If Eating This Much Butter Is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right: Whipped Brown Butter and Vanilla Birthday Cake

For my friend Dorothy's birthday this year, I again decided to avoid chocolate (in deference to her older son Alexander, who refuses to eat it) and decided to make Kate Zuckerman's Whipped Brown Butter and Vanilla Birthday Cake. The recipe headnote says that this is Zuckerman's favorite white butter layer cake. That was enough to convince me to give it a try.

I have never made or used whipped brown butter before. You brown butter with the scraped seeds of a vanilla bean and the pod, remove the pod (the recipe says to dry it off and save for another use -- but what can you do with a fried vanilla pod?), and then refrigerate the butter for a few hours until it solidifies. You put the chilled brown butter in the mixer bowl and cream it with sugar for 8-12 minutes, until it's very fluffy and light in color. The mixture of brown butter and sugar was very aromatic and smelled heavenly -- it made me wonder why everyone isn't using whipped brown butter on toast or as an all-around condiment, because the fragrance was intoxicating.

You add eggs and egg yolks to the creamed mixture, and then alternately add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt) and room temperature milk. You divide the batter between two greased pans (or you can make 16 cupcakes instead) and bake. The recipe instructs you to run a paring knife through the batter in a singular circular motion one inch from the edge of the pan before baking, in order to help the cake rise evenly. I didn't do this, but I used Evenbake strips on the pans and the tops of the cakes were perfectly flat; I didn't need to level them before assembling the cake.
The orange buttercream recipe for this cake is not exactly a health food -- it requires a pound of butter and six egg yolks (if you add this to the three sticks of butter + two eggs + four egg yolks in the cake, you can see how this is the kind of dessert you want to save for a special occasion). It's a French buttercream; you beat egg yolks and sugar; add hot orange-flavored sugar syrup (orange zest, sugar, and water heated to 248 degrees) and beat until cool; and then incorporate softened butter. You are also supposed to add one-quarter cup of Grand Marnier at the end, but I didn't want to make the frosting too boozy since kids would be eating it. I used two tablespoons of orange extract instead.

To assemble the cake, you spread buttercream on one layer of the cake, arrange fresh raspberries on top, cover the raspberries with buttercream, and stack on the second cake layer. I had just enough frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake, with nothing left for any borders or decoration. You could see small orange flecks of zest in the frosting, but the frosting was otherwise a nondescript cream color and the cake looked pretty boring.

The cake sliced beautifully and looked a lot more interesting after it was cut because of the bright pop of red from the raspberries. Most importantly, it tasted as good as it looked. The cake had a fine, tight crumb and was light and moist. The frosting was insanely good -- ultrasmooth and weightless with just the right amount of bright and lovely orange flavor. I couldn't taste the brown butter in the cake, but since the cake was so delicious I didn't really care.

I thought this cake was a complete success, although I wish I had checked beforehand to see what cake I had made for Dorothy last year (I make so many cakes throughout the year that I often have to check this blog to remind myself of what I baked for any particular past occasion). It had completely slipped my mind -- until Dorothy happened to mention it -- that last year I made a lemon mousse cake with fresh raspberries in the middle, which looked quite similar to this year's cake. Next year I'll make sure that I bake something that looks different!
As a bonus, I saved the ten extra egg whites that were generated from the cake and buttercream recipes, and used them a few days later to make two batches of raspberry macarons (I used Stella Parks' recipe and added some dehydrated raspberry powder that I recently picked up at Surfas). 

At some point in the future, I am going to have to compare the whipped brown butter cake side-by-side against the Restaurant Eve cake. The Restaurant Eve cake has been my go-to white cake (and cupcake) for many years, and I can't say without a direct taste test which one I like better. Although I can say that I don't imagine making the whipped brown butter cake all that often, just because it is so indulgent... but it is so worth it!

Recipe: "Whipped Brown Butter and Vanilla Birthday Cake" and"Orange Buttercream" from The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle by Kate Zuckerman, recipes available on cookstr.

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Sally said…
That looks delicious - what would you recommend if I didn't want an orange flavor? Something more vanilla-y?

I've made five cakes recipes from Baked Occasions (in the six weeks that I've had it!) and ALL have been winners. I attribute this to the weight measurements... The Ultimate Birthday cake was probably my favorite - it was truly exceptional. And I finally "got" the Baked frosting (the one w. a flour base). I'm very grateful to you and the other recipe testers!
Sally, Kate Zuckerman says that you can pair this cake with basically anything -- chocolate ganache, milk chocolate frosting, any other type of buttercream, and any type of fruit and/or mousse you like for the filling. If you want to make this particular buttercream recipe and don't feel like orange, she provides a vanilla variation, where you omit the orange zest and scrape a vanilla bean into the sugar syrup instead (and omit the Grand Marnier). She also supplies a chocolate variation where you melt two ounces of chocolate (so four ounces if you make a double batch) and whisk it into the frosting at the end.

I'm so glad that you're liking Baked Occasions! I tested the Ultimate Birthday Cake and I loved it too -- but there are definitely a few cakes I haven't gotten to yet! Which one is your favorite so far?
Sally said…
The ultimate one is probably my favorite! I also loved "everyone's favorite birthday cake" - I cut the cinnamon in half, and made a 1/2 recipe in 2 6" cake pans, but used the same amount of chocolate frosting. It was exceptional. I also LOVED the blueberry buckle cake, the salted caramel pound cake, and the vegan hippie cake. The salted caramel cake was best about 36 hours after baking. Incidentally, after years of reading BSM, it was really fun to see all of your photos at the end of the book.