A few years back Noel had an opportunity to work in DC for a month. His company was sending employees back East for a month at a time and we lucked out to get the rotation during the peak of cherry blossom season. During the day, our young son and I explored the museums and monuments and by night our generous per diem allowed us to extensively investigate the prolific restaurant scene. At that point in time our son was a ten-month-old angel by day and demon by night. We were exhausted, but easily able to take him to sophisticated restaurants where fellow patrons complimented us on our obvious parenting skills as our son daintily ate the Ethiopian we spoon fed him.
We were living in Georgetown (where our complete lack of hipness was painfully obvious) and internet research told me we just had to check out Georgetown Cupcakes. One Thursday morning I loaded the boy into his stroller and strolled down to Georgetown Cupcakes foolishly assuming no one would be ordering cupcakes at 9am on a weekday. When we arrived the line was already starting to snake down the block and we ended up waiting 25 minutes (which apparently is a short wait) until the cupcake bouncer let us in to make our purchase. The cupcakes were cute and tasty, but I honestly didn’t feel they warranted that much hype. More internet research led me to a coffee shop and bakery called Baked and Wired. The place was tucked down a side street and lacked unnecessary fanfare, but it was always bustling and offered a range of amazing baked goods with cheeky names that left me craving more the second I finished the last crumb.
Our last weekend in DC, we said goodbye with a euphoric bucket list run that weaved through all the monuments accessorized in the height of cherry blossom glory then made one last trip to that quirky coffee shop. I tried their seasonal Cherry Blossom cupcake, a vanilla cake with chopped maraschino cherries and a swirl of rich frosting tinted with cherry juice. It was delicious and hard earned, but bittersweet since our time posing as trendy urbanites was drawing to a close. Around this time of year I often get nostalgic thinking about our time in DC and my mouth starts watering for one of Baked and Wire’s Cherry Blossom Cupcakes.
So every spring, I find a way to fit in a cherry vanilla cake. Last year it was a delicate pink cake with swirled rosettes for our daughter’s first birthday and this year it was a birthday gift for a friend. The only problem was, we weren’t invited to the party. Clearly, it became necessary to make a cake for us too and in a rare act of sweet tooth self-discipline I decided our cake needed to be a more reasonable size and purchased my first 6″ cake pan. Below I provide the recipe for both the full-sized three layer version for large crowds or avid cake fans and the more manageable 6″ version for more intimate gatherings or everyday use.
As you can tell from the pictures, the larger cake was made using “traditional” maraschino cherries which contain a lot of red food dye and the smaller cake was made with Merry Maraschino cherries which are made without artificial colors – they’re a little pricier, but if red dyes concern you I highly recommend them (they also taste amazing). The original recipe is adapted from an Annie’s Eats’ recipe, but has been adjusted for altitude and includes a few tips for a moist, delicious cake even when you’re a mile high. The frosting is a swiss meringue buttercream which is fun and delicious, but if you’re looking for something easier just double or triple the filling (depending on how much frosting you want) and you can give the cake a delicious cherry buttercream exterior. (You may want to leave the chopped cherries out of the exterior frosting if you plan on piping it, but it could add a fun texture and flavor if you’re using a very large frosting tip or just going to spread it on there.)
High Altitude Cherry Vanilla Cake
For the Cake:
- 3 2/3 C + 2TBSP Cake Flour (Here’s an easy DIY)
- 1 1/2 TBSP Baking Powder (Measure just a smidge below the top of the measuring spoon)
- 3/4 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
- 1 3/4 C + 2 TBSP milk, at room temperature
- 3 TBSP Cherry Syrup (from the jar of maraschino cherries)
- 6 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/4 tsp almond extract
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 C sugar
- 3/4 C butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 C maraschino cherries, finely chopped
For the Filling:
- 1 C unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 TBSP milk
- 1 TBSP cherry syrup
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup maraschino cherries, finely chopped
For the Frosting:
- 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 cup plus 2 TBSP granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt (omit if using salted butter)
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 1¾ cups butter, at room temperature
- 1 TBSP vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Grease and flour the edges of three 8″ or 9″ round cake pans. (Mine are 9,” but 8″ just means you’ll have thicker layers.) Feel free to use any method you wish, but I put about a TBSP of butter in each pan, slip them in the oven for about a minute to melt the butter and then spread it around with a pastry brush. Then I sprinkle the pans with flour and then gently tap the edges as I rotate the pans to evenly coat the pan with flour. If there is excess I tap it over the next pan to share the flour love and tap the last pan over the garbage can to get rid of the leftover flour.
- In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl whisk together the milk, egg whites, cherry syrup, almond and vanilla extracts. Then since you haven’t dirtied enough bowls, combine the sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, alternate mixing in the dry and wet ingredients in three additions. Beat each addition until it is just incorporated, being careful not to over-mix. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the chopped cherries by hand.
- Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans. Bake, rotating halfway through, until the cake springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes total. Transfer the pans to wire cooling racks. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes and then cover with plastic wrap (this traps in moisture). Let cool 10-15 minutes more in the pans, then carefully remove the plastic wrap and lay it on the cooling rack, run a knife around the edges of the cake, and turn the layers out onto the plastic wrap. Put more plastic wrap on the exposed side and allow to cool completely
- Make the filling by combining the butter and powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until well combined. Add in the milk, cherry syrup, vanilla, and salt. Whip another for 5-6 minutes then stir in the chopped cherries by hand. Spread between the cake layers.
- If making the swiss meringue, combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and then add them as well as the pod to the bowl. Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Fish out the vanilla pod and discard. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 5-8 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (don’t worry, it will come together!) Stir in the vanilla extract and mix just until incorporated.
- Frost the top and sides of the cake, top with extra cherries if desired, and gracefully dig in.
For the 6″ Variation: Use the ingredient amounts listed below. When filling the cake pan, don’t fill completely to the top. My 6″ pan is 2″ tall and I was able to use 98% of the batter, but if your cake pan is shorter you may want to make a cupcake or two. I put a cookie sheet under the cake pan just in case, but it ended up being purely a precaution since the cake didn’t actually overflow. Because the cake was thicker it ended up cooking slightly longer than the layered cakes (about 28 minutes) and was a little darker on top. If you wish to make it into a layer cake, simply slice the cake in half horizontally with a sharp serrated knife when the cake has fully cooled.
For the Cake:
- 1 1/4 C cake flour
- 1/2 TBSP baking powder, measure a smidge below the top of the measuring spoon
- 1/4 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
- 2/3 C milk, at room temperature
- 2 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 TBSP cherry juice
- 2/3 C + 1 TBSP sugar
- Drop of almond extract
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 C +2 TBSP sugar
- 1/4 C butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 C maraschino cherries, chopped
For the Filling:
- 1/3 C butter
- 2/3 C powdered sugar
- 1 tsp milk
- 1 tsp cherry syrup
- 3/4 tsp vanilla
- 1/3 C maraschino cherries, chopped
For the Frosting:
- 2 egg whites
- 1/2 C sugar
- 3/4 C butter
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 1 tsp vanilla extract