A couple of months ago, I donated a custom party cake to a silent auction benefiting the Downers Grove Choral Society. Our director won the auction and asked me to make the cake for our chorus social.
This is one of my very favorite cakes, and I’ll share the method so you can make it, too! It’s colorful and showy, but doesn’t require complicated cake decorating skills. I was inspired by the signature cake from the Swedish Bakery in the Chicago neighborhood of Andersonville, and pictures of Fourth of July flag cakes topped with fresh fruit.
For the cake layers, I used Smitten Kitchen’s Best Yellow Layer Cake recipe. This was a 12-inch cake (40-50 servings), however, so I made two batches of cake batter–one for each 12-inch cake pan. I baked the layers, one at a time, in a 325 degree oven (a lower temperature allows larger cakes to bake more evenly) for about 50 minutes. I baked them the night before, let the layers cool completely, and wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap until the next afternoon.
The cake is filled with vanilla pastry cream. This recipe from King Arthur Flour is so easy (as directed, omit the whipped cream, because you want a sturdy, sliceable filling), and you can–and should!–make it ahead of time and chill it well. I used about two-thirds of the pastry cream to fill this large cake. The kids ate the rest for dessert last night, topped with extra fresh fruit and whipped cream.
I frosted the cake with a triple recipe of stabilized whipped cream. You can certainly just use regular, sweetened whipped cream, but if you need to make the cake several hours ahead, or you anticipate leftovers, stabilized whipped cream will ensure that the cream holds its shape under the fruit and doesn’t melt. I try to avoid specialty ingredients, but you should be able to find clear piping gel in the cake decorating aisle of your local craft store, or you can order it online from Wilton. King Arthur Flour also makes a whipped cream stabilizer.
To assemble the cake, first trim any domed top off the cake layers with a long, serrated bread knife so that they are fairly level. Place one cake layer on a cardboard cake board or serving platter. Spread chilled pastry cream about 1/2-inch thick over the layer, stopping about 1/2-inch from the edge all around (this allows a little space for the cream to spread when you place the top layer of cake over it). Place the second cake layer on top of the pastry cream.
(If you’re making a large cake, as I did, push a couple plastic drinking straws through the cake to anchor the layers together, and snip them off level with the top of the cake. I like this bit of insurance if I’m transporting the cake to another site.)
Spread about 1/3 of the stabilized whipped cream in a very thin layer over the entire cake. This is called the crumb coat, and it doesn’t have to look perfect. Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes. While you’re waiting, wash and slice whatever fresh (the mandarin oranges are canned) fruit you choose and lay them out on paper towels, patting them dry if necessary.
Set aside about 1 cup of whipped cream if you’d like to pipe a decorative border (you could skip this step completely). Use the remainder to frost the cake. You can go for a smooth look, or make it intentionally swirly. Then arrange the fruit in whatever pattern you like. I like to make monograms or numbers (for birthdays or anniversaries), but you can do whatever looks prettiest to you. You can use a single kind of fruit, or several.
Finally, heat a couple tablespoons of apple jelly (or any kind of light colored jelly) for 20 seconds in the microwave. Glaze the fruit very lightly with a pastry brush.
This cake is best served at room temperature, but store it for longer periods of time in the refrigerator.