Today is my best friend’s birthday and nothing short of a Buttercream Rose Cake will do. This is also the perfect cake for Easter, which is just around the corner. Creating the buttercream roses and other flowers requires a bit of special equipment and some practice, but this is just the kind of activity that relaxes me and I hope you agree. I’ll walk you through building the cake that will be the canvas for your floral top and then show you how to create the buttercream and roses.
I have some tutorials on my Instagram page, but you can find even more information on my youtube channel (links for each step below).
At the core this is a pound cake that has a perfectly dense crumb and is rich with almond paste, but it is also a tribute to spring, which is on its way. The decoration came to me after I made the blood orange glaze, that is the prettiest pink you can find in nature. The color is from the red fruit, without use of any food color (the season is short, so you can recreate this color with all natural food color that I link to below).
This week I finished the second round of edits on my new book. That’s about halfway through the process, but it still felt like a reason to celebrate. I like to celebrate, even the small stuff. Why wait? Celebrate along the way, since the process is the whole reason I do this. Cake seemed the right way to mark the moment. A slightly-over-the-top cajeta cake at that. Piping icing into flowers is a zen moment for me, it’s how I relax and the results are so satisfying.
The inside of this cajeta cake is a collection of things I had stocked up in my freezer, because I always feel a little more secure knowing there is a cake just a thaw away. I typically bake extra cake layers and make more buttercream than I need for a single cake, then I freeze them. This may be a result of years in the catering world, when a rush order would come in and we’d have to create something in minutes, not hours. Cake and buttercream freeze like a dream.
The cake is chocolate, the buttercream I flavored with cinnamon and for the filling I made cajeta flavored mascarpone cream. Cajeta is often called “Mexican Caramel,” even though it’s not really caramel at all, but a reduction of goat milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and baking soda. You cook it low and slow for a couple of hours until it is both the color and consistency of caramel. The baking soda (an alkaline) reacts with the milk (slightly acidic) and it quickly darkens. Without the addition of baking soda the milk/sugar would have to actually caramelize (burn) to darken and that’s not what we want. You can watch me make the cajeta cake in my instagram stories.
Cajeta has an earthy flavor that I love, but it definitely tastes of goat milk. It is related to the dulce de leche and is made in the exact same way, so you can swap out the cajeta for the cow milk version if you’re not a fan of goat milk. Or, you can combine the two types of milk to mellow out the flavor a bit. You decide.
My story with sugar is long (my whole life long) and a bit convoluted. I was raised by hippies in the the 1960s. We lived on communes, as one did. Until I was about 7 it was really the only life I knew, so never struck me as unusual. It wasn’t until I started to attend school that I understood that my life in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont wasn’t the way the whole world lived. It was sugar that was the first and most profound indication. I’d grown up thinking (being lead to believe) that raisins and other dried fruits were candy. I was perfectly happy with this, until I went to kindergarten and someone produced a Twinkie from their Mickey Mouse lunch box. WTH is that? I was mesmerized and completely distracted by this sweet smelling cylinder of cake. I must have convinced that kid to give me a bite and there began my obsession. It became my life’s work to get more of it. This was no easy chore, considering all I had to trade were peanut butter and honey sandwiches. And when I say peanut butter, I mean the kind we ground ourselves and honey from our bee hives, on bread my Aunt Melissa made from wheat we milled. Today that sandwich sounds like heaven, but wasn’t so popular with those kids eating Ho Ho’s and Twinkies. Every once in a blue moon I’d score something sweet and be amazed.
Eventually in college I went through a naturally sweetened phase. I couldn’t exactly admit that my parents had been right to deny me all the sugary snacks, but I found myself pushing them aside for honey and maple syrup. This was right around the time I started to bake and was really curious about how to make baked goods that were delicious and had a wonderful texture, without sugar. There weren’t a lot of people doing this, not in a graceful way, and I didn’t have the skills to make the recipes up. I eventually went to culinary school to figure out the food science behind baking, with a notion that I’d retool pastry with natural sweeteners. But, their pantry was stocked with sugar and I was too impressionable to resist. I loved what the sugar could do. I was fascinated not only by it’s ability to transform flavor, but it’s ability to take on structure. When heated to just the right temperature I could make candies, both hard and soft, or spin it into gossamer threads. I didn’t really look back to honey and maple, except as a flavor, until I had my boys.
You guessed it. I didn’t let them eat sugar until they discovered it on their own. Yep, I did exactly what my parents had done, and I was a pastry chef. They were little and just didn’t need the sugar, then they got bigger and had a similar discovery that I went through. I wasn’t as hard core about denying them sugar and how could I be, since I worked with it all day. I think I struck a healthy balance and my boys ate their fair share of sweets, but all homemade and I think they didn’t have a Twinkie until they could pay for it themselves and they weren’t as impressed as I had been.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love sugar and all that it can do. I also love playing with honey, maple, agave and other natural sweeteners. They have some nutritional value, true enough, but more importantly they are amazingly delicious. Back in the day, when I was going to culinary school, everyone there looked at me crosseyed when I wanted to make meringue without sugar. Now there are many books on the subject and I am creating all kinds of gorgeous treats that even my folks would have allowed me to eat in my commune days.
These Tea Cup Rose Cakes have no sugar. NO SUGAR! They are also gluten-free (not an issue for me, but is for many of my friends and readers), Dairy-free (if made as the recipe was written, but I did use butter). And, they are delicious and so beautiful, no one will ever know they’re remotely healthy.
Easter is the holiday that ushers in spring. The tulips are starting to make their way out of the frozen earth and the trees are hinting at color. It has been a long winter and all of these little changes are so very welcome. It seems fitting to make a cake that is full of color and blooms. But, as a nod of respect to this past winter and all of its fury, I created this Easter cheesecake with an all white blanket of roses over a swirl of wild color within.
I baked this spring bouquet of cupcakes for my Weekend Baker post on the Cooking Channel blog. I was limited in space in that post, and wanted to go into a bit lot more detail on how to pipe the icing roses, so I am sharing the expanded version here. Creating these flowers is not at all difficult, but it helps to have some simple tricks of the trade. With a little practice and the right tools you can easily recreate these flowers. The contrasting color that tips the petals is one of those easy tricks that takes them from ordinary icing roses to extraordinary. Here is how I did it: