Summer’s best berries are cooked into a rich compote and spread onto light French vanilla cake layers. Creative stenciling with edible paint brings drama to this fondant-covered birthday cake.
Hello, sweet people!
Last weekend I had a birthday, which was celebrated low-key style with my husband and our puppers. My family and friends always do a great job of showering me with love and confetti around my birthday, but on my actual birthday I like to to do my own thing. This year, I wanted to finish up the work I’d been doing on a French vanilla layer cake recipe (I know – working on your birthday Heather, bor-ring!) That’s how this cake came to be, and how it became this year’s birthday cake.
I’ve spent some time researching what the difference is between a French vanilla cake and just, plain old vanilla cake. My searches online and even in some of my best baking tomes gave answers that were not absolute. Most explanations rely on comparisons to the French way of making ice cream. For example, the base for French vanilla ice cream should be rich with whole eggs and so the cake should also have whole eggs (and a lot of them!).
Likewise French vanilla cake should be lightly yellow due to the use of egg yolks. Vanilla bean seeds are sieved out of a French vanilla ice cream base, so the cake should also be without the flecks (but a few would argue otherwise). I was left feeling that the origin story of French vanilla cake is yet to be uncovered, so if anyone has better insight or sources – I’d love for you to share them in the comments! Having said that, I’m really pleased with the way this version of French vanilla cake turned out, using those guidelines.
The filling was inspired by the best summer blueberries I’ve tasted in a long while! And for me, there’s nothing better than the fragrance of berries cooking, because their floral notes are brought forth as they bubble into delicious compote. And that color! So vivid!
I’ve been eager to play with geometric design on cakes since last year, but had trouble settling on an idea. When I found this really neat asanoha pattern stencil I instantly had stars in my eyes. It reminded me of origami (which I adore) so I it wasn’t surprising to find out that the pattern is common for Japanese kimonos. I ended up using it to stencil black fondant. The technique is so easy, even if you’re not a practiced stencil-er. Here’s how you do it, following the four pictures above!
- Roll a piece of fondant flat and let it stand until the surface is dry to touch, about 7-10 minutes. Gently lay the stencil on top of the fondant and secure with stencil tape (I also learned in pastry school that you can use blue painter’s tape- which seems so weird!). Dip a foam stippler into clear extract and squeeze dry. Dip foam in food color and pat the flat end of the brush upright over the stencil.
- Gently remove the tape and then lift the stencil to reveal the pattern.
- To add texture, place a patterned paper towel over the wet paint and pat very gently. Slowly peel the paper towel away from the fondant. Allow the paint to dry, about 1 hour.
- When the paint is dry, cut the stenciled fondant into desired shapes and apply to the sides of a cake using corn syrup or buttercream.
Perhaps the most striking part of the cake is the multi-glitter bottom tier – which I hope you won’t be disappointed to find out that no actual cake lies below the surface. It’s a DIY glittery cake stand made from a Styrofoam round and all-purpose glitter. There are lots of versions of ‘edible glitter’ to be found online, and I even used a sprinkle on the ‘Snow Apples’ in my first baking book – but can we all agree that more than just a sprinkle on a dessert is mostly unappetizing? I think this glittery cake base removes all concern about the safety of eating glitter while giving the cakes real presence and glam! The process couldn’t be more simple.
First, cover the top and sides of the Styrofoam round with Mod Podge(use the gloss finish so the glitter dries shiny!). Spread your choice of glitter on a foil-lined baking sheet and roll the foam in the glitter. Allow the foam to dry, about 3 hours, and then shake away excess glitter back onto the baking sheet. Top the Styrofoam round with a same-size diameter craft mirror. These mirrors are usually inexpensive (and reusable!), and will ensure that your cake won’t pick up any pieces of loose glitter. The reflection looks really cool, too!
The batter recipe provided is for a two-tier (wedding-style) cake. The recipe can be halved for one triple layer 9-inch cake, and you may have some batter left over for a batch of cupcakes. Speaking of cupcakes! I formulated this recipe so that the cake layers wouldn’t crown much, so you may not have to level the cakes after they are baked. But be aware that using this recipe for cupcakes will result in cakes that have very little dome on top – which just means more room for frosting if you ask me!
The cake layers are soft, beautifully light yellow and vanilla-scented. This pairs nicely with the almost floral notes in the blueberry compote. Even if your cake plans don’t involve the first speck of glitter, I think you’ll find this cake sparkling.
French Vanilla and Blueberry Compote Layer Cake
- 5 cups 600g all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 5 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup 226g unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup 198g vegetable oil
- 4 cups 800g granulated sugar
- 8 large eggs
- 2 cups 16oz whole milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 4 cups 24oz fresh or frozen blueberries
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup 200g granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons water
- 9 cups American buttercream
- 2 lbs. black vanilla fondant
- Geometric fondant decors as explained in the blog post
- 7- inch and 9-inch glitter cake bases as explained in blog post (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- If making the cake as shown, grease two 6-inch round cake pans and three 8-inch round cake pans with flour-based baking spray (I like Baker’s Joy).
- Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and oil. Add the sugar and beat until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well with each addition. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately in three additions, mixing well after each addition. Begin and end with flour mixture. Mix in the vanilla extract. Divide the cake batter between pans, filling each no more than 3/4 full.
- Bake 6-inch cakes for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick tester comes out clean. Bake 8-inch cakes for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick tester comes out clean. Turn the cakes out onto cooling racks to cool completely. Level the cakes if needed. Torte each cake in half so that you have four 6-inch cake layers and six 8-inch layers.
- Place the berries, water, sugar, and lemon juice in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat stirring until sugar dissolves and the berries burst and give off their juices. Use fork to mash the berries against the side of the pan as they cook. Reduce heat to medium-high. Stir together the cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Add the cornstarch mixture to the berries and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to a jam-like consistency, 5-7 minutes. Let cool completely before using as a cake filling.
- Place the vanilla buttercream into a large disposable piping bag with the end snipped. Pipe a line of frosting around the top edge of an 8-inch cake layer. Fill with blueberry compote. Top with second layer, and repeat process ending with a plain sixth layer. Frost the entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream and smooth as much as possible (crumb coat). Refrigerate until well-chilled and the buttercream is firm. Repeat the process with the 6-inch cake layers, blueberry compote, and buttercream.
- Knead well, and then roll out 1 lb. of fondant onto a work surface (dust with powdered sugar if sticky). Roll the fondant onto a rolling pin and transfer over the 6-inch cake. Smooth fondant down around the cake edges and further finish using fondant smoothers. Cut away excess fondant. (See fondant covering tutorial here.)
- Save scraps and knead with the remaining 1 lb. fondant. Repeat previous process with 8-inch cake. When cakes are smooth and the fondant is dry to touch, add stenciled embellishments, if desired. Use corn syrup or extra buttercream to attach the decors if they don’t adhere naturally.
- Place cakes on top of their glitter bases, if using. Alternatively, dowel the 8-inch cake with wooden or plastic cake support dowels and place the 6-inch cake on top.
- Fruit filling requires this cake to be refrigerated, so make room in your refrigerator to store leftovers.