There’s something about the combination of peonies, cakes and garden parties that I find irresistible. Perhaps they’re appealing because we’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks broiling in the sun without a breath of wind stirring. Or, perhaps I like them because their elegance and simplicity conjures up romantic ideas of summertime in days gone by.
Sweeping lawns, hammocks, lemonade, ocean breezes, time with loved ones, a stack of great books and slice pink peony cake is my idea of heaven. We don’t happen to have the sweeping lawn or the ocean breeze but thankfully a short drive in New England takes us to places like here and here.
Summer is flying by and I’m still compiling my summer reading list from our own library, our town library and our local book shop. I’m hopelessly a non-fiction reader and this definitely conflicts with the mental relaxation that’s supposed to accompany lazy summer days.
Churchill by Paul Johnson, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and a listen to Historic Conversations with Jacqueline Kennedy will start next week and undoubtedly something heavy and historic will follow. I have to make room for some non-fiction, hopefully a classic novel and maybe something lighter or retro.
For all the time we spend on the internet, it seems wise to periodically tune out of the digital world and sit back in a big wicker chair with a glass of something cold and icy and a beautifully bound, thoughtfully written old book.
I mustn’t forget the cake. It’s a classic white cake, tinted to match the garden flowers with a big peony on top. The cake is simple to make and makes a perfect addition to your next summer feast. It’s also a perfect dessert to curl up with in your cozy chair or hammock while flipping through the pages of your favorite novel. What are you reading this summer? Any favorites or recommendations? Here’s to a wonderful summer full of friends, lazy days and pink peony cake.
Pink Peony Cake
Pink Cake (adapted from Sweetapolita)
150 g or 5 egg whites, room temperature
180 ml (3/4 c whole milk)
9 g (2 1/4 tsp) vanilla extract
315 g (2 3/4 c) cake flour, sifted
350 g (1 3/4 c) sugar
19.5 g (1 tbs plus 1 tsp) baking powder
pinch of salt
170 g (12 tbs) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into cubes
pink food coloring
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).
Butter and flour four 6.5 inch wide by 4 inch high spring form pans.
In a small bowl mix the egg whites, 1/4 c milk and vanilla. Set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients on low speed.
Add the butter and the remaining 1/2 c of milk and mix on low speed until moistened. Increase to medium speed for 90 seconds.
Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the egg mixture in thirds, beating about 15 seconds after each addition.
Divide the batter into 4 bowls, and color each batter a different shade of pink. Do not over mix when blending because you do not want a tough cake.
Bake each cake 20-30 minutes (depending upon your oven) or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack. After 15 minutes remove the spring form pans and cool completely.
Using a serrated knife, carefully slice off the tough skin on the top and sides of each cake, being careful to maintain its shape. I do this so I don’t have tough bites of cake.
Slice each cake horizontally. Brush off the crumbs completely. You should have 8 slices of cake total (two of each shade of pink). Stack the slices so that you have two cakes, 4 layers each, of graduated colors. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Vanilla Frosting (you will be making 2 batches over 2 days)
375 g (26 tbs. butter), slightly softened
220 g (2 c) powdered sugar, sifted
45 ml (3 tbs) milk
5 ml (3 tbs) vanilla extract
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed.
Add remaining ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 6 minutes.
Remove unfrosted cake stacks from the refrigerator. Starting with the bottom layer, brush off the crumbs with a pastry brush. Add a large dollop of frosting and carefully spread over the top of the surface layer with a long straight spatula similar to this. Place the next layer of cake on top and repeat. Repeat again for the third layer and place the fourth layer on top. Do this for each cake, taking care not to get crumbs in the frosting. (Wipe your knife on paper towels frequently to keep it clean).
Now frost the entire outside surface of each cake with frosting. The goal here is to use the edge of the spatula to have a relatively thin, smooth layer of frosting that’s not full of crumbs. A few crumbs are ok but if you have too many, you won’t be able to cover them later. This is the crumb layer. It will be easier to do this if you have a turntable for the cake or if you place the cake on an upside down plate fitted over the base of a round bowl (this will allow you to turn the bowl and thereby turning the cake).
Once both cakes are frosted, place them in the refrigerator overnight until the frosting is cold and hard.
Make the frosting again. Remove the cakes from the refrigerator and frost each cake with a thick layer. Top each cake with a pink peony.