Did you ever want a cake to be both a parade float and a fluffy cloud? Hi. Welcome. Fantasy awaits.
This is the Platonic ideal of a white cake – this is the kind of cake you dream of every wedding cake being, but wedding cake universally sucks (except for the people whose weddings I’ve been to – yours was great obviously.)
This cake is everything – soft and tender, sweet but not too sweet, rich but light, heady and flavorful without being overpowering, with just a HINT of tartness to take it into the stratosphere. I love this cake.
For those of you not in the know, raspberry ripple is one of the basic UK ice cream flavors that you don’t really see in the US. In its finest form it’s just beautiful fresh cream with a light streak of raspberry jam running through it – not too sweet, but perfectly balanced between the creamy smoothness of dairy and bright, tart berries.
You can always make a cake and slap some jam between the layers and call it a day – it’s delicious and you should. But there’s something about this buttercream that makes everything Fancy and Deluxe.
There’s an Indian restaurant here in London that, pre-pandemic, wouldn’t take reservations or do takeout. You’d show up and wait for an hour and a half in line to get a table, and every time you’d think to yourself “this is insane. There’s a zillion Indian restaurants in this city that are perfectly good. Why am I here. Why did I do this.” And then they finally seat you and you finally get to order and you rend your garments and tear your hair because, yes, unfortunately, it’s worth it. You can’t even be (that) mad. It’s too delicious.
Meet swiss meringue buttercream. I’ve often said meringue is your best friend when it comes to chic and effortless desserts. Well, this is not chic and it is certainly not effortless. If French meringue is breezily swiping on a careless red lip as you run gracefully for the Métro, Swiss meringue is a full face of drag queen makeup that takes at least 3 hours and 45 products to achieve and somewhere in the middle you think it’s all going to collapse into a muddy nightmare but then it magically comes together in the end to create Pure, Exquisite Fantasy.
(Yes, this household has been working our way through the entirety of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. And what about it.)
Whatever. Who cares. I had always thought frosting was a simple matter of butter, icing sugar, and whatever flavoring floats your boat. But then I tried swiss meringue buttercream, and I put my head in my hands, and I had a little weep because even though it’s the most high-maintenance bitch in this world or the next, it’s damn good and worth every second of Agony.
In order to get the most out of raspberry, it has to have a beautiful, creamy background against which to shine. The cream part of the ice cream is just as important as the ripple part, otherwise we’d all be sucking jam through a straw. This frosting will get you there, in a way that no other frosting will. Did you ever want to float silkily around on a beautiful puff of whipped vanilla pudding? Yeah, that’s swiss buttercream, my friends, and no other.
Making a swiss buttercream involves whipping egg whites and sugar over a double-boiler, and then dropping soft butter into the meringue until it forms a beautiful, glossy frosting. The meringue gives the frosting volume, rather than depending on powdered sugar, which means it’s a TAD less sweet, just like a really good full-cream ice cream should be.
Is it a pain in the ass? Sure. But at least it’s not Italian meringue, which involves streaming boiling sugar syrup into egg whites as you whip them, which is terrifying on American Ninja Warrior levels. I have never done it and I never intend to, but watch this space. I could lose my mind later, who knows.
I still go hard for ganache-based chocolate frosting, but if you want to experience Vanilla with a capital V, which I honestly think does not get its due because usually people mistake “vanilla” for “sweet and beige”, this is your moment. Use a vanilla bean if you’ve got one, otherwise the best vanilla extract you can get your hands on. And the good butter. You’ll be blown away by how good it is.
This is a big fun celebration cake. It’s graduation season, it’s Father’s Day season, it’s wedding and birthday and “hey I haven’t seen you in a year and a half” season. Bring it to a cookout. Wear it as a hat. Have some fun!
RASPBERRY RIPPLE CAKE
Yield: One 9-inch cake that I cut into two layers – you can also bake it in 2 9-inch cake pans and save yourself the hassle. The frosting should make enough to just cover and fill 2 small 9-inch layers. Should feed between 6 and 8 people.
For the Cake:
1 stick (1/2 cup, 113g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ c flour – ¾ c plain, ¾ c cake if you can. Cake flour really puts this over the top – get it if you can, I swear it’s worth it
½ tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt – generously. Heapèd. Salt really makes desserts taste better – to a point, obviously
1 c sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
½ c milk
For the Frosting:
½ lb butter = 240 g, I used 250 because that’s how it comes in the uk, 2 sticks
3 egg whites
¾ c sugar
Pinch of salt – again, hefty
2 tsp pure vanilla extract!! We are deluxe, bitch! Release the bean! Vanilla pudding fantasy!!!
3 tbsp raspberry jam, strained, if you want
- Do the frosting first, because it’s more annoying. Like, light-years more annoying.
- Make sure your butter is at room temperature, and spoon out your raspberry jam over a sieve so it can strain. By the time you’re ready to add it, it should be smooth.
- Put a saucepan on the stove and fill it about halfway with water, and set it on a medium-high heat to come to the boil.
- Pick out the bowl you’re going to be whipping your whites in and place it over the water in the saucepan. If it touches the water, pour some out. You want the steam to heat the egg whites gently, not the boiling water, or you’ll end up with a very sweet omelette.
- Separate your whites from your yolks and save the yolks for pudding or scrambled eggs or something. They’ll keep for a day in the fridge, covered. I like to cover them in cold water so they don’t dry out, then cling wrap.
- Put your whites in a large metal bowl, add your pinch of salt and the ¾ cup sugar.
- Put the whites and sugar over the saucepan of hopefully-by-now-simmering water, and whisk (with a normal whisk is fine if your beaters can’t get there) vigorously. Try not to burn yourself on the steam, it’s serious.
- You can stop whisking when the sugar no longer feels gritty – meaning it’s dissolved all the way – and the egg whites have become foamy. No one’s going to work up to anything like peaks at this point, we’re just trying to create a homogenous mixture that won’t give you salmonella.
- When your sugar is all dissolved and the egg whites are foamy, take the bowl off the heat and start up your beaters. If your pot was too hot, you may have some scraps of cooked egg white in there, which you can strain out if need be.
- Beat your whites-and-sugar mixture until it forms stiff peaks and has come down to room temperature. The big thing with this recipe is that everything has to be the same temperature – the meringue and the butter. If it’s not, it will become the finickiest bitch ever to live on this earth. It might do that anyway, just because it feels like it, but the best defense is a good offense.
- Before you add your butter, make sure the meringue is not at a temperature that will melt said butter. Feel the outside of the bowl, or just stick a finger in.
- I like to get my soft, room-temperature sticks of butter on a little side plate and drop fat spoonfuls of butter into the meringue as I whip it. Make sure the butter incorporates really well before adding more. This takes a while, but you can watch as your meringue goes from something stiff and shiny to a smooth, fluffy, glossy masterpiece.
- When all the butter is in, you can add your flavorings. I added my vanilla here and beat it in until just incorporated, and then removed 1/3 of the frosting for the middle raspberry portion. If you have a bean, now is the time to release the bean.
- If you’re adding raspberry jam, add it to your middle third and beat it well. It will probably split, because the jam is runny and the frosting is fussy, but the cool thing about swiss buttercream is if you just beat it forever, it’ll come back together. I know people who just leave it in the stand mixer for like half an hour until it gets its act together. I also like to put the beaters down and leave it alone for half an hour and then come back – that sometimes gets it done. Either way, even if it’s a curdled mess, don’t despair. Just walk away and come back when your blood pressure is drops back down to a normal level.
- The one thing I’ll say about swiss buttercream is it doesn’t love temperature changes – unlike regular buttercream, leave it OUT of the fridge until you use it to frost, it makes it much less temperamental. 99% of the time, when my buttercream splits it’s because I’m trying to re-whip it from cold. Don’t be like me. Just cover it in cling wrap and leave it at room temperature until it’s time to frost the cake.
- If your raspberry frosting just isn’t coming together, add another tablespoon or so of soft butter. That’s what I did, and it worked out.
Okay, deep breath. Cake is easy compared to whatever that just was.
For the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
- Butter and line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Especially with cake flour, use parchment or cry FOREVER. I know it’s annoying, but if you don’t do it now your cake is going to leave half of itself behind in the pan and you may never recover.
- Sieve together your flours, salt, and baking powder into a small bowl
- Measure out your milk into a liquid measuring jug
- Beat together your room-temperature butter and sugar until they’re light and fluffy
- Add your eggs one at a time, beating well after each one so they’re fully incorporated
- Add the flour in three parts, alternating with the milk and starting and ending with flour. With each addition, as soon as the flour’s incorporated, stop beating and move on. This really helps keep it light and delicate.
- Pour the batter into your prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 30-35 minutes. My giant one that I cut in half took a full 40, but if you use 2 pans it should go much quicker.
- When a tester comes out clean, cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes and then remove to the wire rack to cool completely.
- When you’re ready to decorate, spread your raspberry frosting on one layer, top with the second layer, and cover with vanilla frosting. Decorate with fresh raspberries and enjoy!
- If you’re going to refrigerate it and have a slice later, it really helps to have it come up to room temperature before you eat it – the frosting is at its best at room temp. It also freezes really well in slices.