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Sunflower Cake with Coconut Ermine Buttercream

Sunflower Cake with Coconut Ermine Buttercream

1 year and 12 sticks of butter later, I finally fixed that layer cake recipe. The one we fought about, the one you said wasn't sweet enough, whose icing wouldn't set. I said, "It's not an icing, it's an Ermine buttercream." And you called me a snoot. I came home every night this week after work and worked on it. I ate a lot of butter and used up a whole bag of sugar and felt less alone. I marked up the old recipe with where you were right but I also put where you were wrong. I think of you most when I'm on the train, it makes me sad, but now I can come home and eat this cake, it'll make me feel better. It has big yellow sunflowers on it, like the ones you brought home that other time we fought. For two people who don't see each other much we sure fight a lot. I don't know how to fix that but I fixed this.

Cake:
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 lemons, zested
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/4 cup milk

Buttercream:
1 cup milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract, optional
Pinch salt
Organic, food-safe sunflowers, for decorating, optional

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 7-inch round cake pans (I use springforms).

In a stand mixer or with an electric beater (or by fork even, as I often do), cream the butter and sugar until light, fluffy, and pale yellow. Incorporate the eggs one at a time; it may curdle if the butter isn't absolutely room temperature, which is fine, but beat for at least 10 minutes straight (even this I sometimes do by hand, with a good whisk, but using a machine will make your life less miserable). Fold in the lemon zest, vanilla, and salt. Gradually add the flour (this should help the curdling; also, I don't bother to sift). Finally, thin everything out with the milk. Pour the batter into the prepared pans, distributing the wealth evenly between the two (I use a scale for this).

Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean; be sure not to overbake. Let both cakes cool completely before frosting with the buttercream.

For the buttercream: In a small saucepan, whisk together the milk, sugar, and flour until incorporated. Cook over medium-low to medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and bubbled, about 5–10 minutes (you want this mixture to resemble a thick gravy, béchamel, or Alfredo sauce). Only if you have lumps (though I often don't because I whisk vigorously the whole time), pass through a strainer and set aside to cool completely.

In the stand mixer or with the electric beater again, beat the butter, vanilla and coconut extracts, salt, and milk-flour mixture for 10 minutes straight, until thick, creamy, and blindingly white (it should go from yellow to white). Unfortunately you do need to incorporate this much air into the buttercream; it's essentially what helps it to set, as well as this next step, which is to cover and refrigerate it for 15 minutes before frosting the cake.

For the assembly: First, carefully slice off the rounded tops of each cake layer so you're left with two flat disks. This will ensure that your cake looks straight and bakery-ready rather than curved and dome-like (which, let's be real, isn't the end of the world).

To frost the cake, cover the bottom layer with 1/3 of the buttercream (top and sides), then sandwich that layer with the top layer, and finally smear everything—top, sides, nooks and crannies—with the rest of the white mixture. Decorate with the sunflowers.

Blue Velvet Cake with Goat Cheese Frosting

Blue Velvet Cake with Goat Cheese Frosting

Meringues

Meringues