Note: the folks at Nielsen-Massey Fine Vanillas and Flavors provided me with a sample of their excellent pure vanilla extract, which I used in making this cake, but I was not otherwise paid or compensated for writing this post. Thanks to Nielsen-Massey!
I really want to be a baker. I probably spend more time ogling pastry and baking websites (like this one and this one) and wishing with all my might that I could make perfect swoops with an icing spatula and bake perfectly flat cakes. The truth of the matter is that I’ve never learned how to properly ice a cake. Most of the time, I keep piling icing on, thicker and thicker, in a vain attempt to try to make a beautiful, evenly-iced cake. What ends up happening is that I have a tired-looking, brick-heavy confection that sags from the weight of good intentions and poor execution.
All of that changed, of course, when I was browsing wedding websites for my sister a few weeks ago and came upon the naked/semi-naked cake trend. These gorgeous cakes, from what I can tell, have erupted along with the rustic wedding themes set in old barns with twinkling lights. I had an “aha!” moment. I may never be able to make a silky smooth cake draped in marzipan perfection, but I could totally half-ass the icing on a cake and make it look intentional. Maybe this could work. Thank you, rustic wedding fad. I will never openly mock/secretly covet your mini-Mason jars with paper straws, your hand-lettering on DIY chalkboards or your natty bowties ever again.
Today I’m happy to share my afternoon of whipping vanilla Italian buttercream (have you had it before? It’s my favorite) and making this little four-layer semi-naked peach and rosemary cake stacked with sliced fresh peaches and garnished with sprigs of rosemary. As it turns out, making a cake look beautiful doesn’t require skilled expertise — trust me, I know. I know because I do not have one ounce of it when it comes to cake decorating.
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Italian buttercream is totally the buttercream that we all should be eating. Seriously, folks. It’s this amazing, creamy-salty buttercream icing that’s just slightly sweet (based from simple syrup as opposed to buckets of powdered sugar, like American buttercream). It melts in your mouth and is so easy to spread on cake. When I set out to make this peachy confection, I worried that trying to make a full-sized cake would be overwhelming, so I bought these little six-inch pans from Amazon. These pans were easy to use, and due to the smaller circumference, were much easier to slice in half to make four layers than the larger 8-inch pans I typically work with (I’ve had cakes from my 8-inch pans crumble in my hands as I went to slice them, causing my soul to crumble along with them). The thing about a semi-naked cake is that it looks impressive but it really is easy. All I did was smear icing on each layer of cake, then smeared more icing haphazardly along the sides to create uneven strips of icing. The six-inch size was much easier to handle generally, which made me feel much more coordinated in my movements as I twirled the cake around on a plate to hit each side evenly (this post from 100 Layer Cake was also super-helpful in showing me how to pipe icing around the edges of each layer). As for the flavor, is there anything better than peach and vanilla cake, really? Each slice, garnished with just a hint of rosemary, tasted just like sweet summer. I used ripe but not overly soft peaches so that the cake would stay fresh for a few extra days (note that this cake must be refrigerated because of the Italian buttercream and fresh fruit). I felt super fancy when I pulled this little guy from the ‘fridge for a weeknight dinner. Why did we have it on a weeknight? Why not save it until the weekend, you ask? I dunno. Could you have waited? I didn’t think so.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract ( use Nielsen-Massey)
- Frosting of your choice (if you want to make Italian buttercream icing, click here, but have one extra stick of butter on hand than the recipe calls for in case your icing does not come together at first)
- 2 peaches, rinsed and sliced thinly
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- For the cake: preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour two 6-inch by 3-inch tall round cake pans. Invert the pans and tap them firmly on the sides to shake out the excess flour.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light yellow and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla.
- Turn the mixer on low and gradually add the dry ingredients until just blended.
- Spoon equal amounts of batter into each pan and smooth the tops evenly. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until light golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then unmold onto wire racks to cool completely.
- Using a long, sharp knife, cut the tops of the cake so that the tops are even. Cut the cake again horizontally in half so that you end up with four layers. Wrap in plastic wrap until you are ready to ice them to prevent the cakes from drying out.
- To ice the cakes, pipe icing around the outer edges of the first layer, then fill in the center with more icing. Using a spatula, gently smooth out the layer of icing. Gently place the second layer on top of the first, pushing down gently so that some of the icing oozes out. Repeat with each layer. Run an icing spatula along the sides of the cake where the icing has oozed out to create uneven "streaks" of icing on the sides.
- Arrange peach slices on top of cake in a circular pattern. Garnish with rosemary. Serve immediately.
For inspiration for this recipe, I used recipes from The Kitchn and Serious Eats; thanks to Nielsen-Massey for their excellent vanilla!Grits & Chopsticks –