Dulce de Leche Cake

Pastry Affair recently turned six years old. I can hardly believe it. Six years. Even though this space has transformed significantly since the beginning, the real evolution was within myself. Looking back now, I have a new perspective of where I've been, the recipes acting as a timeline of life's many changes, as well as my own ambitions and emotions. The blog originally started as a lifeline—a place of stability in a life in transition—but grew into a space of passion and community, where we can share our love of butter and sugar together. 

Cheers to another year, my friends. Thank you for your love and endless support—you make this place feel like home. 

Dulce de leche is a sauce with Latin American roots. The name itself translates to "sweet milk." Although the flavor profile is similar to caramel, dulce de leche is created with different ingredients and techniques. Traditional caramel is made by heating sugar until it reaches the firm ball stage, or has the appearance of caramel, before adding heavy whipping cream to create a sauce. Dulce de leche, on the other hand, starts with a sweetened milk which is cooked down until it caramelizes. For a quick, semi-homemade version of dulce de leche, a can of sweetened condensed milk can be submerged in water over low heat for several hours to achieve a similar effect.

This cake blends dulce de leche in both the batter and frosting to give it a strong caramel flavor. To create the two-toned appearance, I frosted the cake traditionally and dotted small amounts of dulce de leche against the top half of the cake. When smoothed out, the light brown shade of the frosting blends with the golden sauce, creating a layered, ombré presentation.

Dulce de Leche Cake is an anchor for sweet celebrations. The cake is made with brown sugar and swirled with dulce de leche to provide a defined caramel profile. A dulce de leche Swiss meringue buttercream covers the cake, lending a soft texture and buttery flavor without becoming too sweet. Though I may be celebrating Pastry Affair's big day, I hope you'll make this cake to celebrate your own special day, big or small. 

Dulce de leche can be purchased in some grocery stores (call ahead or check the ice cream topping aisle) and online, or made at home.

One Year Ago: Strawberry Layer Cake
Two Years Ago: Berry Topped Angel Food Cake & Mango Margarita
Three Years Ago: White Chocolate Espresso Cake, Pineapple Jam, Vanilla Chia Pudding, & Rhubarb Cake
Four Years Ago: Blueberry Lemon Crumble, Vanilla Cupcakes, Toffee Chocolate Cookies, Coconut Nutmeg Pudding, Lavendar Lemonade, & Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes
Five Years Ago: Citrus Roasted Rhubarb, Roasted Cherry Brownies, Honey Peach Boba Tea, Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, & Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread
Six Years Ago: Chocolate Coconut Granola, Sour Cream Sugar Cookies, & Lemon Tarts

Dulce de Leche Cake

Yields 2 9-inch cakes

Dulce de Leche Cake
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup (120 grams) sour cream (or plain, non-fat yogurt)
1/3 cup (75 grams) vegetable oil
3/4 cup (325 grams) dulce de leche sauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups (320 grams) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (180 mL) milk of choice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease two 9-inch cake pans and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the sour cream, vegetable oil, dulce de leche, and vanilla extract. Gradually add baking powder, baking soda, salt, and half of the cake flour. Stir in the milk, and add the remaining cake flour, mixing until batter is uniform and smooth.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared baking pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, transfer cakes to a cooling rack, and allow to cool to room temperature before frosting or serving.

Dulce de Leche Swiss Meringue Buttercream
5 large egg whites (150 grams)
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups (340 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (215 grams) dulce de leche sauce, divided

Wipe a large bowl with a paper towel soaked in a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar to remove traces of grease. Add egg whites and sugar and, over a double boiler, whisk constantly over hot water until the sugar dissolves. When rubbed between your fingers, the egg whites should feel hot and smooth (approximately a temperature of 140 degrees F/60 degrees C). This will generally take 3-5 minutes.

Using a mixer, whip the egg whites until thick, glossy peaks form. This may take anywhere from 8-10 minutes. The bottom of the bowl should feel neutral to the touch before moving on to the next step.

Place the mixer on low speed and add the butter in small pieces, one at a time, mixing until smooth. The frosting should reach a silky texture. Beat in the vanilla. If the butter is too warm and the frosting is too runny, place in the refrigerator for approximately 15 minutes to firm up the butter before mixing again. If the mixture curdles, continue mixing and it will come back together. Stir in 1/3 cup of the dulce de leche sauce.

Place the bottom cake layer on a serving plate. Place approximately 2 cups of frosting on the cake and smooth evenly. Place the second layer on top and smooth frosting onto the top and sides of the cake. Using a spoon, dot the remaining dulce de leche sauce on the outside of the cake and  smooth to create the ombré look.

Strawberry Layer Cake

Pastry Affair turned five years old earlier this weekan unimaginable milestone when I started this blog so long ago. Originally a place to let out a little creative energy, it has grown and flourished into so much more. This space stayed a constant when my life was going through the many and tumultuous changes of growing up and finding a place in this world. I hope it continues to be one for plenty of years to come. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey, dear friend, and following along wherever it may lead.

I celebrated this anniversary earlier this spring by upgrading my camera from an entry level DSLR to a professional model. I am still learning how to use it (the purpose of many of the buttons remains a mystery), but it is my new summer project. During Pastry Affair's 4th anniversary, I shared that I had been struggling with blogging, losing the motivation to continue in light of my new career as a high school teacher. It took a few months of healing and letting go of my ideas of perfection, but Pastry Affair found its way back into my heart. It feels right.

The past week was not only a big week for Pastry Affair, but it was also the start of summer vacation (!) and my own 27th birthday (!!). Unlike my 25th birthday, when I despaired that my childhood was over, I felt ready to embrace this new age. I have never been more of an adult than I have in this past year, both in mannerisms and responsibilities, but I still feel as if I have a hold on youth. There is a quote that I adore from Leo Rosten that expresses this well:

O, to be sure, we laugh less and play less and wear uncomfortable disguises like adults, but beneath the costume is the child we always are, whose needs are simple, whose daily life is still best described by fairy tales. 

With summer upon me (and three glorious months to call my own), perhaps this disguise will disappear for a moment while I take on a few new adventures of my own.

It is well documented that my personal favorite celebration cake is a Berry Topped Angel Food Cake. With this particular cake and culinary spirit in mind, I fashioned this strawberry layer cake for Pastry Affair's special day. A simple vanilla cake is surrounded by a strawberry infused swiss meringue buttercream, but the taste is something straight from heaven. The "naked" cake is one of my favorite trends because it is so easy to recreate. The frosting is not supposed to be perfect or fully cover the sides, which means that there are very few ways to get this wrong. If you are a bit inexperienced at cake decoration, this style is definitely for you. 

The recipe is designed to create a full-sized three layer cake, so save this for a memorable event when you have eager mouths to please.

Strawberry Layer Cake expands on the idea of strawberries and cream by turning it into a multi-layer masterpiece. My classic vanilla cake recipe has been rewritten for a tall three layer cake. The cake is surrounded with a vanilla swiss meringue buttercream interspersed with fresh strawberries. The recipe may appear extensive at first glance, but do not let this deter you. If you have made cake and frosting before, this cake will be no more difficult nor take you a greater length of time.

One Year Ago: Berry Topped Angel Food Cake
Two Years Ago: White Chocolate Espresso CakePineapple Jam, and Vanilla Chia Pudding
Three Years Ago: Mocha Granola, Multigrain Bread, Blueberry Lemon Crumble, and Vanilla Cupcakes
Four Years Ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Lemonade, Citrus Roasted Rhubarb, and Roasted Cherry Brownies
Five Years Ago: Chocolate Coconut Granola, Sour Cream Sugar Cookies, and Lemon Tarts

Strawberry Layer Cake

Yields 3 layer 8 or 9-inch cake*

Vanilla Cake
3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups (560 grams) granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1 cup (240 grams) sour cream (or plain, non-fat yogurt)
2/3 cup (150 grams) olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
5 1/3 cups (600 grams) cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups (480 ml) milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease 8 or 9-inch cake pans and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the sour cream, olive oil, and vanilla extract. Gradually add in the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in three additions, alternating with the milk, stirring until batter is uniform and smooth.

Divide batter evenly between cake pans. Keep in mind that the cake layers will be relatively tall. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool to room temperature before frosting. 

Vanilla Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Heavily adapted from Sweetapolita

5 large egg whites (150 g)
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups (340 grams) butter
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (225 grams) fresh strawberries, cored and sliced

Using a sharp knife, cube the butter and set aside. While making the frosting, the butter will warm up slightly, but should still be cool to the touch when using it. 

Wipe a large bowl with a paper towel soaked in a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar to remove traces of grease. Add egg whites and sugar and, over a double boiler, whisk constantly over hot water until the sugar dissolves. When rubbed between your fingers, the egg whites should feel hot and smooth (approximately a temperature of 140 degrees F/60 degrees C). This will generally take 3-5 minutes.

Using a mixer, whip the egg whites until thick, glossy peaks form. This may take anywhere from 8-10 minutes. The bottom of the bowl should feel neutral to the touch before moving on to the next step.

Place the mixer on low speed and add the cool butter cubes one at a time, mixing until smooth. The frosting should reach a silky texture. Beat in the vanilla bean seeds. If the butter is too warm and the frosting is too runny, place in the refrigerator for approximately 15 minutes to firm up the butter before mixing again. If the mixture curdles, continue mixing until it comes back together.

To assemble, reserve approximately 1 1/2 cups of frosting to use later. Mix a majority of the sliced strawberries in the remaining frosting, reserving a handful for decoration. 

Place the bottom cake layer on a serving plate. Place approximately 2 cups of strawberry filled frosting on the cake and smooth evenly. Add the second layer of cake and repeat. Place the final layer on top and, using the reserved frosting, smooth frosting onto the top and sides of the cake to fill in any gaps. If there are bare areas showing between the cake layers, push reserved strawberry slices into the frosting and smooth out with an uneven spatula.

Top with halved strawberries and serve.

* A 3 layer 8-inch cake will not use all of the batter so you will have enough leftover batter to create a few cupcakes. If baking 9-inch cakes, you will likely use all of the batter in the creation of the cake.

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

There are a dozen or so recipes that are regarded as family recipes in my home, passed down from earlier generations. Among those held most dear are our honey cookies, which grace the dessert table when the holidays arrive, and my Grandmother Irene's orange rolls, which are made when the snow melts and stand for the hallmark beginning of spring. As I've grown older, I've quietly added a few of my mother's recipes to this coveted list, the recipes that I remember most from childhood. 

And that is what brings me to this banana cake.

My mother originally found her recipe in an old church cookbook. Written by a friend of my grandmother, the cake had just six ingredients—sugar, sour cream, eggs, flour, baking soda, and bananas. My mother played around with the basic recipe, adding an unavoidable chocolate glaze (or chocolate chips in a pinch). Eventually shortening was added to give the cake a source of fat, which produced less of a bread-like texture and more like the feel of a cake. 

After I took hold of the recipe, I couldn't help myself from giving it my own twist and took it through a few more iterations before reaching this point. The spirit of the original, however, is just the same. 

The cake is made with shortening, which may be an unusual choice in the age of "butter is best," but I can assure you that it is the right choice. Shortening gives the cake a bit of heft, the feel of a peanut butter sandwich against the roof of your mouth, without weighing the cake down. Butter is just not capable of this texture in the same situation. The addition of sour cream and buttermilk ensure the cake has a tender crumb. It is the banana cake I remember, in its purest form.

As you know by now, I can never leave anything alone for long. I filled the cupcakes with homemade chocolate hazelnut spread (though the brand name alternative would also suit). For the pièce de résistance, the cupcake is topped with a banana buttercream. A fresh banana is beat into the frosting with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. The subsequent flavor is so true and vibrant I wondered why I haven't been doing this from the beginning.

bananachocolatehazelnutcupcakes1.jpg

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes is one of the evolutions of my mother's banana cake. The cake itself is rich in crumb and flavor, but the sweetness does not overwhelm. Filled with chocolate hazelnut spread, the chocolate complements, but does not overpower the subtle flavor of the banana. Topped with a banana buttercream, the banana flavor is confirmed once more, providing a light texture contrast to the cake. 

One Year Ago:  Coconut Macaroons and Honey Almond Quinoa Granola
Two Years Ago: Coconut Whipped Cream, Chocolate Candied Ginger Biscotti,  Banana Cinnamon Pancakes, and Raspberry Cream Cheese Lemon Cupcakes
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Toffee Scones, Rosemary Sea Salt Crackers, Grapefruit Cake, and Chocolate Caramel Crispy Bars
Four Years Ago: Coconut Cream Cupcakes, Yeasted Waffles, Italian Breadstick Popcorn, and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

Banana Cupcakes with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling and Banana Frosting

Yields 2 dozen cupcakes

Banana Cupcakes with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling
1/2 cup (100 grams) shortening, room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) white sugar
3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar
2 large eggs
3 medium to large overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup (115 grams) sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) buttermilk
1 cup (280 grams) chocolate hazelnut spread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line cupcake pan with liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the mashed bananas, sour cream, and vanilla extract. 

Alternatively add and beat in the flour mixture and buttermilk in 3 additions, starting and ending with the flour. Fill baking liners 3/4 full with batter. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before filling and frosting.

To fill, use a sharp knife (or cupcake corer) to cut out a small cavity in the center of the cupcake. I run the knife in a circular motion, while always pointing the knife towards the center of the cupcake. Aim for the cavity to be cone shaped. Using a pastry bag filled with chocolate hazelnut spread, fill the cupcake with the spread until nearly to the top. Cut the top off the cupcake piece you removed and press it back on the cupcake to seal the filling.

Banana Frosting
1 large ripe banana, mashed (about 1/2 cup)*
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup (113 grams) butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 to 4 cups (400-500 grams) powdered sugar
Banana chips (for garnish)

In a small bowl, mash the banana with the lemon juice until very smooth. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until smooth. Add the mashed banana, vanilla, and salt and continue beating until uniform. Gradually add the powdered sugar, stopping once a spreadable texture has been reached. Fill a pastry bag and pipe or spread frosting on the cupcakes. Garnish with a banana chip and crushed banana chip pieces.

* The banana should be ripe enough to eat, but contain no brown spots (it will stain the buttercream). If you do encounter a brown spot, cut it fully out of the banana before mashing.