Friday, February 11, 2011

Mini Heart Layer Cakes for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is my absolute favorite commercial holiday.

Hmm, I don't know if that came out right...
The truth of the matter is, I think Valentine's Day often gets a bad rap by embittered single people who take the romantic element too seriously and by quasi-liberals who consistently throw around the tired rhetoric of "hating the commercialism" of it.

What happened to an appreciation of the elementary school version of Valentine's Day? I suppose I've always carried with me the original meaning I interpreted the day to be about as a kid- cartoon Valentine's cards exchanged in class and placed in homemade mail boxes, glittery heart covered merchandise, and candy galore.

Now that I have an amazing husband, I really enjoy the grown-up romantic element as well (of course), but the childlike version of Valentine's Day will always hold a special place with me.

For this Valentine's Day, I'll have a three-series post (hello, favorite commercial holiday- I take holiday dessert making very seriously). The featured recipe today is Mini Berry Flavored Heart Layer Cakes.

Think strawberry cake mix cakes with strawberry canned frosting, but grown up and with a more gourmet twist. These mini-cakes have a mixed berry flavor and are covered in a raspberry swiss meringue buttercream. Each individual cake is sandwiched together with cream cheese strawberry frosting for an extra element of flavor.

I won't lie- these were a bit of a pain in the butt to make, but they turned out adorable and were a huge hit with my professional tasters (AKA-wonderfully encouraging co-workers). Part of the cuteness of the cakes is the vibrancy of the pink, almost fuchsia color of the cake AND the frosting. To achieve the perfect shade, I used (and highly recommend) AmeriColor food coloring in "Deep Pink."

I wasn't sure what I was going to make as my first Valentine's Day dessert, but I quickly devised a recipe, once my Brother-in-Law offered to take photos of my creations. He is extremely talented and I was both in awe and ecstatic about how amazing the pictures turned out.

For the Berry Flavored Heart Cakes:

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter
1 cup sour cream
2/3 cup mixed berry puree (boil until reaches 2/3 cup)
1 oz Raspberry extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs
3 egg whites

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (always set mine to 330 because my oven is vintage and HOT). Butter and flour three 9-by-2-inch cake pan, tapping out excess flour. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, beat in egg and whites, one at a time. Beat in vanilla and raspberry extract. Alternately beat in flour mixture and sour cream until well combined. Lastly, fold in puree.

Pour batter into pans and smooth tops. Bake until cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (about 25 minutes).

For the Berry Puree:
1/2 cup fresh blackberries
1 1/2 cup fresh strawberries (you can use raspberries, as well, but I used what I had on hand)
1/4 cup sugar

Combine berries and sugar into blender and use puree setting until completely smooth. Put mixture through a mesh sieve to remove seeds. Heat mixture on low and boil until reduced.

For the Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting, see Neapolitan Cake Recipe.

For the Raspberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
Marshmallow Italian Meringue Frosting
Ingredients: (Italian meringue base courtesy of Martha Stewart Online)
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
3 sticks butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 oz Raspberry Extract
1/4 cup berry puree

Cook egg whites sugar in metal bowl placed inside (not touching) a pot of boiling water. Continually whisk mixture over heat until it reaches 180 degrees. Pour hot egg mixture into mixing bowl fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk until soft peaks form. Once egg whites are cool, add butter a piece at a time, whisking well after each addition. Once well combined, switch to paddle attachment and mix for 2 minutes.

Add vanilla and raspberry extracts, food coloring, and berry puree. Mix for another 1-2 minutes.

To Assemble the Mini-Heart Cakes: (makes 12-14 double layer mini cakes)

Once baked, put each cake in the fridge to ease the construction stage of the mini-cakes (colder cakes means=fewer crumbs). Cut each cake with a small-medium sized heart shaped cookie cutter (I bought mine from the 99 cent store, believe it or not). Since the cakes are fairly dense, it was actually even easier than I expected to cut through it with the cookie cutter. The hearts turned out perfectly shaped and with very clean edges.

The scrap cake pieces leftover for YOU to eat!

Stack two hearts on top of each other, "gluing" together with strawberry cream cheese frosting (you can also add an additional layer of swiss buttercream to achieve greater height in the little cakes), and using the flatter side as the "top" of the cake (it will be easier to frost this way).

Once all of the little cakes are assembled, you may want to put them in the fridge again for an hour or so if they've warmed up a bit. If not, you can frost them as it with the raspberry buttercream, using a small flat spatula (I used a butter knife, which work pretty well too).

Once the cakes are frosted, sprinkle the tops with sprinkles of your choice.

TIP: When preparing for transport (if you will be taking the cakes somewhere) refrigerate them prior, if you have the chance. Otherwise, the frosting will still be soft and any sort of plastic wrap, foil, etc. will squish the frosting.

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