear! I love your perfectly pretty layers and beautiful decorating! It looks so delicious 🙂

  8. Very lovely! So simple!

  9. Hello Bridget, Your cake turned out beautiful despite an attempt to sabotage it with extra flour!
    My frosting was getting pretty skimpy on the sides. I hardly had a 1/4 teaspoon left! Unheard of! I make frosting in quantities to feed armies!
    Those strawberries look tasty on the cake.

  10. those thick, lucious layers of buttercream make me weak in the knees…good thing i’m sitting down. 🙂

    nicely done!

  11. It turned out so very lovely.

  12. I am glad I am not the only one who wondered about the 1/4 of the buttercream between layers. Wonderful job with your cake!

  13. I ran short on the sides too – course I just attributed it to copious sampling….I think you’re on to something there!

  14. I actually love the look with the thinner layers and the thick buttercream layers! Beautiful.

  15. wow! this cake is so pretty!

  16. Your cake is gorgeous – and you are going to love the book!

  17. I’m also a major batter eater. It’s the best part, in my opinion. Your layers are so perfect looking, and I love the way you toasted the coconut on top. I love toasted coconut! Well done!

  18. Beautiful cake- I love the toasted coconut with the strawberries dancing round the bottom!

  19. Wonderful cake! The layers are perfect and the photos are lovely!

  20. Your cake looks fabulous. Lovely job on the pictures too!

    Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

  21. your cake looks just PERFECT 🙂


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