When it comes to baking, I like to keep it simple, preferring presentations that are not too fussy, but fresh and light. This especially applies to cake.
It was my daughter’s birthday recently, and her favorite cake is a Danish lagkage (layer cake), which is the traditional birthday cake served at celebrations. In refreshing Danish fashion, the cake is simple and minimal, with thin layers of vanilla sponge, whipped cream and fresh fruit. In the summer, we pluck raspberries and strawberries for decoration and to layer between the cake. In the winter, we smear preserves (made from berries we picked the previous summer) over each cake layer before adding the cream. Sometimes we combine both the whole fruit and the preserves. It’s flexible and beautiful, no piping, no bling. The only decorations are a pile of fresh berries on top and pretty snipped edible flowers from the garden. It’s perfect.
I have messed around with different vanilla cake recipes over the years, and this is the one I currently favor. This sponge cake recipe is adapted from Cooks Illustrated. Make sure that all of the sponge cake ingredients are at room temperature before you begin.
Danish Layer Cake With Whipped Cream and Berries
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus cooling time
Yield: Serves: 8 to 10
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons sifted confectioners' sugar
1 cup raspberries
Assorted berries (raspberries, sliced strawberries, red or black currants) for garnish
Fresh edible flowers and herb sprigs for garnish
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two (8- or 9-inch) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment and butter the parchment.
Whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla and lemon zest in a medium bowl to combine.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Briefly mix on low speed to blend.
Add 1/3 of the butter to the flour mixture and mix on low speed to blend, then increase the speed to medium and mix for about 10 seconds.
Add half of the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds to blend. Add the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds. The mixture should be wet and granular.
Add half of the egg mixture and mix to just combine without overmixing. Add the remaining egg mixture and mix until smooth without overmixing.
Divide the batter between the pans. Transfer to the oven and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes and cool completely. When cool, use a serrated knife to slice the cakes in half horizontally (optional).
Make the cream:
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until traces of the whisk are apparent. Add the sugar and beat until firm peaks form. Place 1 cup raspberries in a bowl and mash with a fork. Add half of the whipped cream and gently stir to combine.
Place one cake layer on a cake plate and top with raspberry cream. Repeat with remaining layers. Spread the remaining whipped cream over the top and sides of the cake. (You can leave the sides “naked” if desired.) Top with fresh berries. Garnish with snipped edible flowers and/or herbs. Serve the cake immediately.
Tip: If you would like more fruit flavor, gently heat 8 ounces high-quality raspberry preserves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until runny. Cool slightly and spread over each cake layer before topping with the whipped cream.
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