[I could not find this recipe on Martha's website to link to. Here's why I don't include the recipes in my posts.]
Okay, so. This is the beautiful layer cake that Martha is presenting in the cover photo of the MSBH. The results of my first attempt are displayed above. From the top layer up, mine is lovely. The bottom three layers, however, leave a lot to be desired. I don’t know what went awry in the cake baking step of this recipe, but I clearly did something very wrong.
Also, it should be mentioned yet again, I am not so good at the cakes to begin with. In fact, when I finish the “Cakes” chapter of the MSBH, I think I will hold a poll here where people can vote on my “ugliest cake.” There will be some doozies, I guarantee it. This one here may very well be in the running.
You start out with a whole bunch of eggs, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and salt which is whipped together until thick.
A mixture of flour and cornstarch is added and just mixed in. There is no leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder. Then vegetable oil finishes the batter.
The flour gunked up at the bottom of my whisk and I didn’t notice this until after I had added the vegetable oil. I think this might have been what most adversely affected my cakes. I dug the gunk out and remixed it in as well as I could.
The batter goes into two round pans and then it’s baked.
The cakes baked up beautifully, or so I thought. When I removed them from the oven they were puffy and golden and delightful, although they did smell a little eggy and looked too bubbly.
The cakes quickly deflated like souffles and what remained were weird spongey fungus-looking things. Hideous!
My morale was even more deflated than the cakes were. I really do feel a bit defeated when things don’t turn out. I hate to waste the ingredients and the time. I especially dislike how much it rattles my confidence to take on the more difficult cake recipes waiting for me later in this project.
These cakes were certainly salvageable, but I wish they had turned out better.
After the cakes cooled, I prepared my berries by washing them and made my whipped cream. The MSBH says you can add the insides of a vanilla bean to the whipped cream if you desire and you should! You should desire to do this! It makes the whipped cream so much better. (I left some of the strawberries with their hulls to use on the top of the cake to make it prettier.)
Okay so now it’s just a matter of assembling the layer cake. Each round is sliced in half horizontally and one layer is placed on the cake stand.
It’s spread with a quarter of the whipped cream and topped with the berries.
Here’s something I learned: err on the side of using more of the berries rather than less. Really crowd them on there and get them all the way to edge, along with the whipped cream. I didn’t do this on my first layer and it doesn’t look very good. I did do this with subsequent layers and they look much better.
Even though it looks like I used more than enough berries and got my whipped cream close enough to the edge in the photos above and below, I really didn’t.
The next few layers are done in the same manner – whipped cream and berries and cake, whipped cream and berries and cake. Pretty simple.
And then of course the final layer of fruit at the top should look the best. I found that halving the strawberries and putting several of them down first and then adding different berries a few at a time helped layer them in way that wasn’t too purposeful, but still looked nice. This step took a lot more care and attention than I would have guessed!
Okay, so let us revisit what the final cake looked like. I’d rather not, but let’s.
Pretty wonky. Also very tall and a little unruly. When it came time to slice it, I was just like, “This is not going to end well.”
Honestly, even the perfectly symmetrical version on the cover of the MSBH had to have been a beast to portion into slices. I also found it telling that there is no sliced photo of this cake in the book.
And, lo and behold, slicing made an even bigger mess of an already sloppy cake.
In hindsight, I should have used my angel food cake knife to slice it rather than a regular thin chef’s knife. I really do think that would have helped avoid the cake smooshing down on itself.
One thing I definitely concluded after slicing and then eating some of this cake is that if you’re planning on serving it at a cookout or picnic (which I was until I realized what a nightmare it would have been) it should just be constructed as a trifle. Just cube or tear the cake into pieces and layer with the berries and whipped cream.
Granted, if this is baked and assembled well, it would be darn impressive. But a trifle would taste exactly the same and be so much easier to contain, transport, and serve – not to mention a lot faster. So that’s something to keep in mind.
The taste is quite good, but how can you go wrong with fresh berries and vanilla bean whipped cream in the summer??? The cake texture and flavor is lovely, even my ill-fated results. It’s velvety and vanilla-y and ideally complements the whipped cream and fruit. Indeed, the major flavor comes from the berries in every bite. Perfect for summer and utterly delicious.