Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

Fluffy coconut cake soaked with a coconut simple syrup and adorned with spirals of pastel vanilla bean buttercream.  Instead of weighing down the subtle coconut flavor with thick slabs of frosting or muting it with vibrant tropical flavors, the semi "naked" frosting allows the coconut cake to be the star!

Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake
Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake
Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

There’s a reason why beauty stores sell sea salt spray to create perfectly beachy waves at home.  What I didn’t know until this morning is that you can get some pretty good, natural-looking curls after an evening of beach volleyball in a sand/wind storm.  Had the power not gone off at 9pm when we got home last night I would have certainly washed my hair, but none of this is really even relevant to my story…

Brett and I will have been married 7 years this July.  After knowing each other for nearly a decade and multiple careers, moves, and children later (fur and human), I think he sometimes knows me even better than I know myself – our entire relationship being summed up in one game of recreational volleyball.

Brett and his co-workers signed up for a rec league a couple months back.  Long story short, last night was the playoffs and with my mom in town to babysit, I was invited to play as one third of the females needed in the co-ed division.  Brett knows how at times I crave other adult human interaction, how much I enjoy silly things like rec sports, but also how I get incredibly anxious over new situations.  I’m an adventurous introvert – constantly forcing myself out of my comfort zone while loathing the anticipation of trying something unfamiliar but secretly wanting to be in on all the action. 

Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake
Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

All day yesterday he reassured me that yes – it was still okay for me to tag along, that he warned the other players to not set their expectations for me too high (per my request), and that it would be fun.  He humoured me when I asked what to wear (pants you can bend over in, haha) and reminded me to drink water (because he knows I tend to forget). He gave clear instructions, including a pick-up time that was 15 minutes earlier than normal knowing how I am always running a bit behind but also hate being late.  And after 9 years together, I am in no way offended by his anticipation of me running late because he also knows I can respectively hold my own in front of his co-workers in a casual yet competitive setting.

On the other hand, I know him pretty well, too.  Even though I was hesitant at first, I trusted Brett when he said that I would have fun and that there would be nothing for me to worry about (he was right).  I know his own competitive nature and could tell that he was purposefully serving into the wind when we were behind, making it nearly impossible for the opposing team to return the ball (even if nobody else picked up on his strategy).  But Brett is also sensitive and compassionate, so I also knew how bad he felt for the girl who kept leaving a hole open for him to serve into once we were ahead as he tried to quiet his competitive spirit for the sake of the playful nature that this rec league was all about.  I knew that he would still find me beautiful even with sand in my ears, eyes, nose, and everywhere else.  And that he would, without question, let me have the first shower when we got home while he put Everett to bed after missing him all day.  Most importantly, I knew that no matter what position I was in, both in the game and in real life, he always had (and has) my back.

Anyways, it’s not Father’s Day nor is it our anniversary, but I just wanted to share this little slice of our life.  Because, why not?  Things just click right now.  We’ve finally found somewhat of a rhythm between work, family, and play.  And while we still love a spontaneous date-night in or adventure with our son, we can mostly anticipate each other’s moves and thoughts and it really makes for a happy, healthy, and productive situation right now - not in a mundane way, but it a nurturing, intimate, I-know-you-better-than-I-know-myself-sometimes kind of way.  

Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

Does this all have anything to do with this cake?  No, not really – except that when I told Brett it would take me only an hour to decorate and photograph it, he knew it really meant three.  And knowing how much Brett despises shredded coconut, I intentionally left it out of the cake and only to create the delectable coconut simple syrup.

What goes well with coconut? More coconut! I found that many coconut cake recipes are paired with lemon or vibrant tropical flavors. For this cake, I wanted to make sure that the coconut remained the star and wasn’t weighed down by other overly sweet or tart ingredients. The cake layers themselves are made with creamy coconut milk then brushed with coconut simple syrup. The coconut simple syrup adds great depth to the otherwise subtle cake layers without the use of coconut extract. Trust me, it tastes like heaven! I first considered a coconut cream cheese frosting, but a simple yet pure vanilla bean buttercream ended up being the perfect match.
— Tessa Huff for The Cake Blog

For the full recipe, head on over to The Cake Blog

 

How to Make the Best Butter Cake

My best tips (and recipe) for making velvety butter cake and whipped vanilla frosting.

Pink Vanilla Birthday Cake

I’ve never been very good at setting New Years resolutions.  Eat healthier, get better sleep, try to exercise more – each year always looks the same.  Being a cake maker, it’s hard to be on a “diet” and even harder to fit in sleep when you are a working mom of a 12-month old.  Instead of a more traditional resolution this year, I’ve decided to quit the excuses and just try to be a little better all around – to make little tweaks here and there to better my health and the lives of those around me.

In order to take this resolution into the kitchen (where I spend most of my time anyways), I hope to be a better baker in 2016.  I want to instill better habits when it comes to prep and organization, be more patient and not rush the process, and challenge myself creatively with more original cake designs and decorative desserts. 

For the blog, I want to help you all to become better bakers in 2016 as well.  Instead of only posting recipes and pretty pictures (although there will still be plenty of those), I want to dive a little deeper.  In addition to a list of ingredients and the dozen or steps it usually take to throw together a cake, I want to take a closer look at why we do particular tasks in the kitchen, what a dough/batter/pastry should feel/smell/look like as it is made, why I choose certain ingredients over others, and a few more details to take you all from point A to point B within a recipe.  Sound good to you?  I hope so =)

Pink Vanilla Birthday Cake
Pink Vanilla Birthday Cake
Pink Vanilla Birthday Cake

Okay, less serious talk and more CAKE.  If you don’t already have a go-to vanilla, yellow, or butter cake, then THIS is the post for you.  Even if you do, I implore you to test this Vanilla Bean Butter Cake out.  I’ve been trying to make the perfect vanilla butter cake since the start of my career.  And while I have been satisfied with different versions along the way, my latest recipe is a keeper.  It’s moist and tender while still being sturdy enough to withstand nearly any filling and able to be stacked sky-high into an impressive layer cake without toppling over.  Best of all, its velvety crumb tastes like real vanilla!

Before we get to the actual recipe, I am sharing my top 5 tips for making a better butter cake.  If you want to become a better cake maker, then I encourage you to try a few (or all) of these practices for the next birthday, celebration, or any other cake-eating day that rolls around:

How to Make a Butter Cake

5 TIPS FOR BAKING A BETTER BUTTER CAKE

1. Consider using cake flour: 
We should really re-think the term “all-purpose” flour.  While it may work best for baked goods like cookies and quick-breads, tender cakes can really benefit from something with less protein, like cake flour.  The protein in flour relates to gluten formation - giving everything from cakes to bread structure.  For lighter, more delicate cake layers, try using cake flour, or even a mix of both cake and all-purpose (as I have done in the recipe below) for a sturdy yet tender cake that is great for layering. 

2. Understand when and why we use baking powder and baking soda:
While creaming the butter and sugar in a recipe can help in the leavening process, a big part (in butter cakes, at least) is due to chemical leavening agents.  I recommend one that is is double-acting - meaning, it is activated by both the liquids in the recipes during the mixing process as well as with the heat of the oven.  This second boost  gives my cakes the lift they need, creates a superior texture, and provides the perfect airy-ness to the crumb.  This slow, controlled second release also spares us time; say if we forget to properly pre-heat the oven.  

 Why both?  Baking powder and baking sodas are both are chemical leaveners, but whether or not a recipe calls for both comes down to the addition of acid.  Baking soda is used to neutralize the acids in a recipe (lemon juice, buttermilk, sour cream, chocolate), but using too much can leave an awful taste behind.  When more “lift” is required beyond the neutralization of these acids, baking powder may also be called for.

If you bake as often as I do, then you probably never doubt the freshness of your leavening agents.  However, if you are questioning the purchase year of that old jar of baking powder in the back of your pantry, then it’s probably time to buy a new one.  To test the freshness, simply add baking powder to warm water or baking soda to warm water with a splash of vinegar.  Since the chemicals in fresh baking powder and baking soda react to heat and acid, you can tell they are working if the water begins to fizz or bubble.

Lastly, baking powder and baking soda are not interchangeable, so be sure to read your recipe carefully.

How to Make a Butter Cake

3. Take the time to properly cream the butter and sugar together:
If I had only one piece of advice for beginner butter cake bakers, this would be it. In my opinion, it’s a crucial step that can be easily overlooked.  To properly cream together butter and sugar, you must start with softened butter.  Once it is mixed until smooth, add in the sugar and crank up the speed of the mixer. 

While mixing on medium-high, the butter-sugar mixture will transition through a few different stages:  At first, the sugar and butter will just casually dance around the bowl then start to incorporate together.  As they get mixed, the two ingredients will start to clump together in the center of the bowl and around the paddle.  As you continue, more and more air is getting driven into the mixture as the sugar granules cut into the butter. Once creamed, the mixture will begin fall back off of the paddle and start to coat the inside on the bowl.  It should be light, fluffy, and pale in color.

Not only do properly creamed butter and sugar make for a more homogenous batter, the air driven into the mixture helps leaven and lighten the cake.  However, it is possible to over-cream, so be mindful of your mixing (and don’t mix on too high of a speed).  Be sure that the butter does not become too soft or that the fluffy mixture starts to deflate.  Usually about 2 to 5 minutes of mixing at medium to medium-high will suffice.

4. Start with room temperature ingredients: 
Speaking of homogenous cake batter, the best way to create a smooth batter is to start with ingredients that are all the same temperature.  In this case, that would be room temperature.  One good indicator for what temperature your ingredients should be is to go off of the butter.  In a butter cake, the butter must be soft enough to properly cream together with the sugar.  So if the butter must soft (room temp), so should the eggs and milk. 

But why should they all be the same?  Using eggs or milk straight from the refrigerator may in fact be cold enough to firm up that beautifully creamed butter.  Trying to incorporate cold eggs may cause the batter to appear curdled, as well.

The small amount of milk used in a cake recipe comes to room temperature fairly fast, so you don’t have to worry too much about spoilage.  To bring eggs to room temperature quickly, place them in a bowl of luke-warm water as you prep and measure your remaining ingredients.

Can you bake a cake with cold milk?  Have I forgotten to bring my eggs to room temperature and continued on anyways?  You bet!  It won’t totally ruin the experience (or your finished cake), but since we are learning about making better butter cakes, then it is best to practice these small habits when possible.

 5. Follow the directions: 
This should be pretty obvious, but I am adding it to the list anyways.  More specifically, I am talking about following the order and manner in which the ingredients are mixed together.

Before even getting started, I recommend reading the directions in their entirety, measuring out all of the ingredients (I’d hate to get halfway into a recipe and realize I don’t have enough milk) and start pre-heating the oven.  This also helps get you into the habit of pulling cold ingredients out to bring to room temperature before you start mixing (see tip 4).

Many butter cake recipes (cookie recipes, too!) start by creaming together the butter and the sugar.  As previously mentioned (see tip 3), this is not a step that should be overlooked or rushed through.  Once you move on and begin adding in more ingredients, the opportunity to properly cream and drive as much air into the batter as possible is gone. 

When adding eggs (typically the next step), be sure to only add in one at a time.  Take the time for each egg to fully incorporate into the batter before adding in the next.

When in doubt, alternate adding in the dry ingredients with the majority of the liquid.  Adding in half of the fflour, followed by the milk, then the remaining flour helps create a smoother, well-mixed batter.  Like the eggs, allow each batch of ingredients to fully incorporate before adding in the next.

I find that adding these ingredients in alternating batches allows the batter to easily absorb the milk without having to over-mix the flour.  Over-mixing can lead to a denser crumb with tunneling and holes within the layers. 

Pink Vanilla Birthday Cake
Pink Vanilla Birthday Cake

Okay, now back to the CAKE!

It’s hard to believe, but I don’t have a pure vanilla cake with vanilla frosting up on the entire Style Sweet CA blog.  Well, until now.  It seems like I am always trying to come up with the next best flavor or incorporate the trendiest ingredients, so I guess it’s no surprise that a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting was missing.  Sure you can take any of my other yellow cake batters and pair them with my favorite vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream, but I thought it was high time that we get back to basics for this one.  This post is all about the cake, after all, not fancy flavors and decorations.

Vanilla Bean Butter Cake

  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose fflour 
  • 1-1/2 cups cake flour 
  • 1 tablespoon Fleischmann's® Baking Powder 
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1/2 cup sour cream 
  • 1 cup whole milk 
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened 
  • 2 cups sugar 
  • Seeds of 1 vanilla bean 
  • OR 2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract 
  • 1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 3 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans; set aside. 

Combine dry ingredients together; set aside. Combine sour cream and milk; set aside.

Beat butter on medium-low speed of electric mixer until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla bean seeds; mix on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy and pale in colour, about 2 to 4 minutes. Scrape sides of bowl.

Add eggs and eggs yolks, one at a time, beating on low speed until blended. Add vanilla extract; beat on low speed until blended.

Add in half of the fflour mixture.  Once this is incorporated, pour in the milk mixture while the mixer is running on low speed.  Once the milk is absorbed, add in the remaining fflour mixture. After the last streaks of flour are incorporated, mix the batter on medium-low speed for about 20 seconds until smooth. 

Pour batter into prepared cake pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centre comes out clean.

Cool cakes on a wire rack for about 15 minutes or until pans are cool enough to handle; remove cakes from pans. Continue to cool on wire rack until cakes are at room temperature.

Wrap each layer in a double layer of plastic wrap; chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days before cutting and frosting.  (Chilling makes the cakes easy to cut.)

When ready to frost, cut each layer horizontally in half; frost with Whipped Vanilla Buttercream Icing.

Whipped Vanilla Buttercream Icing

  • 2-1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened 
  • 6 to 6-1/2 cups powdered sugar 
  • Seeds of 1 Vanilla Bean 
  • OR 2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract 
  • 2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract 
  • 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup milk

Beat butter at medium-low speed of electric mixer until smooth and creamy (1 to 2 minutes.) 

Gradually add 6 cups powdered sugar, vanilla bean seeds,and vanilla extract with mixer at low speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Mix until blended.

Beat at medium-high speed 3 to 5 minutes, until buttercream is light and airy and nearly white.  If needed, add the additional powered sugar or milk until desired consistency. 

Assembly

1)Once the cakes are completely cool, cut them in half (horizontally) with a long serrated knife to create four layers of cake.
2)Place the bottom layer of cake on a cake stand or serving dish.  Spread on about 1 cup of the buttercream with an off-set spatula or the back of a spoon.
3)Top the buttercream with the next layer of cake and repeat.
4)Crumb coat the cake with a thin layer of buttercream and chill until set (about 15 to 20 minutes).
5)Tint the remaining buttercream (if desired) and frost the outside of the cake with a large off-set spatula.

For more tips on how to ice a cake, be sure to check out this tutorial.

 Other helpful tidbits:
·   Scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl often.
·   Check for doneness instead of relying only on the clock.  A toothpick inserted into the center of a cake should come out clean or with few crumbs when done.
·   Prepare the cake pan according to recipe.  When in doubt, line the bottom with parchment.
·   Allow cakes to cool slightly, but not fully, on a wire rack before taking them out of their pans
·   Chilling cakes in the refrigerator (wrapped well in a double-layer of plastic to prevent them from drying out) will make them easier to cut and frost.  A chilled cake tends to crack and crumble less.
·   If making in advance, a well-wrapped cake will typically stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer up to about two months. 
·   To evenly distribute the batter between multiple cake pans, use a kitchen scale.  Using a scale is much easier and cleaner than trying to measure out the batter in measuring cups then transferring it to the cake pans.
·   Sift together the dry ingredients either with a sifter, mesh sieve, or even just a whisk.  This not only ensures that there are no lumps in your flour, but that everything (particularly the baking powder and soda) gets evenly distributed. 

If your vanilla bean is not soft and flexible, soak in hot tap water until pliable. Place bean on a cutting board and slice lengthwise, using a sharp knife or razor. Open bean and scrape seeds out using the tip of a knife.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by ACH Foods.  All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that allow Style Sweet CA to exist!

Apricot Jam + Friday Things

ApricotJam01 This week has been a real whirl-wind.  As if life was not busy enough, I got my first small taste of what our near future will look like - life with a working dad.  Let me tell you - it's terrifying!  Lol.

Brett is currently back in school studying to become a game programer.  You know, writing code and doing all sorts of math-y things.  And while he never got time off when the baby was born, we have all been so lucky to have him around for a big chunk of Everett's life so far - not away at the office.  Now with his graduation quickly approaching, he has been off interviewing for his dream job during the day and I am quickly discovering what life is truly like for not only a stay-at-home mom, but a working one.  Man, this is exhausting!

Okay, okay - don't get me wrong.  I love my son and the plan was always to stay at home with him when Brett went back to work.  We've been so extraordinarily lucky to have Brett home for most of Everett's first 7 month (gah - is he really that old already??), however, it recently dawned on me that these days are numbered.  Thankfully, there is grandma.

Now that Everett is on some-what of a schedule and will take a bottle regularly, grandma has been babysitting more and more.  And while getting to hang out with her grandson might be a reward in itself, I still need to find ways to show my mom just how thankful we are to have her nearby.  Being the foodie that I am, I find there to be no better way to say "thank you" than with edible gifts - usually of the homemade variety.  And that is exactly what I did when I gifted her with this apricot jam.

ApricotJam02

ApricotJam04

This apricot jam is no ordinary jam.  It was made with apricots fresh from the farmer's market (Everett and mommy's favourite Saturday morning activity while Brett is away in class) and infused with real vanilla beans.  Pretty classy, right?  Those flecks of vanilla are not only gorgeous, but round out the tartness of the apricots and add depth of flavour without extra sweetness.  I created this small batch recipe - one jar for grandma and one jar for me.  I didn't even bother with proper canning since I knew it would be gobbled up so quickly.  I've personally been stirring it in my morning yogurt, eating it with soft cheeses, and of course, spreading it on fluffy biscuits!

ApricotJam03

Find the whole recipe over at The Kitchn.

If the stalls at your farmer's market are overflowing with apricots, peaches, and plums - like mine is - then pick up a couple extra pounds to make some jam.  If not, be sure to check out some of my favourite food reads and recipe from the week:

  • Sweet + Spicy: A kicked-up honey recipe from Bon Appetite.
  • Kids in the Kitchn - a very appropriate article to go along with my adventures this past week with Baby Huff.
  • Catch up on Yahoo Food's week of Ice Cream Nation - including this snippet of Julia-Louis Dreyfus from "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," one of our favourite household shows.
  • Living the sweet life.  Christina Tosi is my hero!  AND Cherry Bombe Mag's new cover girl.  AND a new judge on Master Chef!
  • Alana's most PERFECT summertime cake to make before it's too late from Fix Feast Flair.  Strawberry, guava - oh my!!

ApricotJam05

Also, a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my mom and the best grandma around!  We love you!

Happy Weekend! xoxo

Rhubarb Strawberry Panna Cotta

strawberryduo One of my most favorite, sinful desserts is panna cotta.  So creamy, rich, and oh-s0 delicious.  This sweetened, cooked-cream treat sets like a custard, minus the egg yolk.  You can flavor it, top it with fruit, and even go dairy-free!  Since it's summer, and I love my fresh summer fruit and berries, I decided to create a true vanilla bean panna cottta topped with rhubarb and strawberry compote.

Rhubarb1-Ingredients

And to turn it up a notch? I added a bit of basil when cooking down the compote for an extra layer of flavor.

Rhubarb2-CompoteIngredientsI am not sure if this trend is over, and I honestly don't care if it is- but how cute are these desserts served in individual jars?!  The rhubarb strawberry panna cotta needs to set for at least 4 hours in some sort of vessel.  These jars seemed absolutely perfect for this crucial step.  They make for easy serving as well!

vanillacreamjars

Rhubarb9-done

Head on over to Brit + Co. for the full recipe of this Rhubarb Strawberry Panna Cotta

Rhubarb91-donetext

Strawberry Rhubarb Pancakes

Strawberry-Rhubarb-Pancakes2 Let's be honest, I'm usually a "breakfast = coffee" kinda gal.  This is mostly due to the fact that I am not a morning person, and not that breakfast foods aren't some of the most delicious.  But it was my birthday a few weeks ago, my husband had school in the morning, and I was left to fend for myself.  I decided to treat myself to a "real" breakfast.  I'd previously made the most delicious STRAWBERRY- RHUBARB- VANILLA BEAN COMPOTE, and was really just looking for things to eat with it.  And voila! These beauties were soon piled high on my plate, just long enough to take a few pics before being devoured.

Strawberry-Rhubarb-Pancakes

I suppose if I am going to tell the story on these yummies, I better start from the beginning.  Let's rewind a bit.... A few days prior we went on our first Farmer's Market excursion of the season.  Now I regularly went back in Cali, but I was not sure what local produce to expect up here in Vancouver.  To my surprise, I found the BIGGEST, most beautiful rhubarb I'd ever seen.  Although my market tote could barely hold them, I knew they were coming home with us.  Combined with some overripe berries from my fridge, and the seeds of my ever precious vanilla beans I keep stocked in the pantry, this STRAWBERRY RHUBARB VANILLA COMPOTE was making the apartment smell like heaven.  Pie heaven, to be exact.

[amd-zlrecipe-recipe:4]

PPancakes

Strawberry-Pancake-Vertical Pancake-bite

 

Okay, on to the pancakes....

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Remember, the first one always looks the worst.  Snack on this one after you adjust the temperature to make the remaining cakes.  And you can bet these pancakes were served with some true Canadian maple syrup ;) Strawberry-Rhubarb-Pancakes-bite