July 23rd, 2008

princess cake (or, a cake for a princess)

princess cake 7

thanks to betty crocker and pillsbury, there is no shortage of cakes in a box that anyone can make perfectly – the funfetti cake should be probably have a place in the smithsonian as a turning point in human ingenuity. however, there is also, on the other side of spectrum, the type of cake for which the recipe recommends you spend several days working out logistics, testing hypotheses and slaving in an extremely hot kitchen before putting all of the pieces carefully together just so to create something previously unwitnessed by the human senses. as the finishing touches are applied, women and children gasp, fanfare plays, grown men weep from the sheer beauty. the sky opens up and from the heavens descends: the princess cake.

mixing yolks

am i being overly dramatic? in all seriousness, this cake was a pretty hefty undertaking. why did i take it on? the girl sent me a link about 2 years ago to the princess cake, saying that she wanted one. i checked it out, laughed it off, but bookmarked it for later. earlier this year, i found the bookmark, and a bit more confident in my baking skills, did a little googling for more info on this cake. it’s a traditional swedish dessert with a multiple layers and a giant sheet of homemade marzipan that is draped on the cake like fondant.

egg shells

assembling the cake was not actually that difficult. the whipped cream, which covers the cake and provides a giant dome on which the marzipan lies, holds up surprisingly well. the most challenging aspect for me was the cake itself – it’s a genoise cake, meaning it does not use any type of leavening agent to rise. the volume of the cake is introduced while you make the batter by beating whole eggs into a frothy, aerated mixture. folding butter, vanilla and flour into the eggs proved to be tough. it took me several tries (and lots of eggs).

raspberry layerprincess cake 3

it really does pay to plan in advance of tackling a princess cake. i made the mistake of trying to make the marzipan at the same time as the pastry cream. i set the mixer up on the counter next to the range and literally used one hand to manipulate the almond paste while whisking boiling cream and eggs with the other. i laugh at danger!

pastry cream

i finally got all of the elements of this delicious monstrosity together and had the girl come over for dinner and dessert for the great (surprise) unveiling. she was very happy with the cake (and thankfully it tasted amazing). as i sliced a giant wedge for her, she asked what all of the layers were. she didn’t know? wasn’t she the one who asked me to lovingly devote several days to measuring, mixing, kneading, rolling and baking? “i just thought it was pretty!” she responded. to be fair, it was very pretty. we were both lucky it tasted so good too.

princess cake 4

princess cake
from iVilliage.com’s recipe finder. this cake is pretty big, so make sure you have some help eating it. also, please read all of the directions before starting. it helps to have a little bit of a plan.

vanilla genoise layer cake
5 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour

soaking solution
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp Myer’s dark rum

homemade whipped cream
3 cups heavy cream
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla

pastry cream
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
6 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
4 egg yolks at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla

3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 lb almond paste
3 Tbsp light corn syrup
2-3 Tbsp water
1/8-1/4 tsp green food coloring

confectioner’s sugar for dusting
1/3 cup raspberry jam (store-bought)

1. make the cake: beat the eggs until blended in a large mixer bowl. whisk in the sugar. place the bowl over a pot of boiling water. stir the mixture constantly so the eggs do not cook. once they have been warmed (you can feel with your fingers), quickly move the bowl to your mixer, and with the whisk attachment, whip on high for about 4-5 minutes.

2. while the eggs are whipping, melt the butter in a small dish and add the vanilla. set aside. after the eggs have tripled in volume, take the flour and sift in a tiny bit a time, using a rubber spatula to fold it in. once the flour is all incorporated, spoon a generous amount of the egg/flour mixture into the small bowl with the butter and vanilla and fold together. slowly and carefully pour the butter mixture back into the egg mixture, folding gently until everything is incorporated.

3. pour the batter into a greased and floured 9″x2″ round cake pan (or 2 9″x1″ pans). place the pan(s) on a baking sheet and bake on the center rack at 350F for 30 minutes. the cake will pull away from the sides of the pan when it is done. leave in the pan to cool for 5 minutes, and then turn out onto a cooling rack. i had some trouble folding in the flour so my cake did not rise as much as it should have, so i ended up making 2, one of which was smaller than the other. i was able to cut the larger one to get 3 equal layers. you can store the cakes in the fridge for a day wrapped in plastic wrap (or in the freezer for up to a week).

4. make the marzipan: put the confectioner’s sugar in a large mixing bowl and set to medium low. add the almond paste just a bit at a time – i broke tiny pieces off with my fingers and added it over the course of 5 minutes. the mixture should be crumbly. with the mixer still on medium low, add the corn syrup.

5. in a small bowl, combine the water and food coloring and stir together. add slowly to the mixture (with the mixer still on) until it comes together like cookie dough. turn off the mixture and knead by hand until it comes together to a ball. if you want more color, add a bit and knead it in with your hands. press the marzipan into a disc, wrap with plastic and put into the fridge overnight (it will store for about a month).

6. make the soaking solution: combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. remove and let cool, then add the rum. let cool completely before using. you can store the solution in a container in the fridge for up to a month. i did not have rum on hand, so i went without. the cake was still delicious.

7. make the pastry cream: warm the half-and-half in a saucepan until it begins to simmer. meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the corn starch with the sugar and whip in the water. beat in the egg yolks. slowly add the mixture in the small bowl to the half-and-half, whisking to incorporate. it will thicken quickly. remove from heat when it begins to thicken, add the vanilla and transfer to another bowl to cool completely. stir the cream as it cools. cover and refrigerate until chilled. it will keep for up to 3 days.

8. make the whipped cream: in a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients. set the mixer on high until high peaks form.

9. assemble the cake! first, take the marzipan out of the fridge to warm up. then take out your cakes. you should have 3 cakes of equal height or at least close. cut yourself a cake board (just trace around the cake on a piece of cardboard) and place one of the cakes cut-side down. brush it with the soaking solution and spread with a thin layer of raspberry jam. spread a thin layer of whipped cream over the jam. set the middle layer cut-side down on the whipped cream,  brush it with the soaking solution and spread a thick layer of the pastry cream. finally, place the last layer, cut-side down, on top of the pastry cream and brush it with the soaking solution. you can also put a layer of raspberry jam on each cake if you’d like (i would next time i make it).

10. coat the sides of the cake with a thin coating of the whipped cream. mound the rest of the whipped cream on top of the cake and shape it into a dome. it may take a little practice, but you should finish with a giant dome of whipped cream and no cake showing. put the cake in the fridge while you work on the marzipan.

11. cover a large flat surface with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, take the plastic wrap off of the marzipan, and start to press it out with your hands into a large disc. as you feel it warm up, grab your rolling pin, dust it with confectioner’s sugar and begin rolling the marzipan into a 16″ circle (about 1/8 inch thick). keep dusting the marzipan with sugar to keep it from sticking.

12. roll the marzipan on the roller, which should have a healthy coating of sugar. lift the roller over the cake and unroll the marzipan over the dome. you can practice by unrolling it onto a large inverted bowl beforehand. once the entire cake is draped, you can gently smooth out any creases (the marzipan has a *tiny* amount of give, so be careful). just work your way around the cake, smoothing it out and cutting off any excess at the bottom with a very sharp knife or a pizza cutter.

13. take the extra marzipan and cut out some fun shapes to stick on the finished cake as decoration. sprinkle a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar for a finishing touch and serve the same day. store in the fridge but take out about a half hour before serving. it will keep in the fridge for 2 or 3 days.

14 Comments for princess cake (or, a cake for a princess) - why not leave some love?

  1. Ashley says:

    Very sweet of you to surprise her with that cake. 🙂 I’ve never seen anything like it! I love the giant dome of whipped cream and who can resist pastry cream?

  2. Y says:

    Never heard of a princess cake, let alone a funfetti cake (!). Good on you for attempting it for her, especially with that multi-tasking approach 😀

  3. mike says:

    I am absolutely astounded. What a wonderful surprise for someone! The sheer complication involved with this guy makes me want to try it out. Homemade marzipan? Wow.

  4. siri says:

    AWESOME! I love that you made this. And that you made it that easter egg green color like it should be. Your site is fantastic- great photos, great recipes, and great writing.

  5. Towe says:

    Very impressive! -from a Swedish native

  6. Ashleigh says:

    princess cake is so delicious! this recipe is quite extensive, but maybe i’ll try making it for a special occassion, or maybe my own birthday 🙂

  7. Cake recipes are the specialty of my best friend, my favorite ones are those exotic fruit cakes;*”

  8. i love to eat cakes and bake them too that is why i am always on the lookout for cake recipes:–

  9. frida says:

    I’m Swedish, just like the princess cake and I thought I’d share a recipe of a REAL princess cake

    The original princess cake does not have jam in it, with jam and pink marzipan it is an opera cake but some how the jam got in to the green princess cake too so now it’s only the color that’s the differece between them in most pastry shops.

    This is how I’ve learned to make a princess cake in school (I’m studuing to become a pastry chef) and what I think is the most popular/classic one.

    5 eggs
    3dl sugar
    1,5dl flour
    1,5dl potato starch
    3tsp baking powder
    3tsp vanilla sugar

    Line a greased cake pan (23cm diameter) with a circle of parchment paper at the bottom and a strip along the inside, the strip should be about 5cm higher than the pan itself (prevents the batter to rise over the top).
    Heat the oven to 175c (350F).
    Whip the eggs and sugar until really thick and fluffy, this takes at least 15min with an electric beater.
    Sift the rest of the ingredients and carefully blend it with the whipped eggs using a spatula or a whisk (do not whip it in, fold it).
    Pour the patter in to the cake pan, dont fill it with more than 3/4 and bake for about 40 minutes at the lower rack.
    When the cake does not wobble when the pan is given a gentle shake the cake is done.
    Let it cool for about 5min, remove the parchment paper from the sides and carefully turn the cake upside down om a baking sheet. Let it cool and then divide it in three layers.


    600g milk
    75g sugar
    1 vanilla pod, pod and seeds

    150g milk
    180g egg yolk (about 9)
    110g sugar
    60g corn starch

    40g butter, room temp

    Combine the first three ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Let cool for 5 minutes.
    Blend the sugar and corn starch and stir in the yolk and milk. Pour in to the sauce pan while stirring.
    Put the pan back on the hotplate and stir constantly until it thickens.
    Strain it to remove the pod and small parts of it. And stir in the butter.
    Cool it as quick as possible by putting the bowl in another bowl of icy water or putting it in the refrigerator.

    When the custard is completely cooled:

    Take the bottom part of the cake and turn it with the brown side up and spread raspberry jam (preferably seedless) on it. Take the upper part of the cake and lay it on top of the jam with the brown side down. Spread a layer of custard on it, place the last cake layer on top.
    Whip about 3-4dl of whipping cream until it holds its shape. Spread a thin layer around the cake and make a dome on top of it.
    Cover the cake with green marzipan (dye white marzipan green with a few drops of food colouring if you can’t find green), dust it with icing sugar and decorate with a pink marzipan rose.

    Why the turning of the cake layers? If you put the brown parts against the dark jam you won’t notice it as much when you cut the cake so it makes prettier slices. It’s purely for the eye.

  10. strongzz Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed! Very useful information specially the last part 🙂 I care for such information much. I was looking for this certain information for a very long time. Thank you and good luck.

  11. Phoebe says:

    wow this looks amazing!

  12. jenny says:

    This one goes down in history as one of the top 5 *worst* recipes I have ever tried!

    I’m no rookie when it comes to complex cakes, and this was by no means my first genovese. But the ingredient ratio/composition for this is absolutely worthless! I too ended up making 3 batches, only to end up with one semi-usable, 1″ layer. It was clear also that putting the bowl over a pot of boiling water to heat the eggs enough to expand was completely useless. I was only successful in getting the eggs to expand when I reverted to my previous approach of whipping them up inside a large stainless steel bowl that I set directly over a low open flame on my gas stovetop.

    The custard looked perfect when I took it off the stove, but by the time it’d chilled in the fridge for an hour, it had the consistency of a fried egg, and crumbled into little pieces when I tried to whip it back together.

    The marzipan icing ingredients also seemed to be off, either in ratio or composition. I ended up with a sticky, soupy mess that (literally) smoked the motor on my Waring Industrial food processor. Which has lived through many years of very heavy, high-volume use. Even after overnight refrigeration in the coldest part of my fridge, the marzipan still flows like molasses.

    The only part that worked? The whipped cream. And only because I followed my instincts and put a small amount of solubilized unflavored gelatin in to give it stiffness so that it could stand up as frosting without squishing out under the layers. Except….. since I only have one layer, there won’t be any squishing or any layers. It’s destined to sit in my fridge and go to waste, along with more than $40 worth of other ingredients that I’m too tired after cooking all night (started this process after work last night, took the 3rd cake out of the oven at 6:10 AM).

    Frida, I wish I’d tried your recipe instead. Once I get up the courage (and the $$$ to buy all the ingredients again), I will do so. Jag har letat efter ett aektigt svensk princesstarta recept paa maanga aar utan att lycka hitta nagot, och tar emot vilket raad du vaagar offra! Det haer aer tyvaerr inte min foersta negativ upplevelse med daaliga amerikanska recepter.

    Folks, do *not* try this at home. And Pete? I’d say that girlfriend is a keeper if she stuck with you through this!

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