Mar 30 08
by cara
at 8:15 PM
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Perfect Party Cake

This month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge, hosted by Morven, was Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake.  I made this cake for Easter dinner with my husband’s family.  One of the neat things about this recipe is its flexibility because this basic recipe can be adapted with many different fillings, fresh berries, and other toppings.  I opted to make the recipe exactly as written for my first attempt, with the lemon in the cake and buttercream, raspberry preserves, and coconut topping.  Although I have some experience with layer cakes (though clearly need more practice, as you will see from the pictures), this was my first time making a buttercream containing egg whites.  I was definitely a little leery of this step, not only because I wanted to make sure the egg whites were cooked sufficiently, but also because I’ve never had very good luck beating egg whites into “stiff peaks.”  Turns out my KitchenAid mixer was all I needed to beat those egg whites into submission-no more hand mixer for me!  I was only able to take one teensy bite of the cake–I can’t eat eggs for the next few months (long story), and this recipe calls for 8 egg whites.  The lemon flavor was much stronger than I cared for, though my husband and his family all seemed to like it.  I’m also not a big fan of raspberry preserves, but I think some fresh strawberries would be delicious!  I think my taste-testers probably would have preferred no coconut…or at least less of it.  This recipe is a great basic layer cake recipe, and I look forward to playing around with it again in the future.  Check out all the other beautiful cakes at the Daring Bakers blogroll!


Perfect Party Cake

Words From Dorie

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.


  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract


  • 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 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut


Getting Ready: Centre 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.

Serving: 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.

Storing: 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.

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  1. Beautiful layers. I am not a huge coconut fan either but this one seemed to work for me. Great job!
    Clara @ I♥food4thought

  2. Congratulation to your great looking cake! I had more trouble with mine… the dough did not rise.

  3. When I had all my gallbladder issues, I had to bake things and not enjoy them, and that’s not any fun! Your cake looks beautiful though, nice job.

  4. Your cake looks lovely! Perfect!

  5. It looks fabulous! I opted to not add the coconut as I was making this for a friend because I wasn’t sure if she liked it or not. She said she didn’t like it, so good move on my part!

  6. Your cake looks good. Hopefully you will get to enjoy more of it if you make it again.

  7. You did a wonderful job on your cake. I love the strawberry filling…yummy.

    Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

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