Cherry Blossom Cake

Cherry Blossom Cake | zoebakes photo by Zoë François 

The magic trick of cake decorating was revealed to me 16 years ago when I attended a week long class at the Wilton School of Cake Decorating and Confectionery Art outside of Chicago. Anyone who loves cake and piping icing knows the Wilton name and reaches for their products to get the job done. I was beyond thrilled and honored when they asked me to try out their new line of products, Texturra Performance Bakeware and Versa-Tools, and create a signature dessert using them. This Cherry Blossom Cake came to me instantly, because I wanted to utilize the piping skills I learned from their classes all those years ago. I had just been on a trip to NYC and the cherry trees were in full bloom with their sweet, delicate blossoms. The inside of the cake is a spiral of sponge cake, which I baked in the new Texturra Performance baking sheet. Since they claim it is truly non-stick, I tested it by skipping the parchment paper. This is not something I would usually do, since parchment is the insurance policy, I rely on to make sure my cakes don’t glue themselves to the pan. The Wilton promise was spot on, the cake released from the unlined Texturra pan with ease, rendering the extra parchment unnecessary. For avid bakers, you know how exciting this is. 

I filled the sponge cake with a simple whipped cream and cherry sauce. This is where the new multi-functional Versa-Tools came in handy. I used them to make the filling, spread it, roll the cake and even decorate the sides. They are flexible, useful and multipurpose, which is everything you want in a kitchen tool. 

For the flowers I piped a simple cherry blossom with lemon royal icing and stuck them to the buttercream covered cake. There are a few steps to this Cherry Blossom Cake, but it is such a fun project and the results are stunning. 

You can watch me make this cake start to finish in my Instagram video and the recipe below.

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Red Velvet Cake with Basket Weave

Red Velvet Cake is a decidedly Southern treat. According to the NYTimes it originated in Texas in the 1940s, but red velvet cake spread to the rest of the south and then found it’s way north. I first heard about it from my stepmother, who is from Alabama. Her mom made it for her when she was young and now I make red velvet cake for her at her birthday. I think this recipe, which is adapted from Sarah Kieffer’s white cake recipe from her book The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, is the best one yet. It is not a traditional take, but the results are tender and tasty, with a beautiful color. I just added cocoa for flavor and color, red food coloring (otherwise the cake is not red velvet) and a bit of vinegar to keep the color as cheeky as possible. I always pair red velvet with cream cheese icing (which is one of the classics), but if you are going to attempt this basket weave finish (see my video on instagram to watch how I did it) I would suggest going with a buttercream icing, which is much easier to pipe and less temperamental in a warm kitchen.

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How-to Video: Smoothly Buttercream a Cake (recipe included)

how to buttercream a cake | photo by Zoë François

In the first two cake decorating videos I demonstrated how to cut, fill and crumb coat your cake. Now we are ready to put on the final coat of icing. I chose a very simple vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream to cover the cake. It is elegant, smooth and has a wonderfully rich flavor, but isn’t overly sweet. It can be left pure vanilla or you can easily add flavors to compliment your cake. This buttercream is wonderful for piping roses or doing basket weave as well. Before we get into the finishing touches we want to create a smooth surface, which will act as a canvas. If your cake is straight and smooth it will be stunning without any flourishes at all, but it will also show off your decorating prowess if you want to add some flowers or writing.

Also see my other How-to Cake Decorating Videos:

Part 1: Cut and Fill a Cake Like a Pro!

Part 2: Crumb Coat Your Cake

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Cassata – Sicilian Ricotta Cake with Pistachio Marzipan

Cassata recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

This cake makes me think of sitting on the porch swing in my Italian grandmother’s lanai. It was about 1973 and I would have been 6 years old and eating something sweet and spring-like. She had hanging baskets of flowers dangling from the ceiling from elaborately woven macramé; in shades of orange, chartreuse and gold. I’m sure I was eating Jell-o, but it should have been this cassata, with its basket weave icing and magical candied fruit flower. Ok, truth be told, my grandmother isn’t Italian, she didn’t have a lanai, I just like the word, and there probably was macramé, but I don’t actually remember any. But, this cassata makes me wish all these things were true. Not only is it visually stunning, but the cake is so delicious I licked the plate clean.

I really made the cake with my friend Bret, who I’ve known since I taught my very first baking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill about 13 years ago. He is a dynamite chef and baker, and I love playing in the kitchen with him. We decided to make this classic Italian ricotta cake after seeing it on the pages of Saveur magazine, just in time for Easter. (more…)

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A Red Velvet Birthday Cake (basket weave 101)

About 30 years ago my father introduced me to Patricia, the most glamorous woman I’d ever seen. She wore a light blue polyester pant suit with eye shadow to match and had a pile of perfectly coiffed blond hair. She was lovely and clearly not from Connecticut, where we lived at the time. Just one word from her mouth and you could hear the south, Alabama in fact. Patricia is my stepmother and in honor of her Southern roots I made her a Red Velvet Birthday cake. Her mom used to make them for her when she was a kid. I wish I had her mother’s recipe, but I found one that was fascinating and dated back to WW2. The Milk Chocolate cream cheese frosting done in an elegant basket weave adds to the romance of the cake.

When I read the ingredients for the cake I immediately assumed that it had omitted a key ingredient; eggs. In fact, this cake is completely vegan; no eggs, butter or milk. Eggs act as a binder, a kind of glue that holds things together. When they are baked, the proteins set and hold everything else in place.  So when I saw that this cake didn’t have any at all I wondered what the texture would be like, paste came to mind. In fact, I was so doubtful I had a back up recipe all ready to go. But, what do you know, it was fantastic. Moist, rich, despite the lack of any butter or eggs and absolutely delicious. Why? (more…)

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Caramel Cake Daring Baker Challenge! (with a bittersweet chocolate ganache surprise)

This month’s Daring Baker Challenge was submitted by Dolores of Culinary Curiosity (where you will find the recipes) and features a cake by Shuna from Eggbeater. The challenge is a fabulous study in caramel! The rich, moist cake is flavored with caramel syrup and then topped with a brown butter frosting that also gets its flare from the syrup. In the end I added a bit of dark chocolate ganache, which is a lovely contrast to the sweetness of the cake. I decorated the top of my sweet caramel cupcakes with giant roses, which I’ll show you how to make! (more…)

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