This cake is perfect for a celebration and I wish I had a slice of it right now. You see, yesterday I completed my first-ever running race, the 10K United Run for the Zoo in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. And I ran it without stopping to walk – finishing in 60 minutes for an average 9:49 mile pace. As much as I may tell myself that I’m running just to finish, those number still matter. A LOT. When I’m running by myself, I’m a lot more leisurely – I know I CAN run faster, but I don’t always because I get bored. I’m still a cyclist at heart, and there’s just not as much mental stimulation in a good run as flying through the city on bike. Running is a silent, more meditative sport – which is part of why I want to become a runner, but it’s harder for me. So finishing my first 10K with a personal best time – yeah, I’d like a big slice of this cake to celebrate!
I actually made this cake 2 weeks ago…and in this post about “firsts,” I’ll admit that this is my first layer cake ever. Seeing that homey, frosted cake on my grandma’s beautiful cake stand made me feel so proud (though not as proud as crossing that finish line for the 10K)! I was initially nervous at the thought of making a layer cake, but I’ve watched just enough Martha Stewart to know that I had what it takes to fill, stack and frost a cake. I may not be a baker like my grandma, but I think she’d be proud of this cake too.
I can’t take too much credit for the cake itself – I used a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake Mix that I had in the pantry. I added a teaspoon of cake spice to the batter to give it a little more punch in the flavor department. But let’s be honest – a layer cake is really about decadent frosting and a good filling, and this cake has both. Do you remember those Rhubarb Bloom Cocktails I made a few months back? I recently made another jar of that beautiful, tart pink syrup which leaves behind about a cup of thick, jammy rhubarb compote, perfect for spreading between layers of fluffy white cake.
If you’ve never made frosting before, next time you bake a cake, skip the mixes or jarred paste-like frosting substance and go for the real stuff – a couple sticks of butter, confectioner’s sugar and your flavoring of choice, and with a couple minutes of whipping – you have a big bowl of fluffy frosting that just begs you to drag a finger through it and taste the marvelous stuff. I kept the frosting pretty simple, spiking it with some vanilla and lemon extract, to complement the flavors in the cake and filling. Judging by how quickly the cake disappeared off plates when we served it to friends, I think this layer cake is another “first” with a personal best attached.
- Set up your Kitchen Aid stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Add the butter to the bowl and whip on medium speed for 2 minutes, until the butter is pale and a little fluffly. Add the extracts and increase the speed to medium high. Start adding the sugar slowly, about a 1/4 cup at a time, allowing the sugar to fully incorporate, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed before adding more sugar. You’ll need somewhere between 2-2 1/2 cups of confectioner’s sugar before you’re done. Taste the frosting as you go, and stop adding sugar when it tastes good to you and is still fluffy, not too stiff. The finished consistency should be easily spreadable, and you should not be able to feel the grains of sugar if you rub a little of the frosting between your thumb and first finger (3-5 minutes of whipping time). I don’t like my frosting too overly sweet, so I used a little less sugar than most recipes I looked at online.
- Frosting the cake: Prepare your cake stand or serving plate by lining the edges with small squares of waxed paper overlapping and hanging off the edges like a paper wreath. Place your 2 layers of (fully cooled) cake on a cutting board and level the tops of the cake using a long serrated knife to take off any domed or uneven areas (this is my favorite part, as the chef gets to snack on the trimmed cake pieces).
- Place the bottom layer of cake in the center of the cake stand. Using an offset spatula or silicone spatula, spread a thin skim of the frosting on the top of the layer. Then, spread the rhubarb compote on top of the frosting, leaving an inch of frosting-free border around the edges. For the thickness of your filling, I’d say go for a little thicker than you’d spread on your toast, but not too much – you don’t want too much moisture in there, or for it to come squeezing out the edges when assembled. Now, take the second layer of cake and turn it bottom-side up. Spread a thin skim coat of frosting on the bottom – this is to prevent the rhubarb compote from making the cake soggy. Next, place the top layer of cake over the first layer, carefully centering it over the bottom layer. Whew!
- Finally, frost the assembled cake. Listen to Martha on this one. Make a big ‘ol pile of frosting in the middle of the top of the cake, and then use your knife/spatula to work the frosting out from the center, and down over the sides to cover the whole cake. Once the cake is completely covered in a good layer of frosting, use a spatula to cover any amateur mistakes to make pretty peaks in the frosting for a homey, hand-finished look. Pull the waxed paper pieces out from under the cake, and gaze at your creation with joy before serving to friends.