My birthday cake has come early this year.
Oh man, this cake makes my heart explode! Confetti shreds of heart all over everything!
I was inspired by those 50's style swan planters you used to see everywhere, and thinking about a very pastel palette since I've got wedding brain right now. Flavorwise, I'm ready as hell for Spring right now, and I wanted to make a cake that tasted like Spring.
I'm an enormous fan of tea, as you might realize from this post, but chamomile has never been my favorite...for the central reason that it is not actually tea, but a herbal infusion. That being said, chamomile is such a wonderful flavor, light and fresh and floral without being perfume-y like rose. Lime adds a nice balance to the sweetness, and the honey Swiss meringue buttercream triangulates the Spring attitude of this cake.
I don't expect you'll make your chamomile-lime cake into a swan as I have done, but in case you're interested in how I made it happen I've shown a bit more behind-the-scenes type pics in this post than usual.
You'll start by making a very strong tea by letting six tea bags infuse in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes. There's no danger of it turning bitter since, ahem, this is not actually tea. Be sure to use a brand that is composed of 100% chamomile flowers, or just buy them in bulk at your health food store.
This cake is a sturdy, somewhat coarse-crumbed cake but is made very moist by the sour cream and the tea soak that comes after baking. Its flavors are very subtle and light, and would be delicious plain or with a simple whipped cream topping instead of the admittedly elaborate Swiss meringue buttercream I used.
Speaking of that, let's start there. Let me first say, I don't really like Swiss meringue buttercream all that much. For some bakers, it is the only kind of buttercream they use. It's supposed to be more sophisticated and refined than regular old American buttercream (the kind with just butter and powered sugar) but to me this idea is sort of, I don't know, elitist and untrue. I've got this and this meringue-free buttercream to prove it. Logically, making meringue then cramming a pound of butter into it while it deflates just doesn't make sense to me in any case.
BUT still, I thought I'd give it a whirl. With the honey addition, this buttercream whips up a bit more stable and rich, plus the honey flavor is amazing.
Honey Swiss Meringue Buttercream
4 large egg whites
1 c. (213 g.) sugar
1 lb. (4 sticks) very soft unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt
1/3 c. (60 g.) honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Wipe bowls and beaters with white vinegar. Combine egg whites and sugar in a glass or metal bowl and set over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved and temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 140 degrees F (warm, not hot).
Remove from heat and transfer to a large glass or metal bowl. Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, whip mixture until very stiff peaks are reached and the bowl feels neutral to the touch (no longer warm). Add chunks of softened butter in small amounts and whip until fully incorporated. If mixture becomes soupy/warm, refrigerate for a few minutes and whip again until it comes together.
Add salt, honey, and vanilla, whip until combined.
Oh, this cake is so good, so fragrant right out of the oven. You might be tempted to add more lime to this cake, because it doesn't seem like enough, but trust me, you don't want to lose the delicate chamomile flavor under the power of lime. The tea soak at the end of this recipe is crucial to keeping the balance of flavors in order.
For my cake, I carved the body of the swan from cake and added a wired gumpaste head/neck, all of which was covered in fondant. This is actually not the best cake for carving because of its open crumb, so if you're looking to make a swan cake like mine I would suggest this cake recipe instead, which is very fine-crumbed and ideal carving material.
I picked some peonies and roses from my box of leftover sugar flowers and made a bunch of dusty miller to match the pastel palette I had in mind. The wings were attached with sugar glue, and I let them firm up with some saran wrap stuffed behind them so they'd stick up a bit.
I loved making this cake, and I loved eating it just as much. Sometimes people ask me if I have a hard time cutting into these creations I spend hours and hours making. Not at all. It might actually be the best part. Cakes are ephemera, after all, just like all good things are.
Chamomile Lime Cake
1 3/4 c. (201 g.) cake flour (White Lily)
1 3/4 tsp. (8 g.) aluminum-free baking powder
1 1/2 c. (298 g.) sugar
1 c. strongly-brewed chamomile tea (6 teabags, steep for 10 minutes)
3/4 tsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/3 c. canola or vegetable oil
1/3 c. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
Zest and juice of one lime
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8" pans and line bottoms with parchment.
Whisk flour and baking powder together thoroughly in a small bowl and set aside.
Place sugar, salt, and 1/3 c. of tea (reserve the rest for later use) in a small saucepan and heat until sugar is mostly melted--do not allow to boil. Pour sugar mixture into a large bowl. Zest lime and squeeze juice into the sugar mixture. Add oil, vanilla, sour cream, and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until smooth and lump-free. Repeat with the remaining 2/3rds, scraping the bottom of the bowl and making sure no flour lumps remain. By hand, mix in eggs, then yolks, one at a time until fully combined.
Divide batter between pans and tap on the counter to remove large air bubbles. Bake for 20 minutes or so until centers are fully set and spring back when pressed. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto cooling rack.
Prepare tea simple syrup soak by mixing the remaining strong tea with 1/3 c. of sugar in a microwavable container and microwave for about a minute or until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Level cakes by slicing off their crown and brush or drizzle with tea soak. Allow cakes to cool and rest, then fill, and frost.