Fall is an exciting time, for many reasons. It gets cooler and I’m ready for summer to end. I tend to fry a lot more (learn how to make kale pakoras at my column, A Brown Kitchen at the San Francisco Chronicle) this week. But it is also an exciting time because a lot of wonderful cookbooks come out this season including this gorgeous book, Bravetart – Iconic American Desserts by Stella Parks from Serious Eats. If you follow her column on Serious Eats, you already know how Stella gets into the nitty gritty details of the science behind desserts and sweets and she shares her experiments and tips which have made me a better baker.
I made this layer cake for the Game of Thrones season finale since “Winter is here” using the recipes from the Bravetart book. Stella’s marshmallow frosting is one of the best buttercream recipes, I’ve tried so far and a keeper. Her layer cake recipe is also a good one to have on hand and just like I’ve changed the flavors in this cake, you can easily do the same. I’ve also included her tips too because they were really useful).
My kept the decoration really simple, a simple border with silver balls and then did a little interpretive freestyle in the center. Just remember to keep your cake chilled and do a good crumb coat before you slap the frosting on.
I have one copy of the Bravetart book to giveaway to one lucky US reader. The giveaway will run for a week from October 3rd to October 10th, 2017. To enter, leave a comment below and your contact info and tell me the name of your favorite cake. I will pick a random winner and notify the winner via email. You will have 24hrs to respond, after which I will pick a new winner.
cardamom pistachio layer cake
Yield: one 8-by-5-inch three-layer cake; 16 servings | Active time: about 45 minutes | Downtime: 90 minutes to cool
For the Cake
4 cups | 16 ounces bleached cake flour such as Swans Down
2 sticks | 8 ounces unsalted butter, pliable but cool—about 65°F
2/3 cup | 4 ounces virgin coconut oil, solid but creamy—about 70°F
21/4 cups | 16 ounces sugar
21/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)
1 cup | 8 1/2 ounces egg whites (from 8 large eggs), brought to about 70°F (See note below
2 teaspoons ground green cardamom
2 cups | 16 ounces cultured low-fat buttermilk, brought to about 70°F
To better synchronize the downtime in both recipes, start the Marshmallow Buttercream before the cake. While it’s resting, adjust an oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 325°F. Line three 8-by-3-inch anodized aluminum cake pans with parchment and grease with pan spray; if you don’t have three pans, the remaining batter can be held at room temperature for up to 3 hours. (The cakes will brown more and rise less in 2-inch pans.) Sift the flour (if using cup measures, spoon into the cups and level with a knife before sifting) and set aside.
Combine butter, coconut oil, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to moisten, then increase to medium and cream until fluffy and light, about 5 minutes, pausing to scrape the bowl and beater halfway through. With the mixer running, add the egg whites one at a time, followed by the cardamom.
Reduce speed to low and sprinkle in one-third of the flour, followed by one-third of the buttermilk. Alternate between the two, allowing each addition to be roughly incorporated before adding the next. Once smooth, fold with a flexible spatula to ensure it’s well mixed from the bottom up. Divide among the prepared cake pans, about 22 ounces each.
Bake until the cakes are firm but pale, browned only around the very edges, about 40 minutes (or 210°F). A toothpick inserted into the center will emerge with a few crumbs still attached, and your fingertip will leave a slight indentation in the puffy crust.
Cool until no trace of warmth remains, about 90 minutes. Loosen the cakes from their pans with a knife. Invert onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment, and reinvert. Crumb-coat and frost with Marshmallow Buttercream according to the directions on pages 142–44.
Under a cake dome or an inverted pot, the frosted cake will keep for up to 24 hours at room temperature. After cutting, wrap leftover slices individually and store at room temperature for up to 2 days more.
A Note About Ingredient Temperatures in Cake Making:
Butter, buttermilk, and egg whites colder than 65°F or warmer than 70°F can produce a range of problems, from mild tunneling and air pockets in the cake to a heavy crumb or even a gummy layer along the bottom. Given that “room temperature” will vary from home to home, there’s no standard rule of thumb for how to warm these ingredients, but in my 1000-watt microwave, three 6-second bursts at normal power is perfect for softening two sticks of butter; two 6-second bursts will knock the chill off a cup of egg whites; and a 25-second burst will bring a pint of buttermilk to cool room temperature. Alternately, they can simply be brought to room temperature and monitored with a digital thermometer.
Gluten-Free: Replace cake flour with 8 ounces (11/2 cups) cornstarch, 6 ounces (11/4 cups) white rice flour, 41/2 ounces (1 cup) tapioca flour or arrowroot, and 11/2 teaspoons potato flour.
Yield: about 6 cups; enough to fill, crumb-coat, and frost three 8-inch cake layers or 24 cupcakes | Active time: 1 hour | downtime: 2-hour rest
Pistachio marshmallow Buttercream Frosting
1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons | 1/4 ounce) unflavored gelatin powder
1/4 cup | 2 ounces cool tap water to bloom the gelatin
1 tablespoon pistachio extract
3/4 cup | 6 ounces water for the sugar syrup
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons | 10 ounces light corn syrup
2 cups | 14 1/2 ounces sugar
1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)
5sticks | 20 ounces unsalted butter, soft but cool—about 65°F
Make the marshmallow base
In a small bowl, mix the gelatin with 2 ounces (1/4 cup) cool tap water and pistachio extract, if using.
Combine remaining 6 ounces (3/4 cup) water, corn syrup, sugar, and salt in a 3-quart stainless steel pot and set over medium heat. Stir mixture with a fork until bubbling, about 5 minutes, then increase heat to medium-high. Clip on a digital thermometer and cook, without stirring, until the clear syrup registers 250°F, about 8 minutes.
Transfer thermometer to the bowl of a stand mixer and pour in the hot syrup all at once, scraping the pot with a heat-resistant spatula. Cool to exactly 212°F, about 8 minutes, then add gelatin. With the whisk attachment, mix on low speed until the gelatin is melted, then increase to medium-high and whip until thick, snowy white, roughly tripled in volume, and beginning to ball up around the whisk, about 10 minutes. Scrape into a greased 4-cup container, cover tightly, and let stand at cool room temperature until thick and firm, at least 2 hours, or up to 1 week.
Make the buttercream:
Transfer marshmallow base to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whipping on medium speed, begin adding the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting for about 5 seconds after each addition. The fluffy creme will cling to the whisk at first but loosen as the butter is incorporated. Once combined, scrape the bowl with a flexible spatula and whip a minute more. The buttercream should be light and creamy but thick enough to hang upside down from a spoon. If it seems stiff or dense (feeling greasy rather than melting on your tongue), scoop a cup into a small bowl and microwave until completely melted, about 30 seconds.
Return the melted buttercream to the bowl and whip 15 seconds on medium-high. Conversely, if it seems loose or gooey, refrigerate the entire bowl 15 minutes, then whip 3 minutes on medium-high. For more details, check out the Buttercream Troubleshooting Guide on page 113.
Use according to the directions on pages 110–11, or set aside at cool room temperature for a few hours, until needed, and rewhip before use.
In an airtight container, the buttercream can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks, or frozen for 6 months. Soften to about 66°F at room temperature (about 5 hours if refrigerated or 12 hours if frozen), and rewhip before using.
Marshmallow depends on an accurate digital thermometer, so if things go wrong, you can bet the readings were off. This can happen if you misread an analogue thermometer or fail to fully submerge the probe in the syrup, or simply when good thermometers go bad (a sad fact of life). It can also happen when the batteries start to fade. Test the accuracy of your thermometer by making sure it reads 212°F in a pot of boiling water.
In winter months, the hot syrup may harden along the bottom of a chilly mixing bowl. Warm the bowl in hot water to prevent this problem, and dry well before use.
NOTE: Pistachio Extract – there are quite a few good brands available online, Beanilla is my favorite brand.
Recipes adapted from BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts by Stella Parks. Copyright © 2017 by Stella Parks. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.