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Every July brings the agonizing decision of what kind of cake to make for my birthday. I make cakes, cupcakes and cookies for friends here, so everyone was asking me if I was making my own cake this year. My answer? “Of course I am!” This is my one chance to make exactly what I want, instead of what everyone else wants. The problem is that there are so many options. One of my favorite things to do is read cake blogs and cookbooks. (What? That’s not normal?) I would love nothing more than to bake and eat every cake I read about, but I’m a dietitian and always have a nutrition tally running through my head. Plus, I don’t even want to know how many miles of running with Archie that would require. It’s way too hot here for that and even he doesn’t have that much energy.
I kept envisioning an all-vanilla birthday cake, but I also wanted it to be more fun than that. My forever favorite flavor combination is chocolate and raspberry so I knew I needed to work that in as well. After thinking about different combinations and agonizing for weeks, (I’m not even kidding. My friends will attest to that because they all kept asking me what I was making and I gave a different answer each time.) I came up with the most perfect 27th birthday cake ever. Four layers of alternating vanilla funfetti and chocolate cake filled with raspberry compote and whipped mascarpone cream and frosted with Swiss meringue buttercream; it was a cake dream come true.
For the cake layers, I tried out a new vanilla cake recipe and used my go to chocolate. The vanilla cake is firm but not dry and full of vanilla flavor. I love the bursts of color from the sprinkles. They are fun no matter what the occasion! The chocolate cake is my go to for a reason. It’s really easy to make, has a deep chocolate flavor and is very moist. Hot coffee is the not so secret addition, adding another layer of depth to the chocolate flavor. If coffee isn’t your thing, don’t worry, you cannot taste it in the cake. The two cakes are great both together (chocolate and vanilla are meant for each other, right?) and with the filling. Let’s talk about that filling for a moment. I wanted something that wasn’t too sweet but brought additional flavors to the cake. I would have loved to use fresh raspberries, but they are extremely expensive here so I settled for a raspberry compote instead. The compote is tart, but not overly so and balances the lightly sweet, airy, whipped mascarpone cream so well. I could just eat them together with a spoon (which I may or may not have done. Anything goes on my birthday!). The key with the filling is to not add too much. It is very light compared to the heavy cake layers, so you’ll want to pipe a buttercream dam around the edge of the cake. As my husband likes to say, you can never have too much buttercream. And speaking of buttercream, if you haven’t made Swiss meringue buttercream yet (SMB for short), you need to give it a try. It may seem a little daunting at first, but this amazing tutorial from Sweetapolita will get you through it. The process of making SMB is actually pretty forgiving, once you know what to look for. Unlike a traditional buttercream, SMB is not as sweet, perfectly butter and so smooth. It flavors really well and I love adding anything from vanilla to berry purees or, my favorite, salted caramel sauce. For this cake, I decided to add vanilla and almond extracts and it was the perfect finish to this towering cake.
I used the pastel swirl method to decorate this cake, which I’ve done on a few cakes in the past. I love it because it’s so simple and gives the cakes a really unique effect. You can find a great video tutorial here. Somehow, my cake ended up looking a lot like the one in the tutorial, although that was not my original intent. I decided on dark purple, light purple and teal colored frosting with a combination of silver and purple nonpareils and purple sugar sprinkles. The best part about this design is that you can choose any combination of colors and sprinkles you like! There’s no limit to the creativity (or amount of sprinkles) here!
This cake was the perfect end to my 27th birthday celebration. Earlier in the day, Colin and I went snorkeling at one of our favorite spots, which happens to be one block away from our house and he even booked a couple’s massage for us. The highlight though, was the excellent dinner with great friends at one of our favorite restaurants. All of them raved about the cake and, I have to admit, it was delicious. The pops of color from the sprinkles, moist chocolate cake, tart and creamy raspberry whipped mascarpone filling and smooth buttercream was everything I wanted it to be and more. 27 is off to a great start!
Purple Pastel Birthday Cake
For the Vanilla Cake (2, 9-inch round layers)
- 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 whole egg, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 3/4 cups (315 g) cake flour, sifted
- 1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (19.5 g) baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon (5 g) salt
- 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into cubes
- 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles
For the Chocolate Cake (2, 9-inch round layers)
- 1 1/2 cups (180g) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups (300g) sugar
- 3/4 cup (90g) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (6 g) baking soda
- 1 teaspoon (4 g) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 3/4 cup hot brewed coffee
- 2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
For the Raspberry Compote
- 3 cups fresh or frozen raspberry, divided
- 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- Pinch of salt
For the Whipped Mascarpone Filling
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 2 teaspoons unflavoured gelatin (such as Knox brand)
- 1 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream (35-37% fat), cold, divided
- 1/4 cup (30 g) icing sugar
- 1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 6 large, fresh egg whites
- 1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar
- 27-30 tablespoons (3 sticks plus 3-6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into cubes and cool, but not cold
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- Pinch of salt
To make the Vanilla Cake
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease, line with parchment, butter and flour two round 9-inch pans.
- In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the eggs, 1/4 cup of milk, vanilla and the almond extract. Set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients, including the sugar, together on low speed for 30 seconds.
- Add the butter and blend on low speed for about 30 seconds, then add remaining 3/4 cup of milk, and mix on low speed until just moistened. Increase to medium speed and mix for 1-1/2 minutes.
- Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg/milk mixture in 3 separate batches; beat on medium for 20 seconds after each addition. Gently stir in the rainbow jimmies, until just combined.
- Divide the batter in evenly between the two pans, spreading it evenly with a small offset palette knife. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh the batter in the pans to ensure 2 even layers.
- Bake 25-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes clean when inserted into the center. Be so careful to not over-bake. Check cake at 20 minutes, but not before, and once you feel it’s almost ready, set the timer for 2 minute intervals.
- Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before loosening the sides with a small metal spatula, and invert onto greased wire racks. Gently turn cakes back up, so the tops are up and cool completely.
- Wrap tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. Best enjoyed day 1 or 2.
To make the Chocolate Cake
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease, line with parchment, butter and flour two round 9-inch pans.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low speed to blend.
- Add the vegetable oil, buttermilk, coffee, eggs, and vanilla to the bowl and mix on low speed until well blended and completely incorporated.
- Divide the batter in evenly between the two pans, spreading it evenly with a small offset palette knife. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh the batter in the pans to ensure 2 even layers. Batter will be liquidy.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating pans in oven halfway through. Cakes are done when toothpick or skewer in center comes clean out clean. Try not to over bake.
- Cool on wire racks for 15 minutes, then loosen edges with a small palette knife and gently invert onto racks until completely cool.
- Wrap tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 2 months.
To make the Raspberry Compote
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 1/4 cups of the raspberries, sugar, lemon juice and salt until the berries start to break down, stirring often, about 10 minutes.
- Lower the heat and simmer until compote coats a spoon, about 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool down slightly. Using an immersion blender (carefully) or counter-top blender, pulse until smooth. Push compote through a fine mesh sieve into a clean glass bowl and discard the seeded pulp from the sieve. Stir in remaining fresh raspberries. Keep covered and chilled for up to 3 days.
To make the Whipped Mascarpone Filling
- In a small bowl, place the cold water and sprinkle with the gelatin. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. In a small saucepan, bring 1/3 cup of the cream just to a simmer, then stir into the gelatin mixture. Refrigerate, stirring frequently, until cool but not set, about 8 minutes. If the gelatin mixture sets too much, microwave for 5-10 seconds and whisk until smooth.
- In a chilled stainless steel bowl with a chilled whisk attachment (for stand mixer), beat the remaining whipping cream, icing sugar, vanilla and salt until it thickens just slightly and soft peaks begin to form, about 1 minute. Very gradually add the gelatin mixture and continue beating until medium-firm peaks form (should be thick enough to spread). In a large bowl, microwave mascarpone in 5 second intervals, stirring in between, until soft. Gently fold in whipped cream mixture. Keep covered and chilled until ready to use.
To make the Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease.
- Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot. This usually takes 8-10 minutes.
- With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch. Placing a bag of ice around the outside of the bowl will cool the meringue faster. It can take 5-10 minutes for the meringue cool.
- Don't begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm.
- Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture. The butter is listed as a range because the amount needed will vary depending on humidity and temperature. Some days I only need 27 tablespoons, other days, I need all 30 or even 31. After adding the lower range of the butter, whip on medium high speed for 30 seconds. If the mixture is still runny, add a couple more tablespoons, whip again and repeat. The mixture will look curdled just before it comes back to smooth. *If mixture is too runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together.
- Add vanilla and almond extracts and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
- Add additional flavors, purees or colors as desired.
To assemble the cake
- Using a serrated knife, cut off any rounded tops on the cake layers, ensuring each layer is level.
- Place the first chocolate layer face up on a 10 inch round cake board, plate or cake stand. Fill piping bag with about 1 cup of SMB and pipe a dam around the perimeter of the cake layer (this will keep the compote and filling in place). Spoon 1/3 of the compote inside of the dam and spread in an even, thin layer. Top with 1/3 of the whipped mascarpone filling. Gently spread into an even layer using a small offset spatula.
- Repeat with each cake layer, alternating between the vanilla and chocolate cakes, until you come to the final cake layer. Place this layer face down. If compote or filling are starting to leak out, pipe more frosting over it and use your clean offset spatula to carefully smooth frosting in between layers.
- Cover the cake carefully with plastic wrap. Use your hands to ensure the cake is lined up straight and flattening any lumps or bumps of frosting. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Once the cake is stable and chilled, apply an even layer of SMB (un-tinted) to the entire cake to seal in crumbs. Chill again until frosting is firm, at least 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, divide remaining frosting into three bowls, adding a little extra frosting to the bowl that will be used for the top color. Tint frosting with desired colors.
- Place chilled cake onto a turntable. Apply a thick layer of one of the tinted frostings to the top of the cake, making sure to leave a small overhang around the edges. Smooth the top as best as you can. Unlike most cakes, you want the top to be almost completed as not to blend the colors too much. Apply a thick layer of the second color to the bottom third of the cake and then the last color over the middle of the cake. Fill in the color used for the top of the cake over the final, upper third. Using a metal spatula blend the colors together by smoothing frosting all over cake, as you would a typical one-color cake. Be careful to not overblend. Finish the decorations with your favorite combination of sprinkles or buttercream designs.
- Keep cake chilled in refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.