It is mildly embarrassing to admit my childhood love of The Little Mermaid and I would like to come clean with the fact that there were one too many years of enthusiasm for this video. I didn’t care about much back then but I definitely wanted to live in a secret magical waterland and have my best friend-slash-life advisor be a reggae-loving crustacean. Obviously I could have gone without the terrifyingly mean seawitch but hey, the good comes with the bad.
I am pretty sure that two large factors contributed to this obsession: one was that I was enrolled in swimming lessons and two was that these were the years that my uncle was in a steel drum band so anytime I accompanied my parents to a gig it was like experiencing a real-life under the sea concert with Sebastian.
Because I’m not yet on the kid birthday party circuit, celebratory get-togethers and gatherings of my peers are mostly devoid of layer cakes having been almost replaced by their second cousin once removed, the cupcake. This inspired me to create a layer cake with a grown-up palate which means I felt it obligatory to include two of my favorite ingredients - brown butter and bourbon. I have said it once and I will say it again, brown butter is your best friend in the kitchen. It is such a simple technique and provides depth and flavor to everything. It is butter but better. It is like the updated version of butter. It is Butter 2.0.
Making a layer cake should not be a cause for panic – it is just cake after all! – but just in case, I put together a little tutorial on how to frost a layer cake. So whip up a pan of brown butter, take a sip of bourbon to quell your fears, rummage around in your odds-n-ends drawer for your offset spatula and get down to business. It is layer cake makin’ time.
P.S. I think of this cake as a sort of “everyday layer cake” (if there is such a thing [there is in my world at least!]) but if an 8″- or 9″-inch cake is too large and intimidating then this would be a fabulous recipe to cut in half and test out your set of 6″-inch cake pans. You got some as a holiday present, right?
P.P.S. Do you follow BMUB on Facebook or Twitter? There just may be a Valentine’s Day-themed giveaway coming up and you will be the first to know when to enter to win some “sweet” prezzies! Yay for heart-shaped everything!
Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Layer Cake
Makes two 8-inch layers
3 1/2 cups (407 grams) cake flour*
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 cup (2 sticks or 226 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups (350 grams) sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350. Generously butter and flour two 8-inch cake pans. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt one stick (1/2 cup or 113 grams) of butter, stirring constantly until it begins to foam. Continue to cook and stir until the foam subsides and milk solids begin to form on the bottom of the pan. Keep a close eye on the pan and turn down the heat if things start to get too toasty. When the butter has deepened in color and smells wonderfully nutty, turn off the heat and pour the butter into a small freezer-safe bowl. You should have about 1/3 cup or 90 grams of brown butter. Freeze for about 15 minutes or until the edges of the butter start to solidify. I set a timer so I wouldn’t forget about it hanging out in the freezer! Also just in case – a visual tutorial on how to brown butter.
While the butter is chilling, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In a liquid measuring cup stir together milk, vanilla extract and the vanilla seeds. Set both aside.
Beat the remaining stick of butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the chilled brown butter, being sure to scrape the bowl so all the toasty bits of flavor that tend to settle to the bottom are included, and beat until incorporated. Add sugar and beat until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add the dry ingredients and the vanilla/milk mixture in three alternating additions, scraping down the sides and the bottom of the bowl as necessary. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and carefully but firmly tap each pan on your counter top. This makes sure that there are as few air bubbles as possible as the cake bakes.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. When your cake is fully cooled, frost with one batch of bourbon buttercream (recipe below).
Alternatively, you can tightly wrap the cakes in several layers of plastic and refrigerate overnight or you can freeze them for even longer (as in several weeks or even months). If you go the frozen-cake route, just be sure to let the wrapped layers defrost in the fridge the night before you want to frost your cake. Also, if your cake layers are a bit on the dry side due to their time in the fridge or freezer, an easy way to get them back to being jazzy is to lightly brush them with a mixture that is equal parts water and bourbon (or other booze of your choice). You don’t want to soak the layers but the liquid will freshen them up and help to make sure that your cake is extra delicious.
Wondering what to do next? Need a crash course in cake-decorating? Check out this related post on how to frost a layer cake!
*Don’t have cake flour on hand? Make your own by sifting together 3 cups + 1 tablespoon (385 grams) all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons (58 grams) cornstarch and voilà you have 3 1/2 cups of homemade cake flour!
Makes about 5 cups
2 cups (4 sticks or 452 grams) unsalted butter, softened
6 cups (600 grams) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) bourbon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl. I usually do this over the sink because A. I have a tiny counter top and B. I tend to get powdered sugar everywhere so this makes clean up just a little bit easier.
Beat butter in a large bowl (and I mean large! Five cups of frosting ends up being a lot in the end so use your biggest bowl!) until light and creamy, or about two minutes. Add the sifted powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the bourbon, vanilla and salt and beat until smooth and spreadable, or about one minute more.