Berries-and-Cream Vanilla Layer Cake

A light and fresh vanilla cake that’s all about summer berries:

When it comes to baking I keep it simple, preferring goodies that are fresh and light. This especially applies to cake. It was my daughter’s birthday recently, and her favorite cake is a Danish lagkage (layer cake) which is the  traditional birthday cake served at celebrations. It’s a simple and easy cake to make and eat, with thin layers of vanilla sponge, gobs of whipped cream, and fresh berries. It’s flexible, kid-friendly, and pretty to look at. No piping or fiddly decorations needed. The only bling is a pile of fresh berries smeared into the cream and piled on top, and, if you’re so inclined, pretty snipped sprigs and edible flowers from the garden.

I have messed around with different vanilla cake recipes over the years, and this is the one I currently favor. This sponge cake recipe is adapted from Cooks Illustrated. Make sure that all of the sponge cake ingredients are at room temperature before you begin.

Berries-and-Cream Vanilla Layer Cake

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus cooling time
Serves: 8 to 10

4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened

Whipped Cream:
2 cups chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh raspberries

1 cup good quality raspberry preserves
Assorted berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, currants, for garnish

Make the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two (8 or 9-inch) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest in a medium bowl to combine.
3. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Briefly mix on low speed to blend.
4. Add 1/3 of the butter and mix on slow speed to blend and then increase the speed to medium and mix for about 10 seconds.
5. Add half of the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds to blend. Add the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds. The mixture should be wet and granular.
Add half of the egg mixture and mix to just combine without over-mixing. Add the remaining egg mixture and mix until smooth without over-mixing.
6. Divide the batter between the pans. Transfer to the oven and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes and cool completely. When cool, use a serrated knife to slice the cakes in half horizontally (optional).

Make the cream:
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until traces of the whisk are apparent. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until firm peaks form. Place the 1 cup raspberries in a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Add half of the whipped cream and gently fold in to combine.

Place one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of the raspberry preserves over the cake, and then smear a layer of raspberry-whipped cream (not too thick) over the preserves. Repeat with remaining layers. Spread the top and sides of the cake with the remaining whipped cream. (You can leave the sides “naked” if desired.) Garnish with more fresh berries and sprigs. Refrigerate until serving, up to 2 hours.

Frozen Meringue Cream with Summer Berry Compote

Berries and Cream 2.0

Summer Berry Compote and Frozen Whipped Cream

Who doesn’t like berries and whipped cream for a simple summer dessert? Sweet, freshly picked summer berries and cream are the height of ease and good flavor, and a combination I rely on throughout the summer season. Sometimes, though, if I want to up the presentation a notch, I make this frozen dessert. The good news is that this version is also easy to make, and it should be prepared at least 8 hours in advance of serving, so it’s a great do-ahead dessert when entertaining.

To make it, I fold crumbled store-bought meringues into the whipped cream and freeze the cream in a loaf pan. The meringues add a nice light crunch and a jolt of sugar to the cream. Once frozen, the “loaf” can be sliced and served with fresh berries spooned on top. It’s fresh, light, and luscious, and always a crowd pleaser.

To make the frozen cream, first lightly oil the loaf pan, and then line it with plastic wrap. This allows for easy removal from the pan once frozen. The whipped cream is delicate, so should only be frozen for 8 to 24 hours. Once the loaf is removed from the pan and sliced, eat it immediately, because the cream will quickly begin to soften. Also, in the past I’ve added berries to the loaf, but I find that they remain frozen while the cream softens, which is not ideal for eating, so I spoon fresh berries, or, in this case, a compote over the top. 

Iced Meringues and Cream with Berry Compote

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes, plus freezing time and cooling time
Serves 8.

Iced Meringue Cream:
3 ounces meringues, divided
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 pound fresh berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Lightly oil a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Line with plastic wrap, leaving a 3-inch overhang on all sides. Crumble 1/3 of the meringues, leaving large chunks intact, and spread over the bottom of the pan.

2. Beat the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until traces of the whisk appear. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until soft peaks form.

3. Crumble the remaining meringues and gently fold into the cream. Pour into the pan and spread the cream evenly on top. Cover with the plastic overhang, and then cover the pan entirely with another piece of plastic wrap. Freeze for at least 8 hours or overnight.

4. Prepare the compote: Combine the berries, sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves and the berries break down and release their juices, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

5. To serve, remove the frozen meringue cream from the freezer. Unwrap the plastic and invert the cream onto a serving platter. Remove any remaining plastic. Cut into serving slices and serve with the compote spooned over each slice.

Dessert for a Crowd: Chocolate Mousse with Raspberries and Cream

Chocolate Mousse

What do you do when you have a small dinner party planned, and, suddenly, it takes on a life of its own and doubles in size?  When your vision of an intimate evening of food and wine shared with a few friends, becomes an exponential math exercise as your gathering grows – and grows?  In our home, where the motto “the more the merrier” is put into action more often than not, it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve.

First and foremost, do not panic.  Second, if you had inspired ambitions of executing an intricate, multi-coursed, hands-on menu with expensive ingredients, you might want to file it for a later date.  The key is to keep things simple, get organized and create a menu that enables significant advance preparation. Typically, I am cooking as much, if not more, the day before a party. Many dishes can sit 24 hours, and some actually improve with sitting.  Meats can (and often should) marinate overnight. Dips, sauces, dressings, and some cold salads can be prepared a day in advance.  (Fresh greens and herbs can be added at the last minute, as these can morph into less vibrant versions of themselves after a day in the refrigerator.)  Set the table the night before.  And, by all means, choose a dessert that can be made at least one day in advance.

I have several fall-back party desserts that I rely on to feed a crowd which can be easily made in advance. A favorite is chocolate mousse.  It’s elegant, simple, versatile and a crowd-pleaser.  I like to prepare the mousse with 70% dark chocolate, which makes for a denser, more intense mousse.  Its richness begs for smaller portions which makes it easy to spread out among extra guests. It can be simple and plain for a casual event, or dressed up with a liqueur, such as Cointreau or Framboise, for a fancier event.  In the summertime, I add raspberries and cream to showcase the berry season, while in the winter some candied orange peel adds a festive touch.   Choose a creative way to present the mousse; I use small glass votives that showcase the mousse and its garnishes. 24 glasses can fill a tray which makes a wonderful presentation when passed around.

Chocolate Mousse with Raspberries and Cream
This recipe may easily be doubled – Makes 12 small servings.

For the chocolate mousse:
2 cups heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces (150 grams) 70% dark chocolate

For the raspberry coulis:
8 ounces fresh or frozen raspberries
1/4 cup sugar

For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sifted powder sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Fresh raspberries, for garnish
Grated dark chocolate, for garnish

Make the chocolate mousse:
1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water, stirring frequently until smooth. While the chocolate is melting, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a nonreactive bowl.
2. Heat 3/4 cup cream in a heavy saucepan until hot; do not bring to a boil. Add the hot cream to the egg yolks in a steady stream, whisking to combine.  Pour the mixture back into saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon.  Strain the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve and stir in the vanilla. Whisk custard into the chocolate until smooth, and then cool to room temperature.
3. Beat the remaining 1 1/4 cups heavy cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/4 of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, and then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until thoroughly combined.
4. Spoon mousse into serving glasses or bowls. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Make the raspberry coulis:
Combine the raspberries and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring and mashing the raspberries with a fork, until the sugar dissolves. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely.  (Raspberry coulis can be made one day in advance and refrigerated until use.)

Make the whipped cream:
Beat the cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until thickened and traces of the mixer are visible. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until soft peaks form. ( The cream can be made 3 hours in advance; cover and refrigerate until needed.)

To serve:
Spoon a small layer of raspberry coulis over the mousse and spread evenly to cover. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with a fresh raspberry and grated chocolate.