Monday, April 18, 2011

Seashell Cake for a 50th "White" Birthday Party, with a Decadent Buttercream Frosting

When asked to prepare a 50th birthday cake, I couldn't say no. When requested to wear all white to the party, I was tempted to say no. I now have my second seashell-themed cake under my belt, and a new white dress in my closet. Guests were treated to a sunset cruise on a gorgeous yacht, Champagne, hors d'Ĺ“uvres, dinner, and a moonlight cruise back to Coronado. You only turn 50 once!

Although the process of preparing, decorating and transporting this size cake generated a good deal of stress, John was there by my side, encouraging me to relax and have fun with it. He dusted white chocolate seashells with luster dust and accepted the task of frosting the cake and piping the borders. With only a few hours remaining, we somehow managed to finish decorating, get dressed, drive the cake over to Tom Ham's Lighthouse, and make it back to the Coronado Boathouse in the nick of time for a pre-boarding cocktail.

This cake needed to serve 30 people, so I quadrupled the white cake recipe, which yielded two, 12-inch cake layers for the bottom, and two, 8-inch layers for the top. I made a luscious orange curd to spread between the layers (think orange creamsicle), and topped the curd with fresh sliced strawberries.

The white cake and orange cream curd recipes, both firsts for me, came from Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition - 2006.  The vanilla buttercream came from Sweet Celebrations: The Art of Decorating Beautiful Cakes. I returned to the buttercream recipe I used for my first seashell cake last summer, because it is so decadently rich and smooth. Although our frosting and cake decorating skills are far from professional, the white chocolate seashells brushed with luster dust are fairly simple to make and add a touch of elegance.

A few candy pearls and a sprinkling of raw sugar completed this project.

I made the cake over two days, molding the white chocolate shells and baking the layers the night before, and then whipping the buttercream, and frosting and decorating the cake, the day of the party.

Vanilla Buttercream Icing - Classic Recipe
From Sweet Celebrations: The Art of Decorating Beautiful Cakes
Makes about 12 cups


3 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
13 large egg whites, at room temperature
3 pounds (12 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into four pieces
6 tablespoons clear vanilla extract


Separate the egg whites from the yolks, and place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer, with a wire whisk attachment, to have ready toward the end of preparing the sugar mixture. (See note below for freezing egg yolks for later use).

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Mix with a wooden spoon until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Place the pan on the stove and use a clean pastry brush to paint the area just above the water line with water. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, and simmer the mixture over medium heat, without stirring. Watch the mixture until the thermometer reaches 240 degrees F (soft-ball state), about 5 to 7 minutes.

As the sugar nears the required temperature, begin beating the egg whites at medium speed until they turn begin to hold soft peaks and have at least doubled in volume, about 3 to 5 minutes. Do not overbeat.

When the sugar mixture has reached 240 degrees, turn the heat off. Turn the mixer up to high, and very carefully and slowly pour the hot sugar mixture in a thin and steady stream near the edge of the bowl and into the beaten egg whites. Beat for 20 to 35 minutes on medium to medium-high speed. The egg whites will lose some of their volume and the mixture should resemble a very thick meringue. The outside of the bowl should be moderately warm to touch.

Reduce the speed to medium-low and carefully add the room temperature butter pieces, one at a time. The mixture may break and begin to look like cottage cheese, but keep the mixer running, continue adding butter, and let the mixer whip the buttercream until it begins to get smooth, up to 10 minutes. Once the mixture is smooth, add the vanilla and beat for five minutes more.

At this point, the buttercream is now ready to be colored, using gel paste coloring, or chilled. If the buttercream is too soft, chill for 10 minutes and then whip again. If this doesn't work, cream 4 tablespoons of chilled butter, and then gently whip the creamed butter into the buttercream, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat until the buttercream is smooth and there are no lumps.

Leftover buttercream can be frozen for up to three months.

Egg yolks can also be frozen, but only in small quantities so you can thaw only what you need. Label small containers with the date and number of egg yolks (between the cake and buttercream icing, we had 32 egg yolks!) To inhibit yolks from getting lumpy during storage, stir in a 1/2 teaspoon salt per 1 cup of egg yolks. If using for desserts, use 1 tablespoon sugar or corn syrup per 1 cup egg yolks. Use up extra egg yolks in recipes for sauces, custards, ice cream, yellow cakes, mayonnaise, and cooked puddings. It is best to thaw egg yolks in the refrigerator and use them as soon as they are thawed.

Happy Birthday, Sparky!


bunkycooks said...

This cake is as fabulous as your last specialty cake! I think you may have a new business in your future. I just want to know why you weren't here to make some awesome cake for my 50th? Maybe my 51st...October!

Anonymous said...

Kudos! Your cake looks absolutely amazing! Thanks for posting the buttercream recipe!

Melinda said...

OMG!!! That is the most, elegant and beautiful cake that I have ever seen. My grandmother made beautiful doll cakes, watermelon cakes etc. when I was a little girl. You really put them to shame!!!!

Sinful Southern Sweets said...

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

Carmen said...

Gorgeous cake!