Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Butter Pecan Cake with Maple Meringue Frosting

Last Monday I mentioned that my husband was making his first ever from-scratch cake for my birthday, under my supervision.  Here it is!  It is probably not shocking that I chose a cake with my latest obsession, maple and pecan.  This recipe is adapted from Cook's Country, so I knew it would be fantastic.  And it was.  If you looked up "fantastic cake" in the dictionary, it would read, "a rich, buttery (2 sticks!) yellow cake with pieces of toasted pecans, topped with a light, airy meringue frosting sweetened with maple syrup, garnished with maple candied pecans."  At least that's what it would say if I wrote the dictionary!  The lightness of the frosting perfectly contrasted the heaviness of the cake.  And did I mention that I like maple and pecans together?  We had some of this cake with a hot cup of coffee one evening and I thought I was going to die of happiness.  I didn't though.

If you look through my step-by-step pictures, and have made a cake from scratch before, you might notice that the preparation method is backwards from the standard cake prep of creaming butter and sugar, then adding flour.  Cook's Country calls this "reverse creaming."  They claim it leads to a cake with a tighter crumb.  I can now fully back up their claim.  After cutting a few slices, I realized that I had left hardly any crumbs.  I have made cakes before that almost fell apart upon cutting so I was thrilled to have a cake that stayed together so well!

The directions for this cake seem kind of long, but it really isn't that complicated!  However, if you do want to make a speedier version of this cake, you can prepare a box of yellow cake mix as directed and just add the toasted pecans.  I can't guarantee that it will be as buttery and delicious, but it will have sugar, fat, and flour, so it will probably taste good!

I'm even going to give you a bonus tip on toasting pecans since there weren't directions in the recipe.  I don't usually like to fire up the oven just to toast nuts, so I do it in a skillet.  Toasting nuts really gives them a huge flavor boost so I recommend taking the few minutes to do it!  This is a trick I pulled out of a Betty Crocker cookbook I have had for years.  Spread nuts evenly on an ungreased skilled and cook over medium-low heat 5-7 minutes.  Stir them frequently until browning begins, then stir them constantly until they are golden brown.  You'll know when they're down because they will smell so good you won't be able to resist tasting one!  If you want to do it in the oven, spread the nuts evenly on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
Once you have your nuts toasted, chop 'em up, or pulse them in your food processor.  Because I'm so nice, I'm going to give you another nutty tip.  Chopping nuts is easier with an apple slicer than a knife because the apple slicer prevents the chopped nuts from flying all over the place.  Believe me, I know!
Now for the actual cake!  Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  This recipe calls for cake flour.  If you don't have cake flour, remember that 7/8 cups all-purpose flour + 2 tablespoons cornstarch = 1 cup cake flour.
Whisk milk, eggs, and vanilla in large liquid measuring cup.  A measuring cup is helpful in this step so later you can tell how much liquid you have added to the mixture in your mixing bowl.
Add butter to the dry ingredients, one piece at a time.
Add half of the liquid mixture and beat until it's light and fluffy.  This was my first time preparing a cake this way and I was amazed at how airy it was.  I wanted to eat the batter right out of the bowl.  But that's normal.
Add the rest of the wet mixture and beat it all together until its well mixed.
Gently fold in the toasted, chopped pecans.
Pour the batter into two 9-inch pans.  Cook's Country recommends spraying your pans, lining them with parchment paper, spraying them again, and flouring them.  It's a lot of preparation, but it works to prevent sticking so I think it's worth it!
Bake!  A done cake is golden, smells delicious, and is springy when you press down in the center of it.  Just remember to wash your hands first.  And you can also do the old toothpick test. 
Cool the cakes in their pans for 10 minutes, then turn them onto a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the candied pecans, simmer 1/4 cup syrup in a small saucepan over low heat until reduced by half.  Stir 1/2 cup pecans into syrup, then pour onto wire rack.  Let sit until coating is firm, about 10 minutes.  Delicious!
To make this meringue frosting, whisk sugar, maple syrup, egg whites, and maple extract together in a mixing bowl.
Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a hand mixer for 6-8 minutes until soft peak form.
Keep on beating!  I was so proud of my husband for patiently standing by the stove and making this frosting.  It's not hard, but it takes more time than popping open a can of Betty Crocker!
When you get soft peaks and think you're almost done, you're not.  Beat another 8-10 minutes until it's thick and glossy.  You'll know when it's done.  Some things you just know.
So you've got cake.  You've got frosting.  You've got candied pecans.  It's time to put it all together!  Spread one cup of frosting over the first cake.  To decorate your cake on your serving platter without getting frosting all over it, put four strips of waxed paper or parchment paper in a square on your platter and place the cake on top of it.  When you're done decorating, carefully remove the strips.  Easy peasy!
Spread one cup of frosting over your bottom cake.
Top with the second cake and another cup of frosting.
Add the remaining frosting, smooth, and garnish with candied pecans.  Take a minute to admire your work... slice it up and enjoy.  Eat slowly for maximum flavor satisfaction.
Didn't my husband do a great job?  I think his cake looks better than the cakes I have made!  If he's not careful, he's going to be the go-to cake decorator in our house!

Butter Pecan Cake with Maple Meringue Frosting
For the cake:
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
16 Tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, softened
1 3/4 cups pecans, toasted, divided
For the frosting:
3/4 cup maple syrup, divided
1/2 cup sugar
3 large egg whites
scant 1/2 tsp maple extract
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease, line with parchment paper, grease parchment, and flour two 9-inch cake pans.  Process 1 1/4 cups of pecans in food processor until finely chopped; set aside.  Reserve remaining pecans.
Whisk milk, eggs, and vanilla in large liquid measuring cup.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of electric mixer or large bowl until combined.  With mixer on low speed, add butter, 1 piece at a time, ad beat until only pea-size pieces remain.  Pour in half milk mixture and increase mixer speed to medium-high.  Beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.  Slowly add remaining milk mixture and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds.
Using rubber spatula, fold in chopped pecans until evenly distributed.  Scrape equal amounts of batter into prepared pans ad smooth tops.  Gently tap pans on counter to release any trapped air bubbles.  Bake until tooth-pick inserted in center comes out clean, 20-25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking.
Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack.  Cool completely, at least 1 hour.
For the candied pecans:
Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and set wire rack in sheet.  Simmer 1/4 cup syrup in small saucepan over low heat until reduced by half, 2-3 minutes.  Stir remaining 1/2 cup pecans into syrup, then pour onto wire rack.  Let sit until coating is firm, about 10 minutes.
For the frosting:
Whisk sugar, remaining 1/2 cup syrup, egg whites, and extract together in bowl and place over medium saucepan with 1/2 inch of barely simmering water.  Using hand mixer, whip mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, 6-8 minutes.  Remove from heat and whip until mixture has cooled and is very thick and glossy, 8-10 minutes.
To assemble:
Place 1 cake round on serving platter.  Spread 1 cup frosting over cake, then top with second cake round.  Spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake.  Garnish with candied pecans.  Serve.

Recipe adapted from Cook's Country, Oct/Nov 2011


  1. I made this cake today for my Dad's 77th b'day and it is phenomenal!! Everything worked perfectly (and your pictures helped greatly)..... thanks so much for sharing. :-)

  2. You can make this for me! maja