Sunday, December 11, 2011

Vanilla Bean Cappuccino Cake for Mom's Birthday

I vividly remember the first time I tasted coffee.  I was about 10 or 11 I think, and my family was waiting at an airport for someone to leave or take off.  All the adults were drinking coffee, and I wanted to be as sophisticated and grown up as they were with their cups of coffee.  So my parents told me I could have a cup - I'm sure they thought I would take one sip and refuse to drink anymore.

It was probably one of the worst things I'd tasted in my young life.  Except for lima beans.  And beets.

But I drank that whole cup of burned, bitter airport coffee, shuddering with each sip, as the adults watched, amused at my determination to finish something that I clearly couldn't stand.

Since then, I've learned to appreciate the dark bitterness of coffee, usually black although occasionally with a little cream, and rarely a morning goes by that I don't have a cup or two.  I don't often buy gourmet coffee drinks at coffee shops because it makes me cringe a little to spend $5 on a single latte, but I am feeling tempted by the White Chocolate Mocha that Starbucks serves this time of year...

My mom is the real coffee drinker of the family and she takes her coffee very seriously.  She's constantly in search of a coffee maker that will make a more perfect cup of coffee.  My parents came over for lunch on Saturday - for my mom's birthday.  We made hamburgers with ground beef and lamb, topped with pepper jack cheese and caramelized onions.  Homemade potato chips.  A simple salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, blue cheese and oil and vinegar.

And of course, there was birthday cake.  I've been on somewhat of a cake-making kick lately, and have one more decadent one planned for Christmas dessert.  For my mom's birthday, I knew I wanted to incorporate coffee into it in some way.  So I decided to make a vanilla-bean cake topped with a rich coffee buttercream.

Let me tell you - if you like coffee, then you'll LOVE this coffee buttercream.  And it was such a beautiful latte color, looking and tasting exactly like Breyer's coffee ice cream.  I could have eaten that frosting with a spoon.

The cake itself was delicious, too - moist and a little dense and speckled throughout with vanilla beans.  There was a little leftover cake scraps after I leveled the tops, so I mixed that up with a spoonful of frosting, rolled them into balls, then dipped those in bittersweet chocolate and crushed almonds for cake truffles.

After lunch and dessert, we walked off at least a few of the calories with a trip to IKEA and World Market, and I think my mom had a great time!  Although she might not be so happy with me that I've given away the fact that she is not, in fact, still 45...

Vanilla Bean Cappuccino Cake
printable recipe

  • 6 egg whites, room temperature
  • 3 cups, plus 2 tablespoons, all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
  • 2 1/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Make the cake:
Separate the eggs, reserving the yolks for another use.  Set the whites aside to come to room temperature.  In a bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line the bottoms of 3 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper (since I don't have 3 pans, I divided the batter between 2 pans with higher sides, but had to bake the cakes for longer).  Spray the parchment paper with non-stick spray, but don't spray the sides of the pans.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar and vanilla bean paste - using the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until fluffy and well combined, about 5 minutes.  Add all of the egg whites at once and beat for 3 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, just until combined.  Divide the batter between the prepared pans.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the center of the cake is done.  Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks for 20 minutes.  Run a sharp knife around the edges then turn out onto racks, peel off the parchment paper, cover with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting:
Dissolve the espresso powder in the milk.  In the bowl of your electric mixer combine the milk, butter, powdered sugar on low  Increase speed to medium high and whip for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy.

Frost the cooled cake with the coffee buttercream.  If desired, garnish the top with a few sliced almonds and chocolate-covered espresso beans.