This is all quite a surprise to me. I originally thought I would have to skip this month’s daring bakers challenge – again – because of my so-not-working internet connection. But what first appeared to be a never-ending story did find an end yesterday, as a France Telecom monsieur dropped by without warning and fixed my ligne télephonique.
I did certainly gave him one of the little perfect party cakes I had made earlier that day; how handy it is to be a daring baker.

The experiment:
The perfect party cake is made of:
– a vanilla cake
– filled with home-made strawberry confiture
– and frosted with a rich meringue buttercream (or more accurately, a meringue cream cheese frosting, as you’ll see below)

I started with the cake, which recipe is a keeper. The baking powder and salt are thoroughly combined with the flour. The butter and sugar are creamed together, then the eggs* are beaten in, one at a time. As usual, all the ingredients have to be at room temperature. You don’t want your cold egg to make your creamed butter mixture curdle, do you?
Then, I alternatively folded in the flour and the milk, aiming for a smooth batter.
I then baked at moderate temperature – 170°C – in 8cm cercles à pâtisserie for 25-30 minutes. The cakes had raised yet the top were slightly flat, which is perfect when making layer cakes.
Since I’m a vanilla kind of girl, I skipped on the lemon zest and threw a dash of my favourite natural vanilla extract into the batter. The finished cake was just perfect: the crimb was delicate yet tight, and had that wonderful aroma of freshly cut-open vanilla bean.

*I just noticed that the recipe called for egg whites, not whole eggs! That’s probably why my cake crumb turned out to have a golden hue.

As the cakes were into the oven, I decided to make my own confiture [jam]. I had some beautiful strawberries sitting on my counter and since one kg is too much for one girl, I thought it would be a great way to use them. Oh I know what you’re thinking: strawberries? In March? Well, they looked so temtping at the farmers’ market on Saturday morning, that I had to have them. Plus they’re grown in France and actually have flavour, which is pretty special for March strawberries.
In a small pan, I combined 200g of diced strawberries, 140g of caster sugar and the juice from half a lemon. Over medium heat, I brought the mixture to the boil and left it simmer for 20 minutes. When it had cooled down, I blitzed it in the food processor, then pour it into a small container and chilled overnight.
This was so good I had some – spread onto a thick slice of crusty levain baguette – for breakfast. Imagine ruby-red sleek jam, speckled with small seeds.

The next day, I made the frosting. Not the meringue buttercream, as the recipe called for, but a delicious – totally finger-licking – meringue cream cheese frosting. This, which probably is 2008 best food discovery, found its origin in my strong hate for anything buttercreamy.
But as a daring baker, I stuck as close as possible to the recipe, only substituting the butter by the same quantity of cream cheese.
Basically, I made a meringue italienne by wisking some boiling syrup – 112°C – into the whipped egg whites, and then mixed in the smooth cream cheese.
This frosting, white and creamy, was smooth and had that lovely cream cheese flavour, which – in my humble opinion – nicely complements the subtle sharpness of the strawberries.

This layer cake was a real winner. The combination of a fragrant vanilla cake, tangy yet sweet strawberry jam and creamy slightly salty frosting, actually made for a perfect party cake.