I can’t stop walking around our neighborhood looking at the incredible cherry blossoms and Japanese magnolia trees exploding into bloom. They line the streets and dust the sidewalks in pink and white flower petals. Without a doubt spring is here and I’m soaking in every moment of this incredible transformation. My husband recently built garden boxes and we planted everything from asparagus to strawberries. I’m a bit of a reluctant gardener but my son is loving digging in the dirt, if only I can keep his dirty little fingers from pulling the growing plants out.
This cake is all spring, it uses the first rhubarb of the season and dried cherries in a lightly spiced jam in place of the much-awaited fresh cherries the coming summer is sure to bring. The cake is a simple vanilla cake with a bit of almond extract and I used egg whites instead of whole eggs to keep the color light with a fluffy but substantial texture. It’s brushed with a tea-infused demerara simple syrup and iced in a velvety swiss meringue buttercream infused with the same sweet, lightly floral syrup. Smith Teamaker’s Meadow Tea is one of my absolute favorite herbal teas, it’s unbelievably fragrant and the combination of chamomile flowers, hyssop, rose petals and rooibos make it as beautiful to look at as it is to drink. When they asked me to use it to create something for Easter I couldn’t have been more excited to infuse a cake with its lovely flavor.
If you find making a layer cake with multiple components intimidating, I’d recommend splitting it up over a few days. Breaking down a more involved recipe into simpler steps makes it much more doable, especially if you are entertaining. The jam can be made up to 5 days in advance and the buttercream can be made and refrigerated for 3 days, then brought to room temperature and rewhipped. I’ll leave a few notes below the recipes on making swiss meringue buttercream, it can be a little finicky but the texture is completely worth it, in my opinion. The cake can be made a day ahead, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap after cooling and stored at room temperature.
A huge thank you to Smith Teamaker for sponsoring this post! Smith is a small-batch, artisan tea maker out of Portland, Oregon and you can visit them online here or in person at either of their two tasting rooms (try whatever seasonal tea latte is on the menu, it’s bound to be delicious!) As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
- 1 lb (about 5 c) rhubarb, trimmed and thickly sliced
- 1½ c dried cherries
- 1 lb (2 c) sugar
- juice of 2 large lemons, divided
- 2 inch strip of lemon peel
- 5 cardamom pods
- 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
- 5 black peppercorns
- Place rhubarb, cherries, sugar, lemon peel and ¼ c lemon juice in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb softens and the sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium and simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened. Reduce the heat as needed to be sure the jam doesn't burn. Once thickened, remove from heat and place the ginger, peppercorns, and cardamom in a tea strainer or cheesecloth tied with a string and steep in the jam for 20-30 minutes, covered. Drain the liquid from the strainer and discard its contents. Stir the jam, add a few drops of the reserved lemon juice and taste, adding more if desired. Pour into a heat-proof container, cover and refrigerate. May be made up to 5 days in advance
- Bring the water and sugar just to a boil and add the tea bags or loose tea. Steep, covered, until room temperature. Squeeze the liquid out of the tea bags and discard or strain with a fine mesh strainer. Store in an airtight container.
- Wipe the metal bowl of an electric stand mixer, whisk attachment and a whisk with vinegar or lemon juice and a paper towel to remove any trace of grease.
- Fill a large pot with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Place the prepared metal mixing bowl over the pot of simmering water (bowl should fit snugly but should not touch the water) and add egg whites and sugar. Stir constantly with a whisk until the temperature reaches 140 degrees on a candy thermometer or until all the sugar has dissolved and the egg whites are hot. Remove from heat and secure into stand mixer.
- Beat the hot egg whites and sugar on high speed with the whisk attachment until the bottom of the bowl is completely neutral, about 10 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment and turn mixer on low speed.
- Begin slowly adding the butter pieces and mix until texture is smooth. If the buttercream curdles, keep mixing, it'll come back together.
- Add salt and vanilla extract, then slowly drizzle in the 6 tbsp of the Meadow Tea simple syrup and mix until combined. Reserve the remaining simple syrup for brushing on the cakes.
- You can store buttercream in the fridge in an airtight container for 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 6 weeks.
- 2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
- 2 c (396 g) sugar
- 6 egg whites, at room temperature
- 3¼ c flour (360 g)
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 1⅓ c buttermilk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp almond extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prep 1 x 8 inch, 1 x 6 inch and 1 x 4 inch cake pans (or 2 x 8 inch work as well) by buttering them, lining the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper, then dusting them with flour and tapping out the excess.
- Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then add the egg whites gradually, beating to combine, about 2 minutes.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl and set aside. Mix the buttermilk, vanilla and almond extracts together and set aside.
- Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk mixture, mixing just until combined, or finishing by hand.
- Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans, filling about halfway and smoothing with a spatula or the back of a spoon. Gently tap the pans on the counter a couple of times to release any air bubbles trapped in the thick batter. Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pans in the oven and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, checking every 3 minutes for doneness. Be aware that the cakes will be done at different times given their different sizes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean and the top should spring back to the touch. Place on cooling racks until the pans are cool enough to handle, then run a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it and turn it out onto the cooling racks to come to room temperature.
Assembly// Level the cakes if desired, and split the cakes in half horizontally with a serrated knife or cake cutter. Put about a cup of the buttercream into a pastry bag or large ziplock with the corner cut, you'll use this to pipe a 'dam' in between the layers that will be filled with jam. If you want a smoother jam, pulse it in a food processor and set aside. Place the top of the 8 inch layer top side down on a cake board or your serving plate, use a pastry brush to brush a small amount of simple syrup onto the layer, then pipe an edge of buttercream around the layer and fill with jam. This will keep the jam from oozing out the sides of the cake and mixing with your buttercream. Brush the bottom of the 8 inch layer with simple syrup and place on top. Smooth a layer of buttercream on it, then place the top of the 6 inch layer on top. Repeat the simple syrup, buttercream, jam process and do the same with the 4 inch layer. Place the cake in the fridge for a few minutes to firm up the buttercream and make icing the cake easier. Roughly ice the top and outsides of the cake and decorate with flowers or as desired. Serve at room temperature. May be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Just a couple tricks I’ve learned when making swiss meringue:
The bowl and meringue must be completely neutral before adding the butter. The butter should be cool, but not cold. If the meringue is too warm or the butter is too cold the buttercream will curdle.
If you’ve refrigerated or frozen your buttercream, leave it on the counter to come to room temperature and rewhip. If the buttercream looks curdled, take 1/4 of it and microwave it for 10 seconds, then rewhip until smooth.
If, when making the buttercream, it appears runny after adding the butter, refrigerate for 15-20 minutes and rewhip.
If the buttercream appears curdled after adding the butter just keep whipping, it will eventually come together.