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princess cake (or, a cake for a princess)

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.

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.

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).


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!

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
from iVilliage.com’s recipe finder [2]. 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.