Boy, have a got a cake for your memorial day weekend!
Picture moist but light, not-too-sweet layers of vanilla cake kissed with coconut essence, sandwiched around a delightfully red strawberry jam and artfully smeared (a la royal wedding) with a fluffy blue ombre vanilla buttercream. It's summer appropriate, perfectly festive, and a tad more updated than your typical cookout fare (hello, red berry flag cake!). It's got a low-key blue and white vibe with a surprise dash of red inside.
This recipe for vanilla cake is among my favorites, discovered through a chain of bloggers.* I adapt it with different flavors all the time. It's the same recipe base (with substitutions) that I use for my strawberry champagne cake (still troubleshooting that recipe!), orange guava cupcakes, double-strawberry cupcakes, etc. Sophie likes to make it as cupcakes filled with pastry cream and topped with whipped cream -- a vanilla trifecta. On its own, it makes a good 6" cake or 12 cupcakes. Double it for an 8" cake.
Strawberry-filled coconut cake with blue ombre frosting
Please note: this recipe is for a 6-inch cake. Simply double the recipe for an 8-inch cake.
[For the Cake]
1 3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 stick (2 oz, 1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon coconut extract
2/3 cup milk (or coconut milk)
[For the Strawberry Filling]
1/2 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 strawberry, diced or sliced thinly
[For the Frosting]
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 - 2 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt (skip if using salted butter)
1 tablespoon cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 6-inch cake pans with parchment paper and grease with cooking spray. In a small bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a mixer, beat together butter and sugar. Add in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add oil, sour cream, and extracts and beat well, 1-2 minutes, until fully combined. Gradually add in dry ingredients, mixing on low until just combined, and then increase mixer and beat until fully combined, about 30 seconds. Add milk and mix until combined. Divide evenly between prepared pans (a kitchen scale helps) and bake until golden, or a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, or the tops spring back when gently pushed, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
Make the strawberry filling. While the cakes cook, place 1/2 cup of chopped strawberries in a small saucepan. Macerate (I used a potato masher). Add sugar and lemon juice. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, remove from heat, transfer to heat-proof bowl and, when cool enough to handle, place in refrigerator to chill. Once fully chilled and ready to use, stir in 1 chopped strawberry.
Make the frosting. In a mixer, beat butter until pale yellow and fluffy. Add powdered sugar, starting with 1 1/2 cups, and beat until combined. Scrape down the bowl, add cream, vanilla and salt (if using), and continue to beat until very fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add up to 1/2 cup more as needed, depending on consistency and sweetness. Spoon out 1/3 of the frosting and divide into two small bowls. Dye one dark blue, and the other light blue, leaving the remaining 2/3 of frosting white.
Assemble the cake. Loosen cakes from pan by running a knife around the edge. Invert onto wire rack to remove. Level cakes by cutting off the domes from the top with a long serrated knife. Place one layer down on a cake stand or board. Spread a thin layer of white frosting over top, pipe a ring all the way around about 1/2" from the edge, and spoon the strawberry filling into the center. Invert the other cake layer and gently lay it on top. Cover the top and sides of entire cake with a thin crumb coating of white frosting, making sure to fill in the gap between the two layers.
Frost. Using an offset spatula, smear dark blue frosting in a ring all the way around the base. Do the same with the light blue frosting, making a ring all around just above the dark. Smear white frosting over the upper half. Then go around with your offset spatula and smear and blend away until it becomes that free-spirited nonchalant cake that you want. The key here is to stop short of perfection. Seriously, you can go crazy chasing after that perfectly careless smear of buttercream!