Saturday, August 4, 2012

Cherry Vanilla Cake with Swiss Buttercream Frosting

 For most of us, we carry sweet childhood memories of our birthday cakes.  I have great memories of birthday parties, with games like "Pin the Tail on the Donkey",  balloons, party hats-- and of course, opening up my birthday gifts.  For most of my life, I would ask for a white birthday cake, with white frosting and lots of roses.  The Grand Finale was the moment that my parents would bring in the birthday cake, with all the lit candles-- and I'd eagerly wait for the "Happy Birthday" song to be sung, so that I could have the first slice of cake...with the biggest rose that I personally chose for "me". Bliss.

I've eaten my share of leftover cake for breakfast. You bet. I felt so special, and I never worried about calories.  Why should I? I was a skinny kid with a wicked sweet tooth.

This skinny kid has morphed into a mature woman with "ample curves" (that's all I'm saying), but I still have that wicked sweet tooth. I've realized that, in recent years,  the charm of lard and butter-laced frosting has lost it's luster for me.  It's become too cloyingly sweet for my own taste.  Thanks to other food blogs, and cookbooks, I've discovered there are other options to commercially made buttercream icing-- like cooked vanilla frosting and Swiss Buttercream. Both recipes are sweet and creamy, but won't give you a toothache.

So I'm starting a new tradition of baking my own birthday cake. Selfishly, this gives me a justifiable reason to go through my collection of cakes that I've collected on one of my Pinterest boards.  Cake baking is therapeutic for me-- and I confess that I love the taste of cake batter. 

I don't consider myself to be artistically gifted (like my brothers, who can draw and play musical instruments).  That doesn't keep me from ogling the beautiful cakes that I see on some of my favorite blogs, such as  Sweetapolita, I Am Baker, and Sprinkle Bakes.  These ladies are what I consider to be the "Divas" of cake artistry, food styling and photography.  I'm a total beginner with piping my frosting, and I find that's if fun to do.  I aspire to get better at it, hoping it will bring out the untapped artistry in me.

I had pinned Heather's recipe, when she first posted it on her blog.  Cherry Chip cake brings back fond childhood memories, and her maraschino cake was always on my mind-- it kept calling to me, and my birthday (that came and went on July 20th) was the perfect excuse to make it .

TIP: This recipes uses only egg whites. I make egg yolk-custard based ice creams, fairly often. Instead of throwing out the egg whites, I freeze them.  I thaw them, in the refrigerator, and they worked out perfectly for this recipe.

I usually shy away from products that are laden with high fructose corn syrup-- but once in a while, I throw caution to the wind.  Maraschino cherries spook a lot of people-- the whole Red-Dye 40 scare and the HFCS.    I've always loved their bright red color, and the slight taste of almond.  I love almond anything.  I figure that I don't eat these very often, so I'll survive.
NOTE: With cherry season in full swing, I see no reason why you can use the real deal. It just won't have the bright pink color and flavor of maraschinos.  It's definitely worth a try, though.

The cake recipe was easy to follow.  It does involve whipping egg whites and gently folding them into the batter. 

I bought this Cherry Concentrate on King Arthur Flours website and added, a little at a time, tasting until the cherry flavor came through-- about 2 tablespoons.  It also added extra color to the batter, so I didn't need to use food coloring.

Let's talk about frosting, shall we?  Canned frosting is banned from my pantry.  Ew. It tastes like chemicals. Bah!   I still like traditional buttercream, but in small doses.  Swiss Buttercream appears to be hard to make, because you heat egg whites and granulated sugar over a double boiler.  It might seem intimidating that you need to whip up the warmed egg whites, until it cools to a perfect temperature-- then slowly add four sticks of cut-up unsalted butter. NOTE: Do not use salted butter. I speak from experience. Ahem. The frosting will taste like a salt lick. You won't like it.

Holy Cholesterol!  Did I just write  FOUR sticks of butter?!  Yes, I did.  Shall I repeat that? Four.
Do you eat Swiss Buttercream cake every single day? Twice a week? Twice a month? No?  Good! Neither do I. Consider this to be a treat, that you do-- say-- one to three times a year. Once slice, each time.  Feel better?

I made a Coconut Swiss Buttercream a while ago, and you can see how I did this by clicking here. You can also see an excellent tutorial on what to do if your Swiss Buttercream appears to go "wrong" on Sweetapolita's blog.  I'm so pleased that I've conquered my fear of making Swiss Buttercream. The frosting has a silky texture to it.  The sweetness is there, but it's not super sweet.  It's a dream to frost with, too.

I added some more Cherry Concentrate and a little of the maraschino cherry juice, to the frosting, to give it a natural pink color-- and more cherry flavor.  On a whim, I mixed up a batch of traditional vanilla buttercream . I  don't really need a recipe-- I use one stick of softened unsalted butter, and start adding powdered sugar (with the paddle attachment to my stand mixer) until it's almost to the consistency that I like. I then add a tablespoon or two of half and half (or heavy cream) and then  add vanilla, and some almond extract, until it tastes and feels right to me.  I used the traditional buttercream for piping.  I find that Swiss Buttercream is so soft, that its more challenging to pipe.

Moment of truth: I had dinner guests, and the Grilled Planked Salmon was almost ready. I was losing natural light, so I had to cut into the cake to photograph what it looks like inside. There was no time for food-styling, so this is what I have.  It was super hard for any of us to resist eating a slice, but we managed to hold off for another hour and a half.

TASTING NOTES:  The texture of the cake isn't a very fine crumb, because cake flour isn't used.  There was a very slight density to the cake, but not over-the-top.  I'm glad that I checked the cake at 24 minutes, or it would have been overbaked.  Next time, I'll check it even sooner. I like to see a little bit of crumb sticking to my toothpick-- that means a moister cake. Small details. Flavor-wise, my guests loved it.  The cherry flavor came through, with a slight hint of almond. That's exactly what I wanted.  The frosting was raved about.  Everyone scraped the plates. I had set my half eaten slice down, and my husband asked me if I was finished with it. That's love-- I offered it to him, and he ate it. I sent my guests home with a few generous slices, and the remaining cake was gone by the following day.  My son, however, didn't like the frosting. He said it wasn't sweet enough. Keep in mind, he's a young adult who has inherited his mama's sweet tooth-- and he loves his candy. Sigh.

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.  Thanks, Heather, for your beautiful cake recipes and photos.  I will make this recipe, again, and I think they'd make adorable cupcakes.

It's back to school time, so I'm in the throes of my busiest work weeks.  I've been registering high school kids, non-stop, because their first day of school is next Wednesday. I might be scarce for a while longer, but I'll be back with plenty of new recipes. Thanks for following me!

I always post a printable recipe card at the end of each recipe post. If you cannot view it, you might be using an older version of Internet Explorer. You should be able to view my recipe cards with Safari, Mozilla, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. If you still can't view the recipe card, all of my recipes are stored on Key Ingredient, by clicking here. If you still can't figure out how to view the printable recipe card, please email me at and I am happy to help.


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Noelle Marie said...

I love pink cake! Happy birthday AGAIN! As my mother says... We celebrate all year! So here's to more birthday cakes!

Velva said...

I always asked for white cake with white frosting too. If I knew cakes like ts wee an option I would have quickly expanded my horizons. Wow, is all I am going to write-

Have a great weekend.

P.S. Happy Birthday!

Velva said...

Ooops, typo...Meant "were" an option.

Laura Dembowski said...

This cake looks so yummy! Have you ever tried Italian meringue buttercream? It is my favorite frosting and has a really light, smooth, and creamy texture.

Roz said...

I agree completely Debby, only fresh rich, caloric heavy buttercream frosting for me! Especially for birthdays….that's ALL I ever had made for my kids birthdays when they were growing up. I thought all of the adults came to the parties just for the buttercream frosting. Love the cherries in this! MMMM!

Hey I just did a post on California cuisine and thought of you the entire time I wrote it. I'm not sure how close you live to where I used to live in Orange County, but you'll still read about some of my have things all culinary from California.


Roz said...

oops that was supposed to read 'fave things' in California. auto-spell check is so much fun!

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

Happy birthday. What a lovely cake. You've brought back wonderful cake memories for me, since I'm not a cake baker. My mother made fabulous angel food cake with white icing, but for our birthday she, believe it or not, bought a fancy decorated chocolate cake. Well, at least we got our fill of cakes.

Kirsten@My Kitchen in the Rockies said...

What a beautiful cake. Who could resist a slice? I would eat it all alone.

Cathy at Wives with Knives said...

I don't indulge in dessert very often but know I would ask for an extra large piece of this beauty, Debby. This looks like a cake my mother might have baked and I would definitely add the maraschino cherry garnish. Beautiful.

Joanne said...

I always save swiss meringue buttercream for very special occasions because of how much butter goes into it! It IS a dream though. :) I love this cake! And I'm so glad it hit the birthday spot. You deserve it!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I only ever wanted chocolate as a kid, but pink was my favorite color, so this beautiful cake might have tempted me. It certainly tempts me now. Pass me slice.

I made my first swiss buttercream earlier this year and now it's my staple frosting. It was intimidating at first, but once I did it, following the directions to the letter, it came out fine. I will never make a heavy buttercream again.

Deb said...

That is one outstanding birthday cake! Scrumptious in pink, just breathtaking! A homemade cake always tastes better than from the bakery. I am so glad you treated yourself on your special day!

Alicia@ eco friendly homemaking said...

Oh my goodness this cake looks amazing! So glad that I discovered your blog. We lived in the Sacramento area for several years and Monterey was one of our favorite places to visit. How awesome to live there!!

Organic Vanilla Beans said...


This is a fantastic recipe, and great fun to make with the kids. Thanks so much for posting it.

All the best, Alex

Sue/the view from great island said...

I rarely make cakes, but this one is stunning, inside and out! And I'm dying to try that cherry concentrate, great fine!

Anonymous said...

Would be nice of there was a list of ingredients and a list of instructions to follow step by step. I hate when recipes are done in this way. Would have tried it if it were lasted out properly.

Debby Foodiewife said...

Wouldn't it be nice if commenters didn't leave remarks about my recipes under the guise of being anonymous? If you took the time to scroll down, you would see a printable recipe card.
Also, if you read the RED BOLD LETTERS on my sidebar, I explain where my recipe cards are...and I provide my email address. All you had to do was to email me, and I would have gladly shown you how to find the printable recipe card. My format is to show how to make the recipe, and I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, provide a printable recipe card. Unfortunately, you growled at me and I doubt you'll come back. Pity. I don't bite. But rude isn't nice.