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Valentines for my Sweeties

five layer almond cake

  Valentine's Day has transformed into a simpler expression of love for me these days. Instead of the well planned, romantic evening with my man, I look to delight our four little ones with mini surprises sprinkled throughout their day. I have a permanent smile on my face as I come up with new ways to create "I love you's", and wonder where they'll be when they reach them.  A sticky note on the bathroom mirror, a chocolate kiss in their sock, confetti in the lunchbox.  This year I wanted to surprise them with a special cake for dessert.  

 this year's Valentine's lunches, complete with confetti and notes tucked inside 

this year's Valentine's lunches, complete with confetti and notes tucked inside 

My boys know me very well...it may not be as surprising as I hope! Three or four days of the week, we offer some sweet treat at the end of dinner. It's not a bribe (necessarily) but I'm sure it does weigh in on their decision to finish their vegetables. I think of it as an extension of our meal. It could be a popsicle on the front porch, a candy cane off the Christmas tree, or some yogurt and granola. Often it's a baked good that we have made together the prior weekend.

 I like to decorate very simply, sprinkles are usually my go-to!

I like to decorate very simply, sprinkles are usually my go-to!

I've been eyeing some gorgeous colorful mini layer cakes on Pinterest lately. They're so pretty I assumed they were equally labor intensive. I was wrong! Never one to opt for chemical dyes in our foods, I really try to look for healthier options. I thought this would be the perfect time to try out the natural food coloring!

 at first I wasn't sure if there was any color at all, or just a reflection from my cake plate!

at first I wasn't sure if there was any color at all, or just a reflection from my cake plate!

The recipes for the cake and frosting were a success as well as the process for making 5 different layers, however, I see there is a learning curve when using natural food coloring. Even though it is thicker than the traditional red dye #5, it is far less vibrant. I didn't expect bright magenta, but definitely some subtle shade of purple or pink? I'd already used double the amount in each layer that I had planned. Once they were baked and cooled I was shocked at the shade difference. As you can see, its a far cry from "ombrè", no gradual distinction of color. A disappointment for sure, but not a disaster. 

 that frosting held it all together perfectly!

that frosting held it all together perfectly!

Lessons learned:

  1. Don't be afraid to make multilayered cakes, it can be just as easy as 1 or 2 layers, especially with the quicker baking time.
  2. When using natural food dye, be prepared to use half the bottle! 
  3. Kids don't care how pretty or vibrant it is. They just love cake!
 nothing says "i love you" like a white almond cake with almond buttercream

nothing says "i love you" like a white almond cake with almond buttercream

Cake Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 c All Purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  •  1/3 c granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 4 egg whites
  • food dye

Cake Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325. Spray the baking pans with vegetable oil or coconut oil. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the softened butter and granulated sugar  until light in color and fluffy.  Add the egg whites, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the extracts. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry mix.  Do not over mix. Divide the batter evenly amongst five bowls and tint four of them, each darker then the last, leaving one "white". Pour into the prepared cake pans.  Bake 17-20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Cakes are done when a toothpick comes out clean. Cool five minutes before turning out onto a cooling grid or rack. 

Frosting ingredients:

  • 3/4 c vegetable shortening
  • 3/4 c unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 6 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons milk, as needed
  • sprinkles, if desired

Frosting directions:

Beat the butter and shortening in a large bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the extracts.  Gradually add the confectioner's sugar, one cup at a time.  Add milk as needed to keep it from getting too thick or dried out.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally, ensuring all ingredients are blended.

To Assemble:

Cut the crowns off each cake so they are level.  Place the first layer cake on top of a cake plate or serving platter.  Spread a generous layer of frosting to the edges of the cake. Top that with a second layer of cake and repeat with more frosting until all layers are covered.  Smooth the edges of the cake with a thin layer of frosting (this is called a "crumb coat") and place in the refrigerator for about 5 minutes, or until the frosting is firm. Then remove the chilled cake and cover with the remaining frosting.  All cake edges should be covered.  Add sprinkles as desired. (To get the "heart" look pictured, place a cutout heart shape on top and sprinkle candies close to the edges.  Remove the heart shape and you will be left with an undecorated shape underneath!)

Makes approximately 8-12 servings.

*I used the Wilton brand mini layer cake pan set, as well as the recipe included.  I just added almond extract to everything!

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