“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom." - Anaïs Nin.
It feels strange saying this but I’ve finally arrived home. Strange, because it’s been a while since I’ve been back. Strange, because I became so immersed in my travels and in this new life created that I completely forgot about what a real life should feel like. The kind of day-to-day menial real life that means this current escapism has come to an End.
End, perhaps the saddest word in any given language. Mourir, even in French it encompasses sombre tones of perished death and mourning. But, the beauty of all things, always - is that they end. Time passes and memories fade. I travel to seek difference and distance. It’s the elixir of creativity. I’ve wandered New York, looking for material to fuel future nostalgias. I’ve seen the romanticised cityscape giving way to the nectarine-sticky sky and felt energy rising in my veins. And I’m home now, with new life. And that’s changed everything.
I said that when I came home, I would create something special to celebrate the Saveur win. So I came up with this Rhubarb and Rose Naked Cake with Coconut Buttercream. I claim this every time, but it’s probably my favourite cake to date. I love the tart rhubarb that contrasts perfectly against the sweet coconut buttercream. The white cake itself is delicious too, incredibly light and fluffy.I spent a few good afternoons developing the recipe for the layers, doing cake maths and playing around with bakers ratios. It’s scientific and therapeutic - pencilling numbers onto a page, erasing and re-writing whilst at the same time trying to envision the final product.
The coconut buttercream is adapted from my friend Tessa’s book, Layered. As someone that’s so dedicated to the art of cake and in particular - swiss meringue buttercream, Layered was a natural baking resource to turn too. The buttercream has a healthyamount of chilled coconut cream whipped into it, which is something I haven’t tried before but will turn to in the future - it provides a rich lightness, clean - if you will, against the super sweet buttercream.
Rhubarb and Rose Naked Cake with Coconut Buttercream
For the cake:
220 grams unsalted butter (at room temperature), 400 grams granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla bean extract, 380 grams cake flour, (sifted), 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 6 large egg whites (at room temperature), 280 millilitres whole milk, (at room temperature)
Pre-heat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Grease and line 3 x 15 cm (6 inch) cake pans with parchment paper. Set them aside.
Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment. Mix, on medium speed until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed. Add in the vanilla bean extract and beat until combined.
Meanwhile, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl until the ingredients are evenly combined. Set the bowl aside.
Set the mixer speed to medium-low. Add in the egg whites, a little bit at a time, until they are evenly incorporated and the batter is fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Pour in a third of the milk into the beating mixture. Beat until just combined then add in a third of the dry flour ingredients. Continue to alternate the additions until all of the milk and dry flour ingredients have been used up. Make sure to finish by adding the last third of the dry flour ingredients. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until well combined, 3 minutes.
Divide the cake batter between the prepared cake pans and use a rubber spatula to smooth out the tops. Bake, for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 15 minutes before turning out and onto a wire rack to let cool completely. Once cool, level off any domed toms with a large serrated knife or cake leveller then cut each cake in half to form six layers. If you don’t wish to make a six layer cake, you can just keep the cakes whole and make a 3 layer cake instead.
For the rhubarb:
560 grams rhubarb, (cleaned and cut into 5 cm stems), 175 grams granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon rosewater
While the cakes are cooling, making the poached rhubarb. Place the rhubarb stems, sugar, water and rosewater in a medium sized saucepan set over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has become soft and is beginning to disintegrate, about 15 minutes. The juices should also be significantly reduced. Remove the rhubarb from the heat and pour it into a medium sized bowl, then set it in the refrigerator to chill until completely cold.
For the coconut buttercream:
150 grams egg whites, 250 grams granulated sugar, 450 grams unsalted butter, (at room temperature), 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract, 1 teaspoon coconut extract, 60 millilitres coconut cream (cold)
Place the egg whites and sugar in a medium sized bowl stand mixer bowl and whisk them together to just combine. Place the bowl over a saucepan filled with a few inches of water set over medium-high heat. Do not let the water touch the base of the bowl.
Whisking occasionally, heat the egg and sugar mixture until it reaches a temperature of 70 C (160 F) on a thermometer. Once at temperature. remove the mixer bowl from the heat and set it onto the stand mixer. With the whisk attachment, whisk the mixture on high speed until it reaches medium stiff peaks, about 8 to 10 minutes. The bowl should no longer be hot to the touch and no heat should be released from the meringue. Stop mixing and swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment.
With the mixer on medium-low speed, add in the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, until it is all incorporated. Add in the vanilla bean and coconut extract. Beat, on medium-high speed until the buttercream is increased in volume and is significantly thicker, about 4 to 5 minutes. Then, add in the cold coconut cream and beat until silky smooth and thick, about 3 more minutes. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and set aside for assembly.
100 grams white chocolate (finely chopped), 100 grams heavy cream, organic pesticide free flowers, edible rose petals, edible gold-leaf [i](optional)[/i]
Transfer about 1/4 of a cup of the buttercream into a pastry bag. Snip off the tip and set aside.
Place the first cake layer on a cake stand or serving platter. Spread 2-3 tablespoons of the buttercream over the top, spreading it right to the edges. Top with the second cake layer and lightly press it down to seal then pipe a ring of the buttercream over the outside edge of the cake to form a buttercream “dam”. Fill the middle of the buttercream circle with 1-2 tablespoons of the rhubarb. Top with the third cake layer and again, spread over the coconut buttercream. Repeat the fourth cake layer with the buttercream “dam” and rhubarb filling, and the fifth cake layer with just the coconut buttercream then finish with the final cake layer, cut side facing down. You should have 2 cake layers with rhubarb filling, and 3 cake layers with coconut buttercream.
Frost the top and sides of the cake with the coconut buttercream as desired. I went for more of a rough naked cake look, but you can also frost the cake with more buttercream to achieve a more covered look. Set the cake in the refrigerator to set the coating, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the white chocolate in a small bowl, set aside. Heat the cream in a small saucepan set over medium-low heat until it reaches a rolling boil. Remove from the heat and pour it all over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for 1 minute to acclimatise then stir with a rubber spatula until smooth, set aside to cool until the consistency has slightly thickened but is still pourable.
Remove the cake from the refrigerator and pour the glaze directly over the top of the cake, using a spatula or butter knife to help it out of the bowl and to run down the sides of the cake to form a dripping effect.
At this point, you can decorate the top of the cake with some fresh flowers, edible rose petals and gold leaf (if using). Set the cake back in the refrigerator and chill it until firm before serving, about 30 more minutes. The cake will keep for up to 3 days stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature before serving, it may also be frozen for up to 1 month.