Baking Science: Dough Hydration

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There’s a lot of bread that comes from this kitchen. This post is courtesy of a happy little 79% hydration accident with some pizza dough that has me very, very excited.

There are several ingredients that create big impact in different types of bread. One of the ingredients that has the biggest impact…is water.

Just starting with bread? Check out this post!

That’s right. The amount of water that you use in your bread dough impacts the texture and chew of your bread in a huge way.

Let’s jump right in.

Water = Hydration Level

In bread baking, hydration level is determined by comparing the amount of flour versus the amount of water (or other liquid) in that dough.

So, if you have a bread dough that uses 1000 grams of flour, and the recipe calls for 600 grams of water, then the dough is a 60% hydration dough.

In his book Water, Flour, Salt, Yeast, author Ken Forkish artfully uses baking percentages to create various types of artisan bread and incredible pizza dough.

Why Does Hydration Matter?

The hydration level in your bread dough impacts the interior crumb and the external crust of your bread. So, it’s important because it literally impacts everything about your bread’s structure.

Low Hydration Doughs

In lower hydration doughs, this means a slightly thicker crust and a tight internal bread structure with smaller holes.

Low hydration doughs can be easier to work with, since they don’t contain as much water and are thus not as sticky as high hydration doughs. I say can be because low hydration doughs can be extremely stiff, which can make it difficult to tell when the dough is ready to rise (and can lead to over-mixing, which, ironically, makes the dough even more stiff).

Popular examples of lower hydration doughs include bagels (55-65%), and sandwich bread (58-65%).

High Hydration Doughs

In higher hydration doughs, the higher ratio of water to flour means a thinner crust and those signature huge, non-uniform holes that we love to see in our favorite artisan breads.

High hydration doughs are a dream come true for many bread bakers, since they create that amazing chew that’s so popular in artisan breads. They can be a challenge for new bread bakers, since more water in the dough means a more sticky dough. Some high hydration doughs require more advanced kneading techniques as well, which can be intimidating for newer bread bakers.

Popular examples of higher hydration doughs include my new favorite pizza dough (79%…recipe soon!) and focaccia (70-80%).

If you’re starting to develop your own bread recipes, it’s important to consider hydration during your initial process. Want a chewy, light dough? Try 68-70% hydration to start. Want something more toothy and dense? Try 60-62%. Whatever you do, I encourage you to try. Proof your yeast, write out your recipe, and go for it.

If you need help I’m here! You can always, always always reach out to me at hello@beginwithbutter.com with baking questions. I’m happy to help!

Until next time, Friends!

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The BwB Home Baking Academy!

Hi Family! It’s May 1, 2022, it’s irrationally early in the morning in Maryland (and STILL too cold for spring 🥶), and I’m sitting here, giddy and full of gratitude.

The Begin with Butter Home Baking Academy’s first TWO courses will be released exactly nine days from now, and as I think about the journey to get to this point, I am so amazed and so proud. A little exhausted too, but mostly amazed and proud.

But first…

What is the Home Baking Academy?

The Home Baking Academy is a series of downloadable-on-demand courses, created by yours truly. Its goal is simple: to demystify baking with thoughtfully-designed, fun curricula designed especially for home bakers, aspiring bloggers and cottage bakers. The ultimate goal is for those bakers to feel completely empowered in the kitchen. The courses contain video instruction, PDF downloads, and access to me, as well as a tremendous community of supportive bakers who support one another.

Ready to learn more?

Visit the BwB Home Baking Academy

The initial two courses focus on cake specifically, but there’s a robust curriculum currently in development (next up: bread basics!), so that you can continue learning about baking science and techniques in a fun and approachable way!

These courses are geared towards beginning and intermediate bakers who want to deepen their understanding of the principles of baking. Understanding the principles will help you create more consistent, delicious baked goods: you’ll know the “what” and the “why” every time you set foot in the kitchen. And that knowledge is liberating!

What Courses Are Available?

Starting on May 10th, you’ll be able to download the first TWO courses! The first, Perfecting Cake Basics (USD $167.00), is for people who want to free themselves from others’ baking recipes; instead of following the rules, they want to literally write them. Whether you want to create your own cake recipes from scratch, or whether you want to be able to change existing cake recipes with confidence, this course is for you!

The second course, Perfecting Cake Techniques (USD $67.00), is for bakers who want to learn the techniques that will help them make consistently delicious cakes. This course is my love letter to anyone who isn’t exactly sure how to properly cream butter and sugar, and for those people who can’t understand why their cake batters are frequently curdled. This course is also perfect for people who are just starting to bake, and who want to avoid a very costly and steep learning curve!

(note: a costly and steep learning curve is a completely legitimate way to learn how to bake. It’s how I learned! But it’s not necessary.)

What Level of Baker Can Take These Courses?

These courses are geared toward all levels! However, if you’re completely new to baking, and just trying to get a handle on the basics, then I’d recommend starting with Perfecting Cake Techniques. Learning the techniques will give you tremendous confidence! And the other course will be there when you’re ready!

If you’re ready to take your baking skills to the next level, and you want to start creating your very own cake recipes, then Perfecting Cake Basics is your course! Not only will you master the techniques that are covered in the Perfecting Cake Techniques course, you’ll learn fundamental baking equipment, the science of ingredients, and the magic of ratios as well! It’s truly freeing to be able to pick up flour, sugar, butter, and eggs and make something from your own inspiration.

Bakers of any level can take the self-paced Perfecting Cake Basics course, because it contains fun lab assignments that help you deepen your baking knowledge even more! And there’s oodles of support, both from me and the community of bakers who have come before you!

Why Should I Take a Course?

When you’re learning to bake, you can absolutely read and experiment. And read and experiment. And read and experiment some more. I learned exactly this way and it took me several years (and thousands of dollars in ingredients) to master basic cake techniques. First, there was the matter of finding great sources (like my absolute favorite baking textbooks), then digesting the information in those books, and practicing what I’d learned. I had no idea whether I was even on the right track until I’d spent hours reading and practicing. But, since culinary school was out of the question and I was determined to learn in a way that made sense to me, I kept at it.

For the first year, all of my attempts were hit or miss, and I was pretty dejected and frustrated a lot of the time. But I was remained determined, and I had wonderfully supportive taste testers, so I kept going.

I created these courses for the 2014 version of me; I wanted to shorten the learning curve (and those dejected feelings) for others. The truth is that trial and error has always been an effective teacher. The goal of these courses, though, is to cut down on the trial and error phase! With all of the information in one place, as well as a community to let you know you’re on the right track, you’re set up for success the moment you click “buy”. 😊

Where Can I Learn More?

The Begin with Butter Home Baking Academy is located on my Thinkific platform. You can go directly to the main Home Baking Academy Page right here! Or, you can click here to send an email with your questions! I love hearing from community members and am happy to answer any questions that you have about the courses. 😊

Happy Sunday Y’all! And Happy First Day of May!


(psst….want a free lesson? Go ahead and sign up for the mailing list!)

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Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Hi Friends!

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out the best tips and techniques to make Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

And I do mean a lot of time. So much time, in fact, that I’ve hit a lot of common snags in the process, and have tested different methods for fixing those snags!

Swiss Meringue Buttercream (or SMBC for short) is luscious and airy and decadent. The version that I settled on for my Limoncello Layer Cake is perfectly balanced between sweet and buttery, and the texture…

FAMILY…THE TEXTURE…

But while Swiss Meringue Buttercream is incredibly rewarding, it has a bit of a reputation for being difficult to make. Which is a shame, really. Because it belongs on everything.

So I’m here today to walk you through the whole process from start to finish! Let’s gooooooo!

Before You Begin

The main ingredients in Swiss Meringue Buttercream are egg whites, granulated sugar, and, ahem, butter. 😊 So it’s best to have the best ingredients that you can source to get the most out of this amazing cake topper.

Speaking of egg whites, I always separate fresh eggs to make meringue. I’ve heard legendary tales of people who are able to whip carton egg whites to stiff peaks, but I have never seen carton egg whites whip up to the beautiful, stable stiff peaks that I’ve gotten consistently with freshly separated egg whites.

More on egg whites (because I’m clearly invested): the egg whites have to be completely separated in order for the meringue to work. Because any trace of egg yolk in your egg whites (or residual fat in your mixing bowl) could prevent the meringue from forming properly, which wouldn’t be a good sign for your buttercream.

Weather will play an important role in making SMBC. If it’s hot and humid outside, it can take longer for the buttercream to finally come together. It’s definitely doable though!

The temperature of the butter plays a huge part in the success of this buttercream. If the butter itself is too warm, then it could actually prevent the buttercream from fully forming and encourage a soupy, separated mess. If it’s too cold, you could get chunks of butter that don’t nicely incorporate into your buttercream.

Plan to take your time. This buttercream is extremely decadent but it is not a “quick and easy” recipe (quick: no; easy: YES!). I’ve never had a good SMBC come together in less than 45-60 minutes, and sometimes it takes longer than that if your buttercream has to take a time out!

Intimidated? Don’t be! For visual learners, I even did an entire Office Hours on SMBC the other day, which you can view right here!

First Steps

To make Swiss Meringue Buttercream, first begin by separating egg yolks from egg whites. I separate using my hands, but a separating tool or the shell-to-shell method work just as well. Note that your egg whites will look yellow-ish at this stage. If the yolk is intact when it’s separated, it’s all good.

Next, add the separated egg whites and granulated sugar to a stainless steel stand mixer bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk until most of the snotty texture from the egg whites is broken up and incorporated.

Place two or three inches of water into a large saucepan (large enough to accommodate the whole bottom of your stainless steel mixing bowl, but not enough to touch the bottom of the mixing bowl) and bring to a boil. Reduce the water to a steady simmer.

Place the mixing bowl over the saucepan while the water is simmering, making sure not to touch the water beneath. Stir constantly with the balloon whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved. This takes anywhere from 2-4 minutes. It’s important that the sugar is completely dissolved before moving on from this stage. You can check by rubbing a very small amount of the mixture between your fingers. If you feel absolutely no sugar granules and the mixture looks completely uniform (no snotty streaks!), then you’re ready to move on!

Making Meringue

From the double boiler, place the mixing bowl directly on your stand mixer. Both the bowl and mixture will be pretty warm, so be careful! Using the whisk attachment, start mixing on low speed (on a KitchenAid Artisan, this would be speed 2-3). Keep going for 1-2 minutes, or until the mixture stops sloshing around in your bowl.

Turn up the speed to medium (on a KitchenAid Artisan, this would be about speed 4-5) and allow the mixture to continue working for anywhere from 4-10 minutes (you read that correctly; temperature and humidity can impact this step greatly). The meringue will go from a yellow-ish color to a stark white color during this second phase of mixing, but it will still be very loose. *Note: this is also the time when I usually cut my butter into chunks of about 1-1.5 tablespoons.*

Turn your mixer up to max power and let ‘er rip. This is one of the few times that I open my mixer wide up like this, and honestly, I think my mixer appreciates the opportunity to show off. Keep an eye on your mixer; the meringue will start to climb the bowl once it’s formed.

For a great video on meringue technique, check out this short video!

For SMBC, we want a stiff meringue. This buttercream is different from the meringue on my Easter Coconut Cake, my Coconut Meringue Pound Cake, and my Lemon Meringue Pound Cake in this regard; those all use a more floppy meringue topping. Here, we want a nearly stiff peak. So, in addition to climbing the bowl, we’re looking for meringue that doesn’t slide back down the sides of the bowl after climbing it. You’ll be able to see when it reaches this stage.

Test the meringue by pulling the whisk attachment out of the bowl. If the meringue peaks don’t flop over and are nearly stiff, you’re ready to move on.

Becoming Buttercream

The temperature and timing of the butter are especially important to Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

Family. Practice is key!

With your mixer on low/medium speed, add 1-1.5 tablespoon-sized pats of butter at a time.

Some people like to switch from the whisk attachment to the flat beater attachment on their stand mixer, to get a smoother buttercream. This is purely a matter of personal preference; staying with the whisk attachment will lead to a lighter, more whipped Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and the flat beater attachment will lead you to a smoother, more uniform buttercream.

Both have their place, but I love the look, texture and mouthfeel of a slightly whipped Swiss Meringue Buttercream in the spring and summer months.

Don’t add another pat of butter until the previous pat is completely mixed into the meringue.

Make sure that you only add 1-1.5 tablespoons of butter at a time. My butter cuts are never perfect, but if a piece gets larger than 1.5 tablespoons, I know that it needs to be cut down. Adding too much butter at once can encourage the buttercream to separate instead of forming.

A Word…

Yes, this note deserved its own heading, because it’s the place where people think they’ve gone horribly wrong.

Remember that gorgeous, fluffy, stiff meringue that we made to start this endeavor?

Of course you remember. It took half an hour to make! 😊

It WILL deflate a bit once you start adding butter. RIP to the first few batches of SMBC that I threw away at this point, thinking that I’d ruined them.

As the fat in the butter disperses into the meringue, the meringue will deflate quite a bit. As the video just showed, it might actually even become kind of runny.

KEEP. GOING. DON’T. PANIC.

Keep adding butter, on pat at a time, with your mixer on a consistent low/medium speed. You will be almost at the end of the butter phase (usually 3-5 pats of butter left) before you’ll notice a buttercream texture. If your buttercream starts to thicken too long before those last 3-5 pats of butter, turn the speed down and keep going.

Yes, really! You don’t want it to come together too quickly or you risk over-mixing it.

After all of the butter is fully incorporated into the buttercream, and no traces of butterfat remain, add the vanilla and salt. Continue mixing on low/medium speed, just until you see the buttercream reach a smooth, fluffy consistency.

Pro Tip: For an even more fluffy consistency, stop mixing at this point and refrigerate the buttercream for about thirty minutes. Finish with a flat beater for the most amazing buttercream of your life!

The Big Finish

If it’s worked consistently (and not over-whipped), Swiss Meringue Buttercream comes together in about 45-60 minutes. A lot of this has to do with air temperature as well, since a warmer kitchen will make the butter melt faster. Faster butter melt contributes to soupy buttercream, so in really warm weather, I’ll leave the butter in the refrigerator for a longer period of time.

At the time you start adding butter, your butter should still be cool, but not straight from the refrigerator. If the butter is room temperature (like it would be if you were making a cake or cookies), it’s generally too warm for Swiss Meringue Buttercream and you should start again with cooler butter.

When it’s done, it’s a dream. It can be spread on cakes, piped on cupcakes, or just eaten with a spoon (don’t judge me).

It’s definitely a time commitment, but it’s totally worth it. It can also be made several days ahead! In order to revive it, allow it to sit on the countertop for 10-15 minutes, then put it back into a stainless steel mixing bowl over a double boiler. Stay with it and keep it over the double boiler just until you see the sides start to melt.

The very instant that you see the sides of the buttercream begin to melt, put it back on the stand mixer with the paddle attachment and mix until it’s smooth and dreamy. It will be as fresh and ready to use as if you’d piped it directly after making it.

Troubleshooting FAQs for Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a process, to be sure, but it can also be a little intimidating to execute. I’ve gotten a lot of amazing questions about this buttercream since I posted my Limoncello Layer Cake, so I’ll answer some of them here! If you have additional questions, ask away! I’m happy to update this section.

In general, there are two pieces of advice for Swiss Meringue Buttercream; either put it in the fridge (a “time out” as it were) or keep mixing. I’ll explain further in each FAQ:

At the end of the mixing time, my buttercream looks really watery and loose. Can it be saved?

It’s possible! The most important thing to do at that point is to stop mixing, as loose buttercream at the end of mixing means it is over mixed. Take the buttercream off of the mixer and place it in the refrigerator for an hour. Yes, an hour. The butterfat needs an opportunity to firm back up so that it can help create the buttercream texture. I call this a buttercream time out!

My egg whites won’t go to stiff peaks. What do I do?

The meringue part of Swiss Meringue Buttercream is actually the most time consuming part of the whole process. In a KitchenAid mixer, it usually takes about 20-25 minutes to make a good, stiff meringue from start to finish. If you’re at the 20-minute mark and the meringue still isn’t at stiff peaks, check your temperature. Is it hot and humid in your kitchen? Then a 15-20 minute meringue timeout in the fridge will help!

My buttercream is chunky. What do I do?

Make sure your butter is the right consistency before adding it to your buttercream. If it’s too cool, then it won’t transition seamlessly into your buttercream; it will break into pieces. If you’re adding butter too quickly then you’ll start to get a chunky buttercream. Once you notice this, stop adding butter until the butter that is already in the buttercream gets completely smooth.

My buttercream looked perfect and then got really lumpy and gross! Should I throw it out?

Don’t throw it out! It’s just been over-whipped and needs a good time out in the fridge. Start with 30-45 minutes (depending on how hot your kitchen is), then gently try to re-mix it on medium speed using your flat beater. If it doesn’t show signs of coming together within 10-15 seconds (yes, that quickly!), then it needs more of a time out in the fridge.

This SMBC has been my literal obsession for longer than would be sane to admit. But I’m so happy that I spent the time with it that it needed. I hope you have an amazing time, making incredible cakes, with this as the final topping. It’s the LBD that every cakes needs, in my humble opinion.

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Swiss Meringue Buttercream


  • Author: Shani
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour

Description

This Swiss Meringue Buttercream is perfectly sweet and perfectly buttery.  It belongs on everything.


Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 8 egg whites
  • 450 g (2.25 c) granulated sugar
  • 350 g butter, cut into 1-tbsp sized pieces
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Bring 3” of water to a low boil in a large (3 qt.) sauce pan.  Reduce to a simmer.
  2. Cut cold butter into 1-tbsp pieces and set aside.
  3. Carefully separate 8 eggs, placing the whites in a very clean, nonreactive metal bowl (either a stand mixer or large stainless steel bowl).  Add sugar and stir to combine.
  4. Place metal bowl over the top of the sauce pan while the water is simmering.  Whisk the egg white mixture over the sauce pan until all of the sugar is completely dissolved.  (~3 minutes)
  5. Remove the metal bowl from the stove.  Using the whisk attachment on either your hand mixer or your stand mixer, whisk the mixture on lowest speed until it is nearly opaque.  (~1-2 minutes)
  6. Increase the mixer to medium speed until the mixture begins to look light and fluffy.  (~4 minutes for stand mixer; ~5-6 minutes for hand mixer)
  7. Increase the mixer to highest speed until the meringue has reached nearly stiff peaks.  The meringue should be lukewarm before moving onto the next step.  This step could take anywhere from 10-15 minutes.  If the meringue doesn’t form nearly stiff peaks after this time, place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes and whip again.
  8. With the mixer on medium speed, add the butter, one tablespoon at a time.  Make sure that each tablespoon of butter is fully incorporated before adding the next tablespoon. (8-10 minutes)
  9. It is important to note that the Swiss Meringue Buttercream will begin to look more liquid while you add the butter.  Keep going!  It will firm back up as you get toward the end of the butter additions!
  10. After adding the last tablespoon of butter, you can switch to the paddle attachment on your mixer if you’d prefer a smoother buttercream.  Mix the buttercream on medium speed until it reaches a firm texture.  This generally takes between 2-6 minutes, but the temperature and humidity of your kitchen will be the big determining factor.  Watch your mixer carefully to make sure that the buttercream doesn’t curdle.
  11. If the buttercream won’t firm up, place the bowl into a refrigerator for about an hour.  Mix again on medium speed until it reaches a firm texture.
  12. Add salt and vanilla and mix until it again reaches a firm texture.
  13. Use as desired.  This buttercream should be stiff enough to pipe onto cupcakes or cake (if desired).

Notes

  • This recipe makes more than enough for a “naked” cake.  If you’d like to have more frosting, you can scale this recipe by 1.5 times and have plenty for a three layer, 8-inch cake.

Limoncello Layer Cake

Family. I am ready for SPRING!

We had some spring-like temperatures here recently, so of course I was inspired to create cake. The promise of spring was a false promise, and we’ve been plunged back into the depths of winter, but the seeds of spring baking have already germinated.

I find inspiration everywhere, Y’all. Specifically, the inspiration for this cake came from the sight and smell of some early blooms that I saw on my morning constitutional. The poor blooms were fooled by the early spring-like weather. I was arrested by the vision and immediately thought of Limoncello.

Limoncello is an Italian liqueur. It’s bright and bold in color and taste, and it’s got a big bite. It’s yummy and aggressively lemony, and it’s everything that those poor flowers needed to be in order to survive that false spring.

Even the lemons that are traditionally used to make limoncello are known for their hardiness; according to Italy Magazine, authentic limoncello comes from lemons found in the Costeria Amalfitana (Amalfi Coast) region in Italy, since those lemons “grow with a thick skin that is rich with essential oils, fragrant and with a strong aroma.”

Those flowers must have some limoncello lemon genes, because they survived the false spring. 😊 Inspiration intact, I knew that this cake was meant to be.

About this Cake

From concept to creation, this cake has been a dream come true. It features an airy, moist crumb and a perfectly decadent and balanced Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which truly allows the limoncello flavor to shine.

While there is the potential for limoncello in every layer of this cake, the classic limoncello “bite” is not overpowering (the “bite” cooks out of both the cake and the simple syrup, and it’s not enough to overwhelm the sugar and butter in the buttercream) and you’re left with a wonderfully smooth and special lemon flavor in this cake.

To be sure, you can replace the limoncello with lemon extract, and you’d make a tremendous cake. BUT, Friends, this cake is at its level best when it features this wonderful ingredient from the Amalfi Coast. In every recipe that I develop, I’m always looking for that ingredient that makes consumers wonder “what is that wonderful thing that I can’t quite place”? In this cake, the limoncello is that ingredient.

Beginners Start Here

If you’re new to baking, or if you’re like me and just love learning about baking science, here are a couple of articles from the BwB site that will help you get off to a great start with this fun recipe!

These resources are super useful to help you understand the techniques that you’ll need to successfully execute this Limoncello Layer Cake.

Important Tools Used in this Recipe

Below, you’ll find some tools that I used for this Limoncello Layer Cake. **I get paid a small commission if you purchase directly from some of these links, but they are truly amazing products that you’ll find in my kitchen.**

If you have them already, great! Think of this as a checklist to help you build the confidence that you’ll need to execute this recipe!

I am incredibly proud of this recipe, and how it went so perfectly from recipe concept to actual cake. I hope you love love love it! Don’t forget to tag me on Instagram @beginwithbutter so that I can shout you out when you’ve made it!

Ciao for now, Friends!

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Limoncello Layer Cake


  • Author: Shani
  • Prep Time: 1.5 hour (active)
  • Cook Time: 25-35 minutes
  • Total Time: ~5 hours (with cooling time)
  • Yield: 18 servings 1x

Description

This airy yet decadent cake, which showcases a perfectly balanced Swiss Meringue Buttercream, features a classic Italian liqueur that gives it an amazingly special flavor.


Ingredients

Units Scale

For the Cake:

  • 320 g (2.5 c) cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 227 g butter
  • 350 g (1.75 c) granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp limoncello
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 eggs
  • 250 g buttermilk

Simple Syrup:

  • 125 g water
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp Limoncello or lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

  • 8 egg whites
  • 450 g (2.25 c) granulated sugar
  • 350 g butter, cut into 1-tbsp sized pieces
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp Limoncello or lemon extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Instructions

To Make the Batter with a Stand Mixer:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.  It’s highly recommended to use an oven thermometer for this recipe, since proper oven temperature will impact the outcome of your cake.  Take out three 8” cake pans and parchment paper and set them aside.
  2. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. Sift the flour mixture into another medium bowl.  Set aside.
  4. Place the room temperature butter in the bowl of your stand mixer.  Mix on low speed until smooth.  (30 seconds)
  5. Slowly add the granulated sugar and mix on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy.  (5-10 minutes)
  6. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing for at least 45 seconds after each addition.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.  (5 minutes)
  7. Add vanilla extract, limoncello and lemon zest and mix on medium speed until thoroughly combined.  (1 minute)
  8. Add half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined.  (30-45 seconds)
  9. With the mixer on low speed, add the buttermilk and mix on low speed until combined.  (~1 minute).
  10. Add the second half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined.  (~1 minute)
  11. Using a rubber spatula, fully scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.  Then, stir the batter until it is smooth and consistent.  Make sure to fully scrape the bottom of the bowl during this step!
  12. Prepare three 8” cake pans.  Place parchment round at the bottom of the cake pan to help prevent sticking.
  13. Fill cake pans evenly.  I use a digital kitchen scale, and my cake pans each hold roughly 400-420 g of cake batter.
  14. Level out the cake batter with a spatula.  Tap the cake pans on the countertop to help prevent large bubbles in your cakes.

To Make the Batter with a Hand Mixer:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.  It’s highly recommended to use an oven thermometer for this recipe, since proper oven temperature will impact the outcome of your cake.
  2. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. Sift the flour mixture into another medium bowl.  Set aside.
  4. Place the room temperature butter in a large mixing bowl.  Mix on low speed until smooth.  (30-45 seconds)
  5. Slowly add the granulated sugar in two additions and mix on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy.  (7-12 minutes)
  6. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for at least 45-60 seconds after each addition.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.   (4 minutes)
  7. Add vanilla extract, limoncello and lemon zest and mix until thoroughly combined.  (1 minute)
  8. Add half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined.  (30-45 seconds)
  9. With the mixer on low speed, add all of the buttermilk and mix on low speed until combined.  (~1 minute).
  10. Add the second half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined.  (~1 minute)
  11. Using a rubber spatula, fully scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.  Then, stir the batter until it is smooth and consistent.  Make sure to fully scrape the bottom of the bowl during this step!
  12. Prepare the three 8” cake pans.  Place parchment round at the bottom of the cake pan to help prevent sticking.
  13. Fill cake pans evenly.  I use a digital kitchen scale, and my cake pans each hold roughly 400-420 g of cake batter.
  14. Level out the cake batter with a spatula.  Tap the cake pans on the countertop to help prevent large bubbles in your cakes.

To Bake the Cake:

  1. Bake the cakes at a true 325°F for 30-35 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer reads 210°F.
  2. Allow the cakes to rest for ten minutes, and then turn out on a cooling rack to cool completely.

To Make the Simple Syrup:

  1. Combine sugar, water, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce to medium heat and add limoncello.
  3. Stir occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  4. Remove the simple syrup from the heat and allow to cool completely.
  5. Place the simple syrup in a small bowl or squeeze bottle.

To Make the Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

  1. Bring 3” of water to a low boil in a large (3 qt.) sauce pan.  Reduce to a simmer.
  2. Cut cold butter into 1-tbsp pieces and set aside.
  3. Carefully separate 8 eggs, placing the whites in a very clean, nonreactive metal bowl (either a stand mixer or large stainless steel bowl).  Add sugar and stir to combine.
  4. Place metal bowl over the top of the sauce pan while the water is simmering.  Whisk the egg white mixture over the sauce pan until all of the sugar is completely dissolved.  (~3 minutes)
  5. Remove the metal bowl from the stove.  Using the whisk attachment on either your hand mixer or your stand mixer, whisk the mixture on lowest speed until it is nearly opaque.  (~1-2 minutes)
  6. Increase the mixer to medium speed until the mixture begins to look light and fluffy.  (~4 minutes for stand mixer; ~5-6 minutes for hand mixer)
  7. Increase the mixer to highest speed until the meringue has reached nearly stiff peaks.  The meringue should be lukewarm before moving onto the next step.  This step could take anywhere from 10-15 minutes.  If the meringue doesn’t form nearly stiff peaks after this time, place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes and whip again.
  8. With the mixer on medium speed, add the butter, one tablespoon at a time.  Make sure that each tablespoon of butter is fully incorporated before adding the next tablespoon. (8-10 minutes)
  9. It is important to note that the Swiss Meringue Buttercream will begin to look more liquid while you add the butter.  Keep going!  It will firm back up as you get toward the end of the butter additions!
  10. After adding the last tablespoon of butter, you can switch to the paddle attachment on your mixer if you’d prefer a smoother buttercream.  Mix the buttercream on medium speed until it reaches a firm texture.  This generally takes between 2-6 minutes, but the temperature and humidity of your kitchen will be the big determining factor.  Watch your mixer carefully to make sure that the buttercream doesn’t curdle.
  11. If the buttercream won’t firm up, place the bowl into a refrigerator for no more than 20 minutes.  Mix again on medium speed until it reaches a firm texture.
  12. Add salt, limoncello and vanilla and mix until it again reaches a firm texture.
  13. This buttercream is not stiff like American Buttercream, but it should be stiff enough to pipe (if desired).

To Build the Cake:

  1. Place a 10” cake round on a turntable or a cake stand.
  2. Place a dollop of Swiss Meringue Buttercream on the round to secure the bottom cake.
  3. The cakes might be slightly domed from baking.  If they are domed, gently cut off the domes to make them level.  (I cooled these cakes with the dome side down, which fixed this issue for me.)
  4. Use either a spoon or a squirt bottle to add simple syrup to the top of each layer.
  5. Place the second layer on top  of the first layer.  Add buttercream to the middle layer and spread.
  6. Invert the final layer and place on top of the other two layers.  Press down gently and double check to make sure the cake is level.
  7. Using an offset spatula, spread the buttercream over the entire cake.

To Store:

This cake can be left on the countertop for two days, or refrigerated for up to a week.  Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Notes

  • The buttercream recipe makes more than enough to create the naked cake that I created, but you can increase the recipe proportions by 1.5 times in order to cover the whole cake.
  • When making the Swiss Meringue Buttercream, it’s important to use an extremely clean bowl, as debris or fat residue will prevent the meringue from forming properly.

 

  • Category: Dessert
  • Cuisine: American

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 slice
  • Calories: 522
  • Sugar: 49.2 g
  • Sodium: 199.5 mg
  • Fat: 28 g
  • Carbohydrates: 63.6 g
  • Protein: 5.5 g
  • Cholesterol: 122.1 mg

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