This month's Daring Bakers challenge was the Perfect Party Cake from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. Everyone was so happy to have a cake for this month's challenge, and an uncomplicated one at that.

I loved this challenge for the fact that you could do this one in stages. So I made my first part - the cake - early in the month. The cakes came out nicely, but not as thick as I thought they were supposed to be, since you were supposed to cut the two layers in half to make four layers. Anyway, I froze the cakes. I've learned in my cake decorating class that freezing the cakes makes them easier to handle when you have to level and slice them and reduces the crumb factor. So in the freezer they went.

During the month other people were posting how they were doing. In fact, Dorie herself heard about our challenge and chimed in with some tips. In the end I decided I needed another cake batch to get my layers. So I made the second set and then threw those in the frig to cool and then took the other frozen layers out to thaw.

Now it was time for the buttercream frosting. This required cooking the egg white/sugar mixture, adding the butter, etc. Yummy! I'm not a frosting person. I tend to scrape frosting off of cakes. But this was dee-lish!

The cake and the icing were lemon flavored, so I decided to keep with the theme and fill between the layers with my lemon curd. (See microwave lemon curd) I also found that three layers was tall enough, so I just refroze the fourth I had. Because my layers didn't quite match, I had to trim, as you see here...

So I figured I better do a crumb layer of icing first.

I finished off the cake with a final layer of icing and decorating.

And how did it taste? It's fantastic! The cake itself has a subtle lemon flavor and the cake is dense, but in a good way. So different than cake mixes or supermarket cakes which are so soft and airy. This tasted real. Also, it keeps well. Don't you hate how a cake goes stale and the exposed cake gets all dry and crusty? I put a loose piece of saran wrap against the exposed cut and it kept great for two days. Then I couldn't eat it all (and I even sent a third of it to the neighbors) and so I took the last quarter and wrapped and froze that. Later in the month I took the frozen quarter out, thawed it and ate it. Still awesome even after a freeze.

I didn't overdue the lemon curd either. So it was not lemon overkill. The buttercream was just right as well. I was good on eating the cake without having to scrape off the frosting.

This picture is the same cake, I just ended up changing the decoration on the top. I didn't want to eat the royal icing daffodils I made, so I took them off and just added more buttercream. So here you see it sliced before I enjoyed it.

This recipe is a keeper! I plan on making it again and again!

BTW, I recommend checking out everyone's cakes by launching from the DB site. Especially this one where the person used peanut butter and bacon in hers!?!?


Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough

For the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.

1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.
2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.
2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Egg Wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.

Proofing and Baking
1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.
2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

There are a lot of clam chowder recipes out there. This one is from Rachel Ray. I like it because it is packed full of clams and veggies and the soup is thin. Those thick chowders are ok, but that's a lot of carbs from the thickening agents like flour. In fact, I'm thinking of putting even less of the potatoes in next time. There is a good enough chunk factor from the onions, celery, and clams.

Rachel Ray's Clam Chowder

2 tablespoons butter
2 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery with greens, chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons hot sauce, eyeball it
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pint half-and-half
2 cups chicken stock, from soup aisle
1 cup hash brown style raw shredded potatoes, from dairy aisle of the market
2 cans whole baby clams and their juice

In a medium pot over medium high heat melt butter. Add bacon and onions, celery and thyme sprigs. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce and cook 5 minutes. Add flour and cook a minute more.

Add half-and-half and stock and bring to a bubble, then stir in potatoes and clams. Bring soup back to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes, until potatoes are cooked and soup has thickened to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove the thyme sprigs from the soup. The thyme leaves will have fallen off into the soup. Stir and adjust seasonings in your soup. Pour soup into mugs.

When it is a beautiful, sunny, spring day the road will beckon to you. "Let's go out of town", it says. So you pile into the car and happily continue for a nice Sunday drive to a picturesque town called Nevada City.

Well, actually, the purpose of the trip was to return a defective wine opener that was bought in one of those quaint gift shops in December. But the reason is just the excuse you need to visit NC. Even though I've been to the same shops over and over again, I still go into them.

One time last year we were there and stumbled across the Top Floor Tea Room after we had already eaten. We knew we would have to go back some day to try the scones. Today was the lucky day. We arrived at around 11:00 and found that the after-church crowd had not arrived yet. The tea room is situated on the top floor (obviously) of an old merchant building with an antique store occupying the first floor. As you can see in the picture, it is all very 'quaint'. The menu consists of light salads and sandwiches, soup and quiches. Or you can opt for a 'tea' tray. We chose the top-of-the-line 'Top Floor Platter'.

There were four quiches that day and I selected the 'Alsace', thin sliced potatoes, bacon, and caramelized onions. We shared one slice and then split all the tray goodies. There were two scones, a lemon and an apricot. They were served with a little pot of jam, another of lemon curd, and the third with the clotted cream. The next plate had an assortment of finger/tea sandwiches. One had an egg salad with tarragon, another with a chicken curry salad, one with a tuna salad, a cucumber sandwich and, finally, a smoked salmon. The last plate had the sweets. There was a small bowl of panna cotta with berries, a puff filled with chocolate mousse, a biscotti, a cookie, a lemon square, and a slice of flourless chocolate cake.

The tea room has plenty of tea, of course. They have over 50 varieties of loose teas and then coffee as well. I have never been a coffee or tea drinker, but I know there are so many kinds out there that I probably just need more exposure to them. We agreed to try a fruity blend of strawberries and other things (can't remember) in a mix called 'Alice's something or other' (memories really getting bad). It was a lovely dark rosey-colored tea that was just right for tea novice Catherine.

The servers were attentive and explained everything to you. Your bill arrives with an invitation to shop the store downstairs with a coupon. We stumbled out into the glorious sunshine with happy grins and satisfied bellies. The perfect brunch was light, tasty, evenly balanced savory and sweet and all within a beautiful, relaxed setting.

Top Floor Tea is at 210 Main St. in Nevada City and serves tea until 4.