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Last week, I went to one baby shower, made cupcakes for another, and found out another friend is pregnant. We can’t be certain of the cause, but you’re going to want to protect yourself accordingly. Kidding! I love this time of year, because it seems like every time you turn around, there’s a reason to celebrate – a holiday or a big event or some good news. And if there’s a reason to celebrate, there’s a reason to make Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake.

It’s a keeper. Where most homemade white cakes taste a little eggy, this one has just enough lemon zest to give it a light lemony flavor without changing the color. Also, it manages to be light and fluffy but still sturdy enough to split without crumbling. You probably have the ingredients in your pantry right now, which means you are a party waiting to happen. The accompanying buttercream is a breeze, and the finishing touch – a little shredded coconut – makes any frosting job look polished. It’s a very, very, very forgiving cake.

One final thing: each cake layer gets a coating of jam, and that flavor comes through, so choose wisely. Don’t go for the bargain jam unless you absolutely love it. This would be the time to break out Aunt Jean’s preserves, but if you’re out, go for something high-quality, like the Sarabeth’s you can get on sale at TJ Maxx or your favorite flavor of Bonne Maman. Yes, I’m advocating the fancy preserves. Good times deserve good jelly.

Perfect Party Cake

From Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”

Makes 12 to 14 servings

    Cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
    Buttercream:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    Finishing:

  • 2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves, stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
  • About 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-x-2-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
  2. For the Cake: Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
  4. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
  5. Add the butter and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one-third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
  6. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
  7. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
  8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)
  9. For the Buttercream: Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.
  10. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
  11. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6 to 10 minutes. During this time, the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.
  12. To Assemble the Cake: Using a sharp, serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with the third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream left over). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

STORING: The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to 2 days.

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