From The Kitchen

Rise for the Occasion

The guest list is set, the ingredients are purchased and it’s time to prepare the meal. Day-of cooking is often a full day commitment. It’s a puzzle of timing – mixing the recipes, rotating pans over the stovetop, sharing oven time and planning it just right so there’s still steam rising off each dish at meal time.

Any part of the meal that can be prepped or cooked the day before is a great way to maximize time and lessen stress. That’s precisely why choosing a delicious cake is the perfect way to treat your guests to a homemade dessert without taking up oven time the day of.

April Heckathorn, pastry sous chef in The Barn at Blackberry Farm, has tips on timing and a special family recipe that will make baking for your next gathering easy for you and enjoyable for your guests.

Always bake the cake the day before your party. Baking a day ahead leaves plenty of time for the cake to rest and cool overnight. Let the cake cool at room temperature on a wire rack. Do prevent the cake from breaking, don’t pop your layers out of their molds until they’re at least partially cool, unless you’re using a spring form pan for easy release.

Before going to sleep for the night, and once the cake is completely cool, wrap it in plastic wrap to help retain moisture.

While your cake is cooling, you can start your buttercream. With recipes like the one April uses, you can make part of the icing the night before. The recipe starts with a roux of milk and flower that you can mix the night before and place in the refrigerator to whip up the next day.

Now you have your mise en place ready in advance, and all that’s left is assembling.

It’s the morning of your gathering! You can finish assembling your cake first thing in the morning and have the rest of the day free to prepare your table and your meal. Because a cake doesn’t need to be served warm, you can simply place a dome over it after icing and it will retain moisture – and of course great flavor – and be ready to serve at any time!

Start by mixing up a quick simple syrup. This will be used to restore any moisture lost during the drying and cooling process. Unwrap your cake layers. In preparation for stacking, you want to cut off the top of each layer, but you don’t have to cut too deep. April cuts off just the dome to create enough of a flat surface to ice without losing too much cake.

Apply a light layer of the simple syrup to each layer, and it’s time to ice!

To finish your buttercream, mix sugar and butter in your mixer, add your cold roux and let the mixture whip together. Let it continue to whip until you have a really nice, fluffy consistency. You want your frosting to be fully aerated, and you want to make sure you aren’t seeing any of the sugar granules in the texture. Let the frosting mix for a good six to eight minutes to completely emulsify the roux.

A helpful tip from April, spread a bit of icing on your cake board to help prevent the cake from sliding. This is an especially helpful step if you have to travel with a cake. To ice, you can either apply the icing by hand or use a piping bag. Her next piece of advice for icing? A turntable.

Turntables are easy to find, and they make light work of spreading frosting quickly and easily. Use about one cup of frosting between each layer. You don’t need to spread the frosting all the way to the edges. As you stack your layers, they will naturally push down and spread the frosting outward. So, spin your turntable, spread your icing in an even layer and stack!

Ready to put April's tips into action? April is sharing her grandmother’s buttercream recipe and her family favorite red velvet cake. Enjoy!
Rise for the Occasion
Red Velvet Cake

This is the first cake my dad made for my mom when they were dating. It’s her favorite, and we still make it for her birthday every year. Red velvet is a great Southern staple, and it adds a beautiful pop of color, perfect for a holiday table or any occasion.

Yield: 3 x 9” layers
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons red food color
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat your cake pans with melted butter then cover with flour.

Using either a stand mixer or hand mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the granulated sugar and continue beating until the mixture is fluffy. Scrape the sides and bottom of bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, letting each one mix in before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract all at once. Be sure that you scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to make the mixture homogeneous.

In one bowl, mix together the salt, baking soda, cocoa powder, and flour. In another bowl, mix together the buttermilk and red food color. Keep the apple cider vinegar separate, it will be the last thing you add. Starting with the dry ingredients, add half to your butter mixture. Let it mix fully before you add half of your buttermilk mixture. After the buttermilk mixture is added, stop the mixing process, scrape down the bowl, then add the other half of the flour mixture. Once fully incorporated, add the other half of the buttermilk mixture. Next add the apple cider vinegar. Let this fully mix, give the bowl one more scrape, and let it mix again for one full minute.

Evenly separate the batter into the three cake pans (I find that using an ice cream scoop works best!). Spread the batter evenly in the pan, and bake for 20-25 minutes. When your timer goes off, remove the pans from the oven, let cool in the pan for at least a half hour, then flip out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Fluffy Butter Frosting

Originally known as Ermine Icing or Butter Roux Icing, this recipe is my grandmothers, passed down through a friend of hers when she was living in France while my grandfather was stationed there with the Air Force in World War II. It’s a part of my family’s history, and I love getting to continue sharing the recipe with my friends, family and guests at the Farm.

If you have a good buttercream recipe, you can change up the flavor with any extract you want to try. For the holidays, I love adding peppermint extract for a pop of seasonal flavor.

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk
Cook the flour and milk together in a sauce pot over medium high heat, stirring constantly. You are making a roux, which is similar in consistency to a pudding. Once the mixture starts to boil, pour it into a heat safe container, and lay a piece of parchment directly on top so the roux doesn’t form a skin. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

¾ cup unsalted butter
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
Pinch of Salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (or extract/flavoring of choice)

In a stand mixer or a bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until you can no longer see sugar granules. With a spatula, mix your roux, ensuring that it is smooth and that it won’t be lumpy when adding it to the butter. Then, slowly, with your mixer on low, add the roux to the butter. It will take a few minutes for you to add it all, which is good; you need to be patient! Once all the roux has been added and mixed in, stop the mixer, scrape down the bowl, and then turn the speed up to medium high for 5-10 minutes, until frosting is light and fluffy.

Receive your Blackberry Farm Catalog

Sign Up Today