seasonless daisies ::::
While Northern California has fairly consistent weather, I find it difficult to think that there are four seasons per year. It’s basically summer and spring all year, save for a few autumny trees and wintery days with limited hours of sun. I like to buy in season, especially from farmers’ markets to glean the best produce at peak times. This practice also helps stay local and avoid increasing demand for out-of-seasoners and thus supporting sustainability. Shipping foods thousands of miles causes environmental damage (ever think of the gas used? or the energy needed to run a conventional farm? pesticides?). Farmers’ markets are also community-building: the money you pay for your food goes directly to the farmer. I admit I don’t abide by this practice consistently, but I try my best to revel in the summer peaches and forgoing them in winter, or loading up on colorful root vegetables in the colder months. So what does this have to do with a cake?
It’s not the cake, but the inspiration of the flowers that have me thinking about sustainability. We don’t often think of sustainability in terms of flowers, so caught up are we in the market of fruits and vegetables. Gerbera daisies are available year round, but considered perennial in warmer climes, blooming multiple times throughout the summer. There are also the common daisies, small, delicate, white. These are the flowers we found in meadows in spring and summer, the low-growing lawn daisies, that we fashioned into necklaces and garlands as girls in England. The petals tinged with pink were my favorites, like finding a buttercup with streaks of unexpected white. By the end of the day, our creations wilted and shriveled, always a lesson in the ephemeral nature of flowers.
So how do we make our flowers last? We can grow our own, using greenhouse temperature to confuse the plant’s ability to determine the actual season, thus making blooming last longer. We can grow our own outside in pots to enjoy throughout the season. We can cut and enjoy them inside in a vase with some gooped up plant food to make them last. But why not think out of the box? As your blooms fade, create flowers elsewhere, with sugary scents and butter. Problem solved with a cake!
Not that cake isn’t ephemeral too; obviously, something covered in sugar and butter can’t be kept forever. But why not extend the beauty a little longer, while eating dessert?
When I first saw this cake, I was perusing food blogs for ideas on ombre cake recipes, finally settling on another one for my butterfly ombre cake. I couldn’t help but notice raspberri cupcakes’ ombre-frosted cake topped with delicate daisies, even though the cake layers were not in the ombre style. It was easy — I had to make two cakes.
I chose a recipe from the cookbook author Bunny Crumpacker’s book How To Slice An Onion mostly because it was a fruity nutty combination that seemed to belie the lightness of the daisies. I had high expectations, but in the end I didn’t think it was the right cake to try again. It was a little too heavy and not orangey enough. Plus, I got fairly tepid reviews from other polite cake eaters. The cream cheese frosting carried the orange flavor a bit, but not enough that I want to try it again. Perhaps a cake flour would do better here. I suggest if you have a two-layer cake recipe you like, use it for this recipe.
The cake design, however, was perfect for a two-layer cake. The daisies just barely dripping over the sides was what had me and raspberri cupcake’s photos captured it perfectly. I did end up with extra frosting (which Peach had fun with decorating another cake) so be prepared to have some cupcakes or sugar cookies on hand if you want to use it up.
Not only do daisies revive memories of childhood for me, they elicit more recent memories too. Before Eat and I moved out of Champaign, Illinois, we had a great group of friends with whom we often spent many a weekend. We often hosted barbeques as we had a large backyard and roomy living room. One couple, Blake and Sue, were nothing but friendly and congenial. These flowers remind me of Sue, her favorite flower being the gerbera daisy. She worked in a flower shop; I often imagined her surrounded by bouquets of gerbera, a wide smile on her face. The flower creates a perfect image of her: cheerful, colorful, happy. Her smile always lights up a room. Her laugh is infectious. She is the mother of two beautiful boys. She will always outlast any gerbera daisy, on cake or otherwise.
- FOR THE CAKE: ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pan
- 1 orange
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup walnuts
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- FOR THE FROSTING (from my lemon cupcake frosting recipe): 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
- ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed Valencia orange juice
- 1 scant pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- Wilton gel coloring, in pink
- Skittle candy pieces in yellow (or equivalent)
- OTHER EQUIPMENT: piping bag and tips (or Ziploc bag with one corner nipped off)
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter two 9-inch round diameter baking pans, line with parchment paper, and butter paper.
- Using a zester, remove orange peel without taking white pith, beneath the peel, with it. Place the zest and sugar into mixing bowl and combine.
- Add the vanilla, buttermilk, eggs, and butter and mix until combined. Add the flour, baking soda, salt, walnuts, and dried cranberries, mix until the flour is no longer visible. Pour into baking pans.
- Bake at 325 degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake's center comes out clean.
- While the cake is baking, PREPARE THE FROSTING: Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (I washed and used the bowl from above), combine cream cheese and butter, mixing until well combined.
- Add vanilla and almond extract on low speed, adding orange juice gradually. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip).
- For the ombré frosting, take about ⅓ of the frosting, then divide that frosting into two separate bowls and tint one bowl light pink and one bowl a darker pink.
- Trim any uneven tops off the cake layers so they will lie flat.
- Place one layer on plate or decorating turntable and spread with layer of frosting. Top with second cake layer.
- Make a crumb coat outside of the cake (see my butterfly ombré cake recipe for instructions). Chill in fridge for at least 15 minutes before proceeding.
- Starting at the bottom, spread the dark pink frosting over the bottom third of the cake using an offset spatula. Do the same for the middle third of the cake using the lighter pink frosting, blending the two colors where they meet. Spread white frosting over the top third of the cake and smooth with spatula. If piping daisies, place leftover white frosting in a piping bag with a 0.5cm round tip or plastic Ziploc bag with corner cut off (this is what I used).
- Pipe 5cm rings of 1cm dots of frosting and then use the tip of a mini spatula or a chopstick to smear each dot of icing to make the petals. Place a yellow skittle in the center of each piped flower. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before serving. Cake can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 of days.