Perfect Party Cake

Cake, Desserts, Lemon Love / Sunday, January 25th, 2009


Last week, I went to one baby shower, made cupcakes for another, and found out another friend is pregnant. We can’t be certain of the cause, but you’re going to want to protect yourself accordingly. Kidding! I love this time of year, because it seems like every time you turn around, there’s a reason to celebrate – a holiday or a big event or some good news. And if there’s a reason to celebrate, there’s a reason to make Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake.

It’s a keeper. Where most homemade white cakes taste a little eggy, this one has just enough lemon zest to give it a light lemony flavor without changing the color. Also, it manages to be light and fluffy but still sturdy enough to split without crumbling. You probably have the ingredients in your pantry right now, which means you are a party waiting to happen. The accompanying buttercream is a breeze, and the finishing touch – a little shredded coconut – makes any frosting job look polished. It’s a very, very, very forgiving cake.

One final thing: each cake layer gets a coating of jam, and that flavor comes through, so choose wisely. Don’t go for the bargain jam unless you absolutely love it. This would be the time to break out Aunt Jean’s preserves, but if you’re out, go for something high-quality, like the Sarabeth’s you can get on sale at TJ Maxx or your favorite flavor of Bonne Maman. Yes, I’m advocating the fancy preserves. Good times deserve good jelly.

Perfect Party Cake

From Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”

Makes 12 to 14 servings


  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves, stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
  • About 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-x-2-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
  2. For the Cake: Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
  4. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
  5. Add the butter and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one-third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
  6. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
  7. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
  8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)
  9. For the Buttercream: Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.
  10. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
  11. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6 to 10 minutes. During this time, the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.
  12. To Assemble the Cake: Using a sharp, serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with the third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream left over). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

STORING: The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to 2 days.


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51 thoughts on “Perfect Party Cake

  1. This cake is beautiful! It makes me long for spring on a cloudy, dreary day like today. What are the flowers made of?

  2. BigSis: I’m so glad you found me! I’m having fun catching up on your blog posts. Two sisters posting together is such a great idea. Mine is holding out for a signing bonus.

    Elaine: Hey! This was the birthday cake I made for Mom. The flowers are just rolled fondant with a little royal icing dotted in the center. Next time you come up, I’ll show you how easy they are. Shhhhhhhh.

    Dana: Thanks! I love the berries and the piping on your cake! Beautiful.

  3. Hey, it sounds like there is something in the water in your neighborhood! Your cake is just gorgeous. I wish I could do that! I can vouch for the fact that this cake is forgiving, though, because *I* made it without incident! I did mine in a castle pan(i.e., one layer) for my daughter’s bday — we LOVED the cake, but I couldn’t help but feel like the jam layers (which I skipped) would have really finished off the cake.

  4. Your version is just beautiful! I’m glad I stumbled on it on Foodgawker today. Its one of my favorite cakes and I’m making it this week as a dessert for a welcome dinner. I normally use lemon curd between one layer and seedless preserves (usually raspberry or blackberry) between the others. Always a hit!

  5. The cake looks so beautiful!! I like this cake because it’s not eggy too (well.. since there aren’t any yolks). I’m still on the search for the best white cake though.

  6. Wish you all could see it sliced.. the layers are beautiful. I was lucky enough to get one when I entered my seventh decade on this earth! I got to eat a piece wearing a “Birthday Bitch” tiara. Life is Good.

  7. I have been waiting for WEEKS for you to post something! I feel like I can breathe again… i would totally post with you, however Sloppy Joes aren’t exactly blog worthy. If you ever have a sidecar blog about fast redneck cuisine… i’m your girl.

  8. oh! And Husband, who as of late has become old and started listening to NPR, has offered up his tower for you to host your own radio show. Very Fannie Flagg “Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!” He’s dead serious. Thinks it’d be wonderful to drive and listen to you talk about food and going on’s. And he’s dead dog serious.

  9. Wow, I have seriously never seen such a beautiful cake. Ever. The little flowers? Impressive! And it’s good to know that I only eat fancy jams…who knew bonne maman was fancy!

  10. Holy Smokes! How did you make those flowers?? I have 3 sons and a total lack of pinkness and femininity in my life but seeing that cake made me feel girly…soooo lovely!

  11. It was so nice to see such a pretty cake. It made me forget how cold it is out there and made me feel that spring is a little closer. Thank you!

  12. This cake is WONDERFUL! I made it form my birthday. It is light and airy, Its the first time I have ever used this type of frosting. This cake would be wonderful for a wedding cake or a shower. I used blueberry preserves.

    Yours looks 10 times better than mine did!

  13. Great job. I have made this cake about 4 times now and its always a huge hit. Yours looks so pretty with the flowers.

  14. That cake is so purty I wouldn’t want to cut it. Seriously, I am thinking of making a gluten free version for the next party I am invited to.

  15. Wow, Becca such a beautiful cake! Okay, fondant flowers right? Did you tint some coconut pink? How did you incorporate the pink. It really is lovely and reminds me of Easter and little girls dresses with hats and lacey anklets, hats and baskets full of eggs from the festivities. I’m a geek, sorry.

  16. Wow, your cake looks beautiful! It looks perfect for Easter or a shower. I really loved this cake and my husband says it’s his favorite. I’ve made it several times already!

  17. Your cake is soo beautiful!!! I woke up this morning prepared to tackle my first Dobos torte, but now you have inspired me to make another version of Dorie’s cake!!! Oh boy the wheels are turning now!!

  18. […] doesn’t look like the TWD crowd has gotten around to Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake but Ezra Pound Cake has, and boy did she ever really go with the Perfect part of that name. That […]

  19. I hang my head in shame at my cake after looking at yours. Mine looks like a total hot mess. But isn't it a great tasting cake? You're right, definitely a keeper.

  20. I just have to say again how beautiful your cake is! You are so right about splurging on the fancy jam for this cake.

  21. Hi

    I made this cake following the instructions exactly. However, the cake batter turned out to be very runny. There was no need to smooth the batter with a spatula after pouring into the pan. After baking, the cake did not seem to rise. I ended up with 2 cake layers that were about half inch thick before sawing. I wonder what went wrong.

    The buttercream turned out really good though. No trouble with that.

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