I have no idea how to hold it together while writing a post about goodbyes, however temporary, so let’s just call this a cake recipe post. Today, my very best friend since the age of 15 is finally, after years of waiting, off to begin officer training in Alabama with the United State Air Force. I show my love in layers, so his going away party cake was my biggest creation yet. I am happy for him to begin this adventure, since adventure has after all been the common thread in our stitching, tugging us along in life in varied directions, states, relationships and careers. I’m proud that he made this choice and has stuck by it for years while in limbo, waiting for admittance. I’m also sad of course, since I’ll miss his presence, and sad for his fiancé who I know will miss him even more than I.
But we’ve done this before, Matty and me. The majority of our friendship has taken place over letter, phone line, Myspace message, and the odd coffee date when we can actually get together in one room. And, with the spirit of adventure and delicious pull of the unknown, I am looking forward to our next coffee dates- the acidic and mildly burnt bottomless cup from the roadside café in Alabama near his training, the dark roast in the dimly lit, lively Cuban restaurant near his base to-be in Florida, and the one that could take place back here in Seattle, in 2020.
So about that cake.
It was a slightly dense, very moist yellow cake with a simple whipped filling, in a nod to his soon to be Southern residences. And the buttercream was a pain in the butt to make (you know that one time when you’ve been beating frosting for 10 minutes and it still looks like curdled milk and you want to cry and throw it all away and then it becomes perfect seconds later?) but worth every bit of heartache in the process. And the best part is, it wasn’t from scratch.
I know, this seems to be against everything we believe in here at Simple Goodness. But remember my rules? They leave room to wiggle. And quality of life is overall the most important, especially when you’ve procrastinated making a six layer cake for a going away party you don’t really want to go to because you don’t really want him to go away. You need to cut a few corners. Hence the box cake. But trust me, with a few tweaks the cake is transformed and no one will even guess that Pillsbury had his hand in the batter.
3 Pillsbury Yellow Cake Boxes
3/4 cup whipping cream
3 cups EVOO
1 pint whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:
4 large eggs
1 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 pound unsalted butter, softened but still cool, each stick cut into quarters
Supplies: stand or hand mixer, 9 and 6 inch cake rounds (or another size of your choice), instant read thermometer, plastic straws to reinforce the tall cake, and a few bowls. I also have some fancy cake decorating supplies that make frosting easier, but you can get by with just a rubber spatula or knife for frosting, and a plate to put the cake on. I like to use a 10 inch cardboard cake round to frost on so I can transfer the cake cleanly to a pretty stand, a dough scraper to smooth out the buttercream, and a rotating plate (like a little lazy Susan) for frosting the cake. To pipe decorations, I use various tips I’ve picked up at cooking stores and Michael’s, a coupler to make changing tips easy, and plastic piping bags.
How to do it:
1. For the cake- make according to instructions on the package except add to each 1/4 cup un-whipped whipping cream and use Extra Virgin Olive Oil in place of the canola oil it calls for.
2. For the filling- whip the cream in a chilled metal bowl attached to a stand mixer, on medium high and then high until peaks form. Then add in vanilla and brown sugar to taste added (I use only about 1/2 cup of brown sugar for a very light sweetness, you can adjust to your preference)
3. For the frosting- combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl.) Whisk gently but constantly until the mixture is thin and foamy and registers 160 degrees on your digital or old-school glass candy thermometer. Then remove the bowl and attach it to your stand mixer and beat on medium high until light, airy and cooled to room temperature. This should take about five minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, one piece at a time. This is where things get scary- it will look curdled for a little while. After all the butter is added, increase speed to high and beat until smooth, satiny and combined.
To frost, assemble cooled cakes in stacks by size, and add whipped topping to coat the bottom of the cake in between each layer. Measure and cut 3 plastic straws to the height of the larger stack and insert straws cleanly straight down into the layers, forming a triangle. Do the same for the smaller diameter stack except let those straws measure about 2 inches longer that the height of the stack. Place the smaller stack onto the middle of the larger stack. Note where the bottom straws are placed so you avoid placing the upper straws in the same area. Insert the straws in opposite areas of where the lower straws are, letting the straws reach through the first stack and anchor into the bottom stack.
Now create your crumb coat frosting layer. This is your slightly messy, light first layer of frosting all over a cake. Be sure to start to fill in any cracks between layers at this stage. The crumb coat will seal in any crumbs and make the next layer much prettier. Refrigerate the cake for about 15 minutes or until the frosting is no longer tacky, then add another thin layer of frosting. Now the frosting should be a bit smoother and a bit prettier. Again, refrigerate in between coats. This is the key to a clean frosting job.
Finally, add your final coat of frosting, smoothing out each section. I hold my dough scraper blade flat against the edge of the cake and turn the rotating plate slowly so that the entire edge can be smoothed out all at once. refrigerate a final time. Meanwhile, load the remaining frosting into a plastic pastry bag fitted with the decorate tip (I chose a small star) of your choice. This will be used to fill in the space where each layer meets the other, the spot that is hardest to smooth out. Pipe around the edge of each layer seam and around the top of the cake in the design of your choice and add a topper.
I had planned to do a more intricate frosting job but by this time we were already 30 minutes late to a party we live 30 minutes away from, so I improvised and created a topper on the fly. I put my Air Force themed topper together using thick colored paper, double stick tape, a pretty sharpie pen, and a couple of popsicle sticks.