This snowflake cake–a standard at our house every Christmas–never fails to impress. The snowflakes, made of white chocolate and bejeweled with dragées (a fancy name for little silver candies) drift across the cake delighting the kids. If you’re not particularly good with a piping bag, fear not. There are other ways to make this cake special and while keeping it wintry. Consider topping it with a few trees made from green gumdrops and a trio of marshmallow snowmen. Simply thread the candies and marshmallows on toothpicks, and stick then in the cake. Instant Christmas magic.–David Leite
LC You Say Buttercream, We Say Buttahcream Note
This easy, silken frosting is made mostly from butter and, as a consequence, is aptly known as buttercream. In her book Holiday Baking, author Sara Perry strongly encourages us to rely on “a European-style, high-fat butter, such as Plugra (82% fat), Land 0’Lakes Ultra Creamy (83% fat), or another artisan-style organic butter with a fat content above the normal 80 percent. The added fat carries more of the vanilla flavoring to the mouth and contributes to a silkier texture.” We fully support what Perry suggests. Our only quibble? It really seems, given its indulgent nature, much more like “buttahcream” than “buttercream.”
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and crank up the heat to 350°F (175°C). Carefully butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans with sides that are 2 inches deep. Line the bottom of each pan with waxed or parchment paper cut to fit. Butter and flour the parchment paper and tap out the excess.
Whisk together the cake flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
Beat the butter in a stand mixer on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 30 seconds. Pour in the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and nearly white, about 5 minutes. (Don’t skimp on this step.) Add the egg yolks, 1 at a time, and beat until fully incorporated, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Drizzle in the vanilla and whir until blended. Spoon in the cake flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, in several additions, starting and ending with the flour, and beat until smooth and just blended.
In another bowl using a hand whisk or hand-held mixer, whip the egg whites just until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold 1/3 of the whites into the batter with a spatula to lighten it. Fold in the remaining egg whites just until incorporated and no white streaks remain. Be mindful not to over mix.
Divide the cake batter between the prepared pans, spreading and smoothing the batter with a spatula. Bake just until the cakes begin to pull away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 to 45 minutes.
Transfer the pan to a rack and let the cakes cool in their pans for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of each cake and invert them onto wire racks. Let the cakes cool completely before carefully peeling off the parchment paper.
Make the snowflakes
Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with foil. Drop the chocolate chunks into a resealable plastic bag and immerse the bag in hot water until the chocolate melts. Dry the bag carefully, then snip off the tip of a corner of the bag. Working quickly, pipe as many 2-inch snowflakes onto the foil as possible. Dot the points with silver dragées. Slide the pan of snowflakes in the freezer until the cake is ready to decorate.
Make the buttercream frosting
Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, milk, and salt in a stand mixer set on low speed, just until combined. Slowly increase the speed to medium-high, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary, and beat until light and creamy, about 1 1/2 minutes.
Assemble the snowflake cake
Place a dollop of buttercream frosting in the middle of a platter to secure the cake. Place the bottom layer of the cake on the platter, top side down. Using a narrow metal spatula, spread 1/3 of the remaining frosting over the top of the cake layer. Place the remaining cake layer on top and spread the rest of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Remove the snowflakes from the freezer and gently peel them off the foil. Cover the top and sides of the cake with snowflakes. (Be careful as these flakes are fragile. That said, don’t worry if some of the tips break or chip; just press them back onto the cake.)
Set the cake in the fridge for about an hour to set the frosting. If you’re serving the cake the same day it’s made, keep it at cool room temperature after chilling. To slice the cake, use a sharp, thin-bladed knife and dip the blade into hot water in between cuts to prevent the frosting from sticking.
I really liked this snowflake cake. I took it into work for a little holiday treat and my coworkers raved about it. The buttercream icing is lovely and creamy and the cake is moist and dense with a beautiful flavor from the buttermilk. I also think this recipe would make lovely cupcakes. I used my stand mixer for all parts of the recipe and the timing suggestions were accurate; both the cake mixture and the icing were light and creamy. The only problem I had was making the chocolate snowflakes, but I attribute that to my skill with a pastry bag. Fortunately, no one who tried the cake really cared about the lumpy, misshapen snowflakes.
This snowflake cake recipe hold such a special place in my heart and memory. I made it years ago when The One invited his sister and her kids up for a good old-fashioned Christmas in Connecticut. At the time, Callie, The One’s troubled niece, was 12 years old and interested in all things baking.
We made the snowflake cake together in the warmth of the kitchen. But it was so hot from the oven and burners blaring that I decided to spend part of the afternoon in the garage, in the middle of one of the bitch-slappiest cold snaps we had that winter, finishing the cake. Callie and I hunched over a milk crate that I’d topped with a parchment-covered baking sheet. Our goal: Make dozens and dozens of snowflakes of all sizes to decorate the cake. I gave Callie the job of keeping the white chocolate warm so that it would remain liquid enough to pipe. Now, this falls into the bounds of Acceptable Family Cruelty, because I knew it would be nie unto impossible to keep the chocolate warm for long. So all afternoon we ran back and forth through the snow to the kitchen, laughing as we coddled new batches of warm chocolate.
While we shaped snowflakes, we talked about boys (a topic she was appalled to discuss with me but couldn’t stop asking questions about), her family, and her hoped-for Christmas gifts. It was one of the last memories I have of her being so innocent. Before dropping out of school. Before dating much older guys. Before falling in with a questionable crowd.
A few years ago, an older, tougher Callie came to stay with us in Connecticut for her birthday. I wasn’t very happy about her visit. She’d grown so distant over the years, I couldn’t even find a shimmer of that young, hopeful girl I’d known. But as I cooked throughout the week, she mentioned how she remembered our time in the garage, freezing as we made what she said was one of her most favorite cakes ever.
Every time I see this cake, I think of Callie and how an activity as simple as cooking with a child can change something deep inside them–a slight molecular shift–that can have a ripple effect years and years later.
I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas, and I hope this season you’ll take the time to bake with a child you love. You never know how much they might lean on that memory when they need it most–long after you’ve forgotten it.
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