Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Vanilla Sponge Cake with Berries and Mascarpone Icing


"Life is short, even on the longest days." (anonymous) With the Fourth of July holiday now behind us, it is easy to get lulled into thinking summer is almost half over. But some of the best parts of the summer season have only just begun. The abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables at the markets and farm stands being one of them. Take summer corn and tomatoes. So sinfully flavorful, you almost have to stop yourself from binge eating them. Who hasn't at least considered grilling corn or having a tomato sandwich for breakfast? Or how about those seasonal berries? In the summer they are juicier, sweeter, more beautiful than at any other time of the year. Berries in cereal, in and on ice cream, on crostini, in salads, on guacamole, in pies, in tarts, in jams, and/or in and on cakes are just a few of sweet and savory ways these gems of nature work their way into our lives for only a few months of the year.


While at the grocery store over the holiday weekend, I couldn't resist buying more blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. There were big plans for these berries. This Vanilla Sponge Cake with Berries and Mascarpone Icing was one of them. Even the hot, humid weather could not deter me from turning on the oven to make it. And if my house didn't have air-conditioning, I still would have made it.


I fell in love with this cake the moment I saw it on the cover of Linda Lomelino's cookbook, My Sweet KitchenAnd I waited only twenty-four hours after receiving the book to make it. Life is short, remember? I wonder how long you will wait after reading this post before you will?


This may be one of the easiest cakes I have ever made. It all begins with beating the butter, sugar and vanilla together in a standing mixer (recommend using a paddle attachment) until the mixture is light and fluffy (approximately 5 minutes). Still using the mixer, add the eggs in one at a time until they are fully incorporated. At this point you are done using your mixer. The dry ingredients are sifted over the bowl and folded in using a spatula. When no streaks of flour remain, the milk is added. You need only stir until the batter is creamy and even.


The cake batter is divided equally between two prepared 6" cake pans. If you needed a really good reason to buy more cake pans, consider this Vanilla Sponge Cake with Berries and Mascarpone Icing to be reason enough. Once you see (and then taste) this finished cake, you will more than likely start finding ways to adapt your cake recipes requiring 8" round, 9" round, and even your 9"x12" cake pans in order to make these 6" high beauties. 

To ensure your cakes bake evenly, measure out the batter between the two pans. A digital scale will take all the guess work out it. In a preheated 350 degree (F) oven, the cakes bake in the center of the oven for 25-30 minutes. Unlike most other cakes calling for the toothpick inserted in the center of the cake to come out clean, this cake calls for having the toothpick emerge with a minimal number of crumbs. 

Once removed from the oven, allow the cakes to remain in their pans for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. When the cakes have cooled completely (approximately 30 minutes), they are ready to be iced. 


There is just enough of the mascarpone icing to make a 'naked' cake. But this mascarpone icing is so incredibly delicious, consider making more. You wouldn't need to double the icing ingredients, unless you wanted to frost the entire cake. Increasing the ingredients by half (e.g., 12 ounces of mascarpone instead of 8 ounces) might give this cake the kind of cake to icing ratio it deserves. Or rather, what you deserve.


The mascarpone icing should have a creamier finish to it than what you see here. I whipped it a tad longer than I should have. While it was still delicious, a creamy texture would have made it easier to top each layer with the berries. After spreading some of icing on the top of the bottom layer, layer on some of the berries. However, before putting the second layer of cake on, spoon a little more of the icing over the fruit. Using a pastry bag is optional when icing this cake. Personally I liked the 'refined rustic naked cake' look of the finished cake.


There are any number of ways you can top the cake with berries. Strawberries cut in half lengthwise and placed standing up on top of the icing will give the cake some height. Use an assortment of your favorite berries for this cake, but definitely use more than one berry. I also believe thinly sliced nectarines would also work well with this cake and icing.


A light dusting of confectionary sugar is the 'finishing touch'. Not only does it a tiny bit of sweetness to the berries, it gives the cake that bakery finished wow factor look. Think of the confectionary sugar as taking this simple vanilla sponge cake from good to great. And don't we all deserve to have great cakes in our lives?

If you are not serving this cake immediately after assembling, lightly cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Note: If refrigerating, wait to dust with the confectionary sugar.  Take the cake out at least 30 minutes before serving if you like your cake a little more on the room temperature side.


From start to finish you can make and assemble this cake in approximately 90 minutes. Of you can make the cake layers ahead of time, wrap them in plastic and store in the refrigerator for a day or two, and wait until you are ready to serve to make the icing and assemble.

The Vanilla Sponge Cake with Berries and Mascarpone Icing can be either an everyday cake or a celebratory cake. Even the chocolate cake lovers in your life will be swooned by this cake.

Recipe
Vanilla Sponge Cake with Berries and Mascarpone Icing (an ever so slight adaptation to Linda Lomelino's Sponge Cake with Fresh Berries and Mascarpone recipe as shared in her cookbook, My Sweet Kitchen)
Serves 6-8

Ingredients
Cake
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
14 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon + 2 teaspoons whole milk

Icing
8 ounces mascarpone 
2 Tablespoons confectionary or caster sugar
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

10-12 ounces mixed fresh berries
Confectionary sugar for dusting

Directions
Cake
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Prepare two 6" cake pans. Butter/flour or spray with vegetable spray and line with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. In a medium sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy (approximately 5 minutes).
4. Add eggs in one at a time, beating until well incorporated.
5. Sift the dry ingredients over the batter. Fold in using a spatula.
6. Add milk and stir until batter is smooth and even.
7. Divide batter evenly between two baking pans (recommend using a scale). Smooth tops before placing in the oven.
8. Bake in the center of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out with moderate crumbs. Note: If toothpick comes out completely clean the cake will be over baked.
9. Place cake pans on a cooling rack. Allow cakes to cool for at least 5 minutes before removing from pan and continuing to cool on a cooling rack. Cakes should be completely cool before iced (approximately 30 minutes).

Icing and Assembly
1. In a medium sized bowl, beat the mascarpone and confectionary (or caster) sugar until creamy.
2. Slowly add the whipping cream and beat only until the icing is a spreadable consistency.
3. Place one cake layer on a cake platter or cake plate. Spread with a thick layer of the icing. Add an assortment of fresh berries.
4. Add the second cake layer and spread remaining icing on top.
5. Top iced cake with an assortment of berries.
6. Lightly dust with confectionary sugar.
7. Serve immediately. Or store cake lightly covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Notes: (1) There is enough icing to coat the tops of each layer, however, next time I would make more icing. (2) To completely ice the cake, double the icing ingredients. (3) Beat the icing only until it has a spreadable consistency. If icing is too thick, add a little more of the heavy whipping cream until desired consistency is achieved. (4) Cakes can be made a day ahead. Wrap cooled cakes in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.


Admiralty Head Lighthouse on Whidbey Island in Coupeville, Washington (June 2017)



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