American Flag Cake
I‘m not usually much of a baker. But I do like to occasionally wow my family with a dessert that takes some thought and effort (i.e. isn’t cookies or ice cream). When I happened upon this fabulous flag cake on Food52’s Facebook page, I knew I had to give it a try for July 4 -- even if I was sure the experience would end badly, in tears, after a flood of curse words. Especially since I chose one of the most humid days of the year to make it in my unairconditioned kitchen, with only 2 cake pans.
But guess what? It turned out to be relatively easy, thanks to a step-by-step picture tutorial on the community-based cooking website (which you can find on food52.com/blog/10617-how-to-make-a-flag-cake-for-the-fourth-of-july and a super-sharp cake knife.
Test kitchen manager Erin McDowell‘s cake was perfect, of course. But my version also resulted in six layers of red, white and blue cake that, when sliced, that looked exactly like an American flag. And it tasted pretty good, too.
Some tips to make things easier:
1. You’ll be making 5 cakes -- 2 white, 2 red, 1 blue.
2. Allow the cakes to cool completely before slicing into layers. Otherwise, they will crumble.
3. If the layers are uneven or lopsided (sometimes one cake will rise higher in the oven than another in the same size pan), carefully trim off the excess with a sharp pastry knife. Make sure you keep the knife flat while keeping your hand on top of the cake -- even the slightest angle, I discovered, will result in an uneven layer.
4. Similarly, if the layers don’t line up perfectly when you stack them, gently slice away the parts that stick out while rotating the plate. It doesn‘t have to be perfect; that’s what fluffy icing is for.
5. Prepare for lots of oohs and aahs. The cake is absolutely spectacular when sliced.
8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1½ cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups cake flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
Red and blue food coloring
4 sticks butter, room temperature
8 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup heavy cream, plus more as needed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping well after each addition. Mix in vanilla.
In a large bowl, whisk the sifted flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt to combine. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix just until incorporated. Follow with 1/3 of the buttermilk and mix to combine. Repeat until all of the wet and dry ingredients are added.Scrape well to ensure the batter is smooth.
For the white cakes: do nothing! The batter can be baked as is. For the red cakes: add about 25 drops of liquid food coloring (or more if it looks too pale). For the blue cake: add about 20 drops of liquid food coloring (or more if it looks too pale).
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and cool completely.
While cakes cool, make frosting: In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until they’re light and fluffy, about 5 to 6 minutes. Beat in vanilla, then add cream gradually, mixing until you get a smooth creamy texture.
Cut the red and white cakes into layers about 3/4-inch thick. You‘ll want 6 layers total: 3 red and 3 white. Leave the blue layer whole, as it has to be thicker to represent the square on the flag.
Using a 4-inch round cookie cutter or bowl, cut one of the red layers into a smaller circle. Then do the same with one of the white layers. These small circles will be the shorter stripes that line up with the flag’s blue square. (Save the outer rings to munch on.)
Then, use the same technique to cut a hole in the center of the blue cake. Set aside the outer circle. (You won‘t need the smaller, inner circle.)
To build the cake, start with a red layer and top it with a thin coating of icing. (The key here is thin, otherwise you will interrupt the “stripe” effect.) Top the red layer with a layer of white cake and another thin coating of frosting. Repeat with another red layer and another white layer so that you have 4 layers total.
On top of this, place the blue cake doughnut (the thick layer with a hole in the middle.)
Spread a thin layer of icing onto the small red circle, and insert it into the hole of the blue cake. Top with a thin coating of frosting and the small white circle. Gently press the small layers into the hole of the blue cake.
Now you’re golden! Frost the cake with creamy frosting using a small offset spatula -- be sure to make it swirly.
The cake will look lively from the outside, but the real kicker is when you cut into it. Make sure there is a hungry crowd nearby to watch.
Gretchen McKay (firstname.lastname@example.org)