Vanilla Butter Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
and Szechuan Pepper Spiced Strawberries


By Keith Brooks for Chapter Two of Ice Cream Mix Tape - I’m Shy and I Have a Crush on You

Vanilla Butter Cake

9 large egg yolks 
1 1/2 cups milk 
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
18 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Prepare three 9-inch cake pans by greasing, lining the bottoms with parchment, and greasing again. 

In a medium bowl lightly combine the yolks, 1/4 cup milk, and vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and the remaining milk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake's structure. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.

Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cakes should start to shrink from the sides of the pans only after removal from the oven.

Let the cakes cool in the pan on racks for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert onto greased wire racks. To prevent splitting, re-invert so that the tops are up and cool completely before wrapping airtight. Let set for 24 hours before assembly. May be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated.

Vanilla Buttercream

1 1/2 cups sugar
6 egg whites
1 1/2 cups softened unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a small heatproof bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg whites to make a thick slurry. Place the bowl over simmering water in a saucepan and heat, whisking occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until hot to the touch and all the sugar is melted.

Remove from the heat and scrape the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip on medium-high speed for about 8 minutes, until the mixture becomes a light, white meringue and is cool to the touch. Turn down the speed to low, add the butter, one chunk at a time, mixing for 2 minutes between additions. It will look curdled at first but it will come together. After all the butter has been added increase the speed to medium and beat for 3-4 minutes. Add the vanilla and salt and whip for another 2 minutes. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature. If storing, beat in the stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment until light and fluffy before using, about 5 minutes, scraping the bowl down halfway through.

Szechuan Pepper Spiced Strawberries

1 pound fresh or frozen strawberries
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons freshly ground Szechuan pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a 2-quart saucepan toss together all of the ingredients. 

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick and boiling. Simmer for 1 minute, the mixture should be quite thick and coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, allow to cool, and refrigerate in an airtight container. Strawberries may be made up to 3 days in advance.

Cake Assembly

Unwrap the cake layers and using a long serrated knife, trim the top of each cake to level it. Using a 3 1/2-inch round cutter carefully remove the center of each layer. Reserve one of the cake centers and carefully slice it in half the long way creating two 3 1/2-inch cake “plugs”. Place one cake layer on a cake plate (being very careful with the now O shaped layers) and place one of the cake “plugs” snugly into the bottom of the hole. Spoon 1 cup of butter cream onto the cake layer and use an offset spatula to spread it to the edges

Carefully place the second layer, top side down, on top of the first layer while lining up the center holes. Spoon 1 cup of butter cream onto the second cake layer and use an offset spatula to spread it to the edges.

Carefully place the third layer, top side down, on top of the second layer while lining up the center holes. Spoon Szechuan spiced strawberries into the center cavity taking care to pack them gently but completely and stopping just shy of the top. Place the second cake “plug” on top of the strawberries and be sure it’s even with the rest of the layer. If there are any leftover strawberries reserve them for serving.

Spoon 1 cup of butter cream onto the third cake layer and use an offset spatula to spread it thinly over the top and down the sides of the whole cake. Smooth the buttercream as best you can and cover the entire cake with a thin layer. This is called the crumb coat and will protect the outside of the finished cake from stray unsightly crumbs. Chill the cake for 1 hour.

Reserve 1/4 cup of buttercream in a small bowl and set aside. Spoon the remaining buttercream on top of the cake and spread it evenly across the top and down the sides and smooth as best you can.

Add 1 drop of pink food color to reserved buttercream and mix thoroughly. Spoon on top of the cake and, using an offset spatula, spread in a thin layer to the edges. It’s ok to mix it with the white underneath, the intention is to make the cake look like it’s blushing a bit.

Using the edge of an offset spatula held at a slight angle and holding it firmly, spin the cake and slowly raise the spatula from top to bottom. If you don’t have a cake stand, get someone to help out with this step and turn the cake while you hold the spatula. Do the same thing to the top of the cake. Holding the spatula firmly and on edge, make a spiral design starting from the center and moving to the outer edge of the top.

The finished cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 day