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Martha's Chrysanthemum Cake

MyCookbook Recipe Database
MyCookbook Member: MarthasArchive
Recipe Category: Dessert
Recipe Preparation Level: difficult
    Meringue is deceptive; as elegant and decorative as it may look, its simple taste reflects its simple composition, created from nothing more than egg whites, sugar syrup, and cream of tartar. Meringue lends itself to hints of subtle flavorings-vanilla, orange-blossom water, jasmine, rosewater, or a delicate liqueur could add an appealing undertaste-but it is also just as much of a treat by itself. This recipe for Italian Meringue (recipe follows) holds its shape well, making it ideal for use in decorative applications, such as on a stunning wedding cake that emulates the spiky petals of a chrysanthemum.

    One aspect of serving a cake-especially for an occasion as auspicious as a wedding-that you may wish to focus attention on is the base on which it rests; aluminum foil or an unattractive caterer's tray detract from the luxurious beauty of the cake. One solution is to coat a base that's solid enough to hold a cake with royal icing, which adds a symmetry and continuity to the pristine white of the meringue.

    Chrysanthemum Cake
    Serves 200

    1 28-inch-diameter plywood base
    2 recipes Royal Icing (recipe follows)
    7 feet 4 inches of 3/4-inch-wide ribbon
    1 30-by-40-inch piece of 3/16-inch-thick foam board
    1 each cardboard cake rounds in the following diameters: 18, 12, and 6 inches
    2 each 18-, 12-, and 6-inch round Moist Yellow Cake layers (recipe follows)
    1 recipe Lemon Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
    5 recipes Lemon Curd Filling (recipe follows)
    4 recipes Italian Meringue (recipe follows)
    8 seven-inch-high clear plastic tapered columns

    1. Prepare the base: Working on a flat surface, draw a circle in the center of plywood base that is 2 to 3 inches smaller than the largest cake tier. Using a large offset spatula, spread royal icing over surface between the drawn circle and edge of round plywood board to coat surface smoothly. Tap board on work surface to smooth and eliminate any bubbles. Set aside to dry, about 24 hours. When royal icing is dry, glue ribbon to side of board, wrapping around to cover entirely.

    2. Cut foam board into rounds, one each of the following diameters: 18, 12, and 6 inches. When cakes have completely cooled, place one of each size cake right side up on its corresponding size foam-board round. Place remaining three tiers on corresponding size cardboard cake rounds. Wrap all cakes tightly in plastic, and chill for at least 6 hours. (This makes the layers firm and easy to handle.) Cakes can also be frozen at this point.

    3. Remove cakes from refrigerator. If cakes are not level, use a serrated knife to trim the tops off, making sure to maintain a 2-inch height on each cake. Place one of each cake on the corresponding size foam-board rounds, cut side up. Brush the cut surface of the bottom base cake layers generously with Lemon Simple Syrup.

    4. Using a medium-large pastry bag fitted with a coupler, pipe soft Italian Meringue around the perimeter of each cake that has been moistened with syrup. This "dam" will prevent the lemon curd from seeping out. Fill the 18-inch cake layer with 4 2/3 cups lemon curd, the 12-inch cake layer with 2 1/3 cups lemon curd, and the 6-inch cake layer with 1/2 cup lemon curd. Place the remaining cake layers, cut side down, on their corresponding size lemon curd filled cakes. Brush tops generously with Lemon Simple Syrup.

    5. Using an offset spatula to give each tier a "crumb coat," ice top and sides of cake with a thin coat of soft Italian Meringue. This thin layer of icing will seal the cake. Start from the center and work toward and over the edge, making sure to spread the meringue over the sides of the tier. Let dry at room temperature for 30 minutes.

    6. To ice the cakes: Using a clean offset spatula, spread a smooth, even layer of soft Italian Meringue, to coat cake entirely. Be sure to cover all exposed cake. The icing should be smooth and uniform.

    7. Place the largest tier on the serving platter. Insert 4 columns, narrow side down, into the 18-inch tier; each column should be 4 inches from the edge of the cake and evenly spaced around the cake. Fill a large pastry bag, fitted with a large star (#869) tip, with a freshly made batch of meringue. Beginning from the center, pipe 2 1/2-inch cones to cover the entire top of tier.

    8. Insert columns into the 12-inch tier; pipe 12-, and 6-inch tiers in the same manner as in Step 6. When ready to assemble the cake, dab a small amount of meringue onto the top of each column to fasten it to the above tier. Carefully stack the tiers.

    Royal Icing
    Makes 2 cups

    1 one-pound box (about 4 cups) confectioners' sugar
    1/4 cup meringue powder
    1 large egg white

    In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine confectioners' sugar, meringue powder, and egg white. Mixing on low speed, add 1/4 cup water. Mix until icing begins to come up the side of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Add an additional tablespoon water, and mix until icing holds a ribbonlike trail on the surface for five seconds when you raise the paddle. If more water is necessary, add more, drop by drop, until the proper consistency is achieved.

    Moist Yellow Cake
    Makes 3 cups batter

    1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more to coat pans
    1 1/3 cups cake flour, sifted, plus more to coat pans
    1 cup granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    2 large eggs, room temperature
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    Pinch of salt
    1/2 cup milk, room temperature

    1. Eighteen batches of batter are needed to yield two 6-inch round layers, two 12-inch layers, and two 18-inch layers. Fill each 6-inch pan with 2 cups of batter. Fill each 12-inch pan with 8 cups of batter. Fill each 18-inch pan with 18 cups of batter.

    2. Heat oven to 350. Butter baking pans; line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Butter parchment, and dust pans with flour, making sure to coat pans evenly. Tap out excess flour.

    3. In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla extract, then the eggs one at a time.

    4. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder three times. Add to egg mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk, starting and ending with flour.

    5. Measure batter into prepared pans. Bake 6-inch rounds for 35 to 40 minutes, 12-inch rounds, about 1 hour, and the 18-inch round for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cakes are done when the tops are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool cake in pans for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pans; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

    Lemon Simple Syrup
    Makes 7 cups

    4 cups sugar
    1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)

    In a large heavy saucepan, bring 4 cups of water and the sugar to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, and add lemon juice. Let stand at room temperature to cool. Set aside. (Can be made several days in advance.)

    Lemon Curd Filling
    Makes 1 1/2 cups

    4 large egg yolks
    2 large whole eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
    4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
    Zest of 2 lemons

    1. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together egg yolks and whole eggs. Add sugar and lemon juice. Set over low heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat, and stir to cool slightly.

    2. Strain curd through a sieve set over a small bowl. Add butter, a piece at time, stirring until smooth after each addition. Stir in lemon zest, and let cool completely.

    Italian Meringue
    Makes 6 cups

    2 3/4 cups sugar
    9 large egg whites
    1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

    1. In a small saucepan, bring sugar and 2/3 cup water to a boil. Boil until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage (238 on a candy thermometer).

    2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on low speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar; beat on medium high until stiff but not dry.

    3. With the mixer running, slowly pour the hot sugar syrup into egg whites, and beat on high speed until mixture has cooled, about 15 minutes. Use immediately. If the meringue is overbeaten or is not used immediately, it will contain too many air bubbles that will make holes when piped.

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