Before we dive into this cake, there's some crazy good news! My column, A Brown Kitchen is a finalist in the year's IACP awards in the Best Writing: Food Focused Column. There are lots of Bay Area authors in the mix too which is exciting and I'm also pretty stoked to be in NYC later this month at the conference to talk about photographing and writing my cookbook with my lovely friends: Deb at Smitten Kitchen, Yossy of Apt2B, Baking and Michael Harlan Turkell (who is also nominated for his new cookbook on Vinegars!).
Valentine's Day is next week. Typically, I don't expect anything from M, I'd rather he gave me a nice gift daily for the rest of the 364 days of the year, I can even compromise to once a week or month. You know, it is important to feel special. But this year was particularly tricky, M was out in Australia for work and missed the Super Bowl (he missed his annual wing fiesta and yelling at the TV session) and he also doesn't care for chocolate as much as I do. So I wanted to do something extra special for him but keeping in mind his likes and dislikes. Right before he left for Sydney, I baked a cake and combined some of his favorite things, including this exquisite maple pearls he got me from Canada late last year. The maple pearls are a product of reverse spherication and look like golden caviar and make a great decorative topping for desserts. Since Michael is a Southerner (and also like his meat and potatoes), I figured I'd do something with his favorite ingredients, bacon and cayenne and threw them all into a batch of buttercream which gave way to create the most beautiful orange-pink hued frosting that contained little specks of the pepper. The frosting is not hot but it does have a hint of subtle heat at the end of each bite. The maple syrup additions helps to smoothen out the flavors in the cake.
I got some help with the Swiss meringue buttercream frosting from pastry genius, Stella Parks of Brave Tart. Her recipe for this classic frosting is easy and spot on. There are a couple of things that I did change to make the frosting work for my cake:
1. I added the cayenne while the eggs were heating. The heat helps to extract the flavor and color of the dried ground pepper much better.
2. I added maple syrup at the end rather than at the meringue formation stage, lest it disrupts the formation of the meringue.
3. I spoke with Stella about the choice of butter, you don't need any high-fat European butters to make this buttercream, the American kind or any other kind will work here.
cayenne maple swiss buttercream frosting (adapted from Stella Parks of Serious Eats - I haven't strayed from her recipe too much except for the flavoring agents and the sweetener I added in, her recipe is a classic and this is perhaps the best one I've ever come across)
makes about 6 cups
6 oz (170g/ egg whites from 5 to 6 large eggs)
11 oz (310g) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp cayenne (you can up to 1 1/2 tsp if you like it hotter or use 1/2 tsp if you just want a mild hint)
20 ounces unsalted butter (5 sticks/565g)
1/4 cup dark maple syrup
Prepare a wide pot with 1 1/2 inches water. Crumple a bit of aluminum foil to form a ring and place it in the pot. Heat the water on high until steaming, then reduce and maintain at a simmer.
Combine the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar and cayenne in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the bowl over the pot with the water. Stir and scrape the sides with a flexible spatula until the egg whites hold steady at 185F. This will take about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and using the whisk attachment, whip at high speed for about 10 minutes, until the meringue is glossy, stuff and cool to touch at about 90F.
While the mixer is running, add the butter in 2 Tbsp installments. The mixture will start to thicken and cool. Once the butter is added, add the maple syrup. The final buttercream should be about 72F and thick and creamy.
bacon frosting for the sandwich layer
makes about 2 cups
1 1/2 cups of cayenne maple syrup swiss buttercream frosting (see recipe above)
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped bacon (you can use any bacon, I really like the maple flavored ones), cooled to room temperature
In a medium bowl, fold the frosting with the bacon. Use this frosting to sandwich the two cakes when assembling.
makes two 8-inch cakes
2 1/4 cups (295g) all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground green cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground star anise
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks/170g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300g) sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 cup (240ml) whole milk
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two 8 inch round cake tins with parchment paper and grease them well with a little butter.
In a large mixing bowl, dry whisk the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and star anise. Keep aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium high speed until light fluffy about 3 to 4 minutes. Then beat in one yolk at a time until combined. Add half of the dry whisked ingredients and mix on low speed until there are no more visible flecks of flour. Add the milk and then the remaining dry ingredients and whisk on low speed until combined. Divide the batter equally between the two cake tins and bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes until they are completely done and a skewer comes out clean from the center of the cake.
Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes. The run a knife around the edges to release them and let them cool completely on a wire rack. Once cooled, you can wrap and freeze them until ready to frost or use immediately.
Maple pearls (optional - see note below)*
Trim and level the cakes to ensure that they are flat and domed.
Place one cake on a stand. Spread the bacon buttercream frosting in the center to form an even layer using an offset spatula.
Place the second cake on top of the frosting.
Crumb coat the entire cake using about 1 cup or less of the cayenne maple buttercream frosting. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes till the frosting hardens. Then frost the cake with the remaining buttercream.
Decorate the top with maple pearls if using.
Note: Cake top pattern. If you have a turntable, rotate the stand and using your offset spatula at angle of 45 degrees, starting from the center, let the edge of the spatula create an outward pattern slowly.
* Maple Pearls: I got my Maple Pearls or The Caviar of Maple from Canada "Canadian Maple Delights".