Orange Poppy Seed Sour Cream Cake

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This is exactly the kind of one layer cake that is simple enough to make on a Monday night and pack in your lunch bag, yet refined enough to bring to someone on their birthday. The cake itself is pulled straight from the Cake Bible, and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipes never disappoint. The batter is rich with butter and thick with sour cream, while the flavourful additions of orange zest and poppy seed make it a bright and refreshing winter treat. A quick icing sugar frosting tempered with sour cream makes a superb topping, but a classic glaze or even a dollop of whipping cream would also make delectable accompaniments.

 Orange Poppy Seed Cake
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum, “Sour Cream Butter Cake”, The Cake Bible

Ingredients:

2 cups sifted cake and pastry flour (200g)
1 cup granulated white sugar (200g)
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup full fat sour cream (5.5 oz)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (6 oz)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon orange zest (from 1 large orange)
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Method: 

A few hours before you are ready to bake, remove the sour cream and the eggs from the fridge and allow them to warm to room temperature. Just before you begin, pull the butter from the fridge, cut it into small pieces, and let it sit at room temperature until it has softened and become pliable.

As the butter begins to soften, preheat the oven to 350° F.

Butter a 9 inch spring form pan with a removable bottom. Cut a 9 inch circle of parchment paper, then place it in the bottom of the pan and butter the top of the parchment as well.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolks, vanilla extract, and 1/4 of the sour cream.

To the mixing bowl with the dry ingredients, add the softened butter and the remaining sour cream. Stir on the lowest setting until the ingredients are moistened, approximately 30-60 seconds. When there are no streaks of flour remaining, increase the speed to medium (speed 3-4 on a Kitchen Aid mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to create sufficient structure and incorporate air. Be careful not to over beat the batter – this will result in a tough cake with a tight crumb. Stop and scrape the bowl well. Add the egg mixture in three batches, beating on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition.  Scrape the bowl at each addition to ensure that all the ingredients are properly combined. Add the orange zest and poppy seeds, and stir on the lowest setting just until the ingredients are well combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top evenly with the back of a spoon. Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 32-36 minutes or until the middle of the cake springs back when gently touched, or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The cake should only begin to pull away from the sides of the pan upon removal from the oven. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool and after ten minutes, remove the outside ring. Let the cake cool completely to room temperature before inverting, carefully removing the bottom of the pan and peeling away the remaining parchment paper.

Store the cake at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Quick n’ Creamy Orange Frosting

Note: This recipe will make about twice as much icing as needed for this cake, the remaining half may be refrigerated for up to one week. If you would like to reduce the recipe by half, you can make it using a hand beater and a small bowl, but the final product may not be as smooth.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (4oz)
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream, room temperature
Pinch of salt
4 cups sifted icing sugar (500g)
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange zest (from 1 large orange)

Method:

Beat together the softened butter, sour cream, salt and vanilla extract on medium-high speed for several minutes until well blended. The mixture will smooth out further with the addition of sugar.

Add the icing sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating for 30-60 seconds on medium-high speed after each addition. When all the sugar has been added, beat the frosting for 1-2 minutes more until it is very smooth and slightly fluffy. The more patience you have incorporating the sugar gradually and beating it well, the smoother your icing will be. Lastly, mix in the orange zest on low speed until it is evenly distributed.

Use the frosting immediately or refrigerate it for up to one week. Bring to room temperature and stir or beat briefly before using from the fridge.

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Here is a great recipe for someone who already knows how to make Swiss meringue buttercream, and is looking to branch out with a bold new flavour. If you have discovered the perfect method for your kitchen, skip the steps and just reference the ingredients for a silky, luxurious batch of dark chocolate frosting.

This icing is my go-to for chocolate celebration cakes because it is incredibly smooth, not too sweet, pipes beautifully, and freezes well. I developed this recipe using chocolate with 72% cocoa for a decisively dark taste with just the right amount of bitter-sweetness. The process begins with a brown sugar meringue, into which two cups of butter is emulsified. To finish, 300 grams of chocolate is melted, cooled to room temperature, and stirred into the caramel flavoured buttercream. The result is rich and creamy, yet light and fluffy, and perfect for smothering over layers of cake.

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Special Equipment: Stand mixer, digital candy thermometer.

Ingredients:

7 large egg whites, approximately 215 grams

350 grams golden yellow or light brown sugar

1 lb unsalted butter, cubed

1/8 teaspoon table salt

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

300 grams extra dark chocolate (72% cocoa)

Method:

The Butter:

Remove the cold butter from the fridge, and cut it into tablespoon-sized chunks. Let the butter sit on the counter while you prepare the other ingredients. When the butter warms to 65° F, at which point it reaches the “plastic” stage, it will be just the right temperature and consistency to incorporate into the meringue. The butter is ready when you can push on a piece with your finger and it resists briefly before making a smooth indent. If the butter cracks at the pressure, it is too cold. If the butter offers no resistance or is very soft and greasy, it has become too warm and will melt into the meringue. Refrigeration is your friend in this case, do not hesitate to put the butter back into the fridge if it becomes too warm.

The Meringue:

Separate the eggs, using clean bowls and making sure that no yolk or grease makes its way into the egg whites. It is a good idea to wipe all the bowls and tools that you plan to use clean with a paper towel and some fresh lemon juice, to eliminate any traces of grease which can prevent the meringue from reaching its full potential. Set up your mixer with a clean mixing bowl and the whisk attachment. 

In a large metal bowl, whisk together the egg whites and sugar to combine. Create a double boiler by filling a large saucepan with a few inches of water, placing it on a burner set to medium-low heat, and fitting the metal bowl on top of the pot. Whisk the mixture very gently, frequently at first but constantly as the heat increases, just until it reaches 160° F on a candy thermometer.

Immediately pour the hot liquid into the bowl of your stand mixer, using the whisk to scrape in as much as possible. Gradually turn the mixer up to high (speed 6 on a KitchenAid) and beat for 7 minutes, or until the meringue is very stiff. Turn the speed down to low and beat for approximately 8 more minutes, or until the bowl is neutral to the touch. The meringue must be cool when the butter is added or it will melt on contact.

Combining: 

Quickly switch over to the paddle attachment, and with the mixer on low speed add the butter one piece at a time, waiting 10 seconds in between additions to ensure that each piece is fully incorporated. If after adding 3/4 of the butter the mixture appears very loose or soupy, place the bowl in the fridge for 7 to 10 minutes to bring down the temperature, then continue beating and adding butter. If the mixture becomes too cold at any point it will appear curdled, but keep beating on low and the buttercream will eventually smooth itself out. Take any pause in the process as an opportunity to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure that all of the meringue is incorporated.

The frosting will come together and fluff up shortly after all of the butter is incorporated. When the buttercream is fluffy and smooth, beat in the salt and vanilla extract.

The Chocolate:

Melt the chocolate in a microwave or over a double-boiler, and let it cool to room temperature. The chocolate should be liquid, but if it is still warm when added to the bowl it will melt the butter.

Beat the buttercream for 30 seconds or until smooth, then unhook the bowl and add the melted chocolate. Fold in the chocolate with a rubber spatula for the darkest result. When the frosting is uniform in colour, it is ready for piping, swooshing, or swirling.