I should make cakes more often.
People often ask me what my favorite thing is to bake. And I used to say that I wasn’t even sure, that I try new recipes every time and love experimenting in the kitchen. But today, let’s put a stake in the ground: my favorite thing to bake is a layer cake.
Layer cakes rarely make it to the top of my baking list, though, because they’re hard to carry on a bus and often hard to serve. I’ve noticed partygoers are more likely to casually grab a cookie than a piece of cake. Even cake’s single-serving cousin, the Cupcake, is oft doomed at parties, since people don’t always want to hold a cupcake while balancing drinks and socializing. Cake balls work well- but that’s another post, for another day.
Despite logistical difficulties, nothing beats a layer cake from the perspective of personal satisfaction. Cakes are actually pretty simple to bring together once you know the drill, and frosting recipes tend to be simple too. When that cake is assembled, it sure feels good. Plus, nothing beats the deliciousness of a fluffy, light slice of cake.
Birthdays are the time I’m most likely to indulge my love of layer cakes. And so it’s become a tradition that every year, I bake myself a birthday cake. I bring it to whatever birthday party I decide to have and share it with my friends. People always ask why I want to put so much effort into my own birthday- but it’s such a source of joy for me. Each year I “treat myself” to whichever cake I want the most from my “to bake” list. I throw caution to practicality, and even to ingredient cost- and just make what I want to make. A couple years ago I made Lemon Blueberry Cake, then last year it was this Cardamom Cake with Strawberry Filling.
Interior shot (A very messy one!)
This year, I decided herb’s the word. I am a huge fan of herbs in baked goods, as you’ve likely noticed. And I’d been eying blogger Molly Yeh’s herb-filled cake creations for a while. So for the 2nd year in a row, I made a cake from My Name is Yeh. It was an excellent choice. This cake is fluffy, delicate, and delicious. The rosemary is just a faint hint, since it’s infused in the milk rather than baked into the batter in herb form. That delicate flavor is complemented by plump fruit in the blackberry preserves, and a creamy mascarpone frosting. My finished cake was nowhere near as beautiful as Molly’s original creation, but it sure tasted good. I was a bit apprehensive about bringing an herb cake to tons of people but hey- it was my birthday so I figured I got to do what I wanted! I was happy to hear that my friends really enjoyed this cake too… and kept going back to sneak more slices.
I can’t let another year go by before I bake another layer cake. So, I hereby declare that in 2016, I shall make more cakes, even if that means clutching onto a cake as I stand on an overcrowded bus, racing across town.
Rosemary-Infused Cake with Blackberry Preserves and Mascarpone Frosting
Original recipe: My Name is Yeh. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.
Yield: I used two 8-inch cake pans; Molly’s original cake uses three 6-inch pans. As a rule, you can split into as many pans as you like as long as those pans are evenly filled. And pay attention to bake time as you switch around the cake “volume”
Suggested equipment: Mixer
Total Time: ~1.5 hours assuming simple decoration
Cook Time: ~20 minutes
1 cup whole milk
2 sprigs rosemary, washed and patted dry
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
A note: I ran out of icing to frost the sides and was cool with that but if you want to ensure enough icing, you might want to double this!
12 oz unsalted butter, softened
8 oz mascarpone cheese, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
a pinch or two of kosher salt
Step by Step Directions
Infuse your rosemary into the milk
- Take out your butter so it softens up in time for the cake batter
- Place your milk and rosemary in a small saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat
- Stir the mixture often, making sure it doesn’t start to curdle or “set” on the top
- Once the mixture has simmered, turn off the heat and let the saucepan sit uncovered for 15 minutes. You don’t want to throw the hot milk into your batter for two reasons: 1, the temperature might throw off your batter texture. And 2, you want to let the rosemary fully infuse into the milk!
Make your cake
- Preheat your oven to 350F
- Sift cake flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl
- In a separate bowl or your mixer bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy
- Beat the eggs into your butter mixture, one at a time
- Add the vanilla, yogurt and oil to the butter mixture and mix together
- Add your dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Beat until smooth (about 1-2 minutes of beating action)
- Measure out 2/3 of your infused milk, using a strainer if you see any stray bits of rosemary floating into your milk. Some milk may have evaporated during the infusion so if that happened, you can add more plain milk to your cup to make it up to a full 2/3 a cup. I actually had leftover infused milk rather than lacking milk
- Pour the milk into your bowl of batter
- Grease and flour your cake pans, or line them with parchment. I prefer parchment myself
- Pour the batter evenly between your cake pans and smooth the tops
- Bake your cakes for 18-24 minutes. Mine took 20 minutes on the dot. You should rotate the cakes halfway through so they bake evenly
- The cakes are done when a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then invert them onto a rack to cool completely
- While the cakes cool- take out your mascarpone and butter to make the frosting
Make your frosting and assemble
- Use your mixer to beat the butter, mascarpone and vanilla together
- Add sugar and a pinch of salt, then beat the frosting again until it is light and fluffy
- Taste and adjust as needed- I ended up adding a second pinch of salt to taste
- Assemble your cake! Put 1 layer on a plate, and spread a thick layer of frosting on top. Cover that with a layer of blackberry preserves. Then, set a 2nd layer on top of that. Keep going until you run out of layers
- I then frosted the top with mascarpone frosting, too. Molly frosted her sides but I actually ran out of icing and decided to go for a “semi naked” cake look to compensate for that
- Decorate the top with sprinkles if you wish- and why wouldn’t you wish?!
Store cake in the fridge to keep the mascarpone icing nice, but let it sit out for a little bit before serving so it isn’t totally firm when you serve. I noticed the rosemary flavors actually got stronger over time and sort of melded into the frosting from the cake on Day 2. I think I liked the cake better on Day 1 but it still got rave reviews at my office on Day 2!
Rosemary reporting to duty!
Infusing the milk
Beating the butter and sugar
Adding vanilla, yogurt, oil
Adding in the dry ingredients
Pouring in the milk
All baked up!
Creaming together the ingredients for frosting
If you want a taller cake, use smaller pans for the same amount of batter
A layer of mascarpone icing + blackberry preserves
On the dessert table