sunshine cakes

Recently, I’ve taken to making wee little cakes filled with tart jam and vanilla cream whip. I call them Sunshine Cakes because they’re so bright and light, and because they make me happy. 

I made my first one for Easter.

No, wait. Actually my first one was the week before. I’d scored a container of leftover passion fruit curd from the diner so I built a cake around it: curd sandwiched between layers of hot milk sponge and then vanilla cream on the sides and top.

I ended up giving most of it away because, in the face of such tart and creamy lusciousness, I could not control myself.  

Then there was the Easter cake: two layers of hot milk sponge — this time baked in six-inch pans (and the third layer wrapped in plastic and stored for later) —  split in half and filled with tart red raspberry jam and vanilla cream whip. I iced the outside with the vanilla cream whip and then mixed in some of the berry jam for an ombre effect. 

A few days later I got some carrot-ginger curd and cinnamon whip from the diner, so ba-bam, another sunshine cake.

And then, most recently, I made a little cake with lemon whip between the layers (thanks, diner) and some blackberry jam.

A couple girlfriends and I met in a little grove of trees on the top of the world for a picnic — the cake was my contribution.

I’m really quite fond of my small cake pans. I like how a single layer, split in half, somehow manages to be a completely whole cake, easily serving six, and then a two-layer affair (like the Easter cake), while still dainty, can totally feed a small crowd. It’s kind of miraculous, really. In fact, if they’d have offered a dessert course at that big outdoor bash at Capernaum, these sunshine cakes would’ve come right after the loaves and fishes. 

Sunshine Cakes
Components gathered from my lemon cream cake recipe, and, for the red raspberry jam, from Chelsweets.

Sunshine cakes can be any size, but I like them small. I’m thinking of getting some four-inch pans for baby cakes, perfect for tea parties and coffee dates. Oh! And they’d make some pretty sweet doordrop gifts, too, don’t you think?

The vanilla cream holds up well on the cake but, over time, it begins to feel a little less light and whippy and more thick and cheesy. Which is still good! Just, different. If you want less cheesiness, cut the cream cheese by half — it will be less noticeable but will still stabilize the cream.

These are sweet cakes, so the tarter the jam, the better. Red raspberry is great (and is the recipe I’m going with here), as is lemon curd, passion fruit (be still my beating heart), and probably other fruits like rhubarb, and citruses like grapefruit and lime. 

for the hot milk sponge:
¾ cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
3 eggs
1½ cups sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla
1½ cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt

Put the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. 

Cream the eggs and sugar for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the warm milk mixture. Whisk in the dry ingredients.

Pour the batter into three greased, parchment-lined, 6-inch round cake pans — approximately 300 grams of batter in each. Bake the cakes at 325 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. Cool for ten minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool the rest of the way. Cakes can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for a couple days, or frozen. 

for the vanilla cream whip:
8 ounces cream cheese
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups whipping cream

Beat the first four ingredients together (if using a stand mixer, use the whip attachment) for a couple minutes. Turn the mixer to low and slowly pour in the whipping cream. Increase the speed and whip for about two more minutes or until stiff peaks form. Cover with plastic and chill until ready to use. This is best used the same day it is made, though if you must wait and it gets a little slumpy, you can rewhip it (I think).

for the red raspberry jam: 
4 cups frozen (or fresh) red raspberries 
¾ cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup cornstarch
½ cup water, divided

Put the berries and sugar into a saucepan, along with ¼ cup water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture, pressing on the berries with the back of a spoon so you get all the juice. Toss the seeds in the compost and pour the berry juice into a clean kettle. 

In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and remaining ¼ cup of water and then add to the berry juice along with the lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring steadily, until bubbly and thick. Cool to room temp before using. Note: this makes a thick, sliceable jam; if you want a runnier jam, reduce the cornstarch by 1-2 tablespoons.

for the assembly:
Slice cake layers in half with a serrated bread knife. Spread one layer with raspberry jam and then vanilla whip. Repeat layers as needed, ending with the final cake layer. Frost the sides and top with vanilla whip. Refrigerate to set. Once the cakes are cut, press plastic wrap up against the cut cake, but not over the top.

to create an ombre effect: 
Mix a little berry jam with some vanilla whip and frost the bottom half of the cake. Apply plain berry jam to the bottom, blending it in as you work your way up the cake. (If the berry jam is pretty solid, it will leave little specks/clumps in the frosting, as you can see in the photos above. I don’t mind — to me, it just looks like some seeds — but if you want it completely smooth you may either need to make a runnier jam or beat it back to its former, smooth sauciness.) Reapply fresh white vanilla cream whip toward the top, if needed. Pipe rosettes onto the top of the cake, or leave plain, or pile high with fresh berries or flowers. Whatever you want!

This same time, years previous: the coronavirus diaries: week six, the quotidian (4.15.19), gado-gado, right now, wrangling sheep, cheesy popcorn, crispy almonds, the qotidian (4.16.12), sundry tales.


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