Brown Butter Cake Gets Love from Peaches and Mascarpone

September 14, 2010

Everything is better caramelized, right? Onions transform from a hot dog condiment to a rich sauce for a fine cut of meat.  Bananas go from healthy breakfast food to sinful dessert. And butter! Brown butter takes an average yellow birthday cake and gives it character. Upon the first bite, people start talking about all sorts of memories–a country fair, a pancake breakfast, sweet cornbread. It becomes someone.

This is the first time I’ve made a brown butter cake, but I do believe I outdid myself on my maiden voyage. Recently, I’ve had a special request for brown butter cake with mascarpone frosting, so I got right to work on it. I found a recipe at Apples and Butter that caught my eye because it uses vanilla paste. I’ve had a jar of vanilla paste burning a hole in my spice rack ever since I discovered the Spice Station in Silverlake (if you haven’t been, GO!). This cake was the perfect reason to crack it open.

Next I had to find a suitable mascarpone frosting recipe. I’m not crazy about chalky frostings with confectioners sugar, but I AM WILD about Italian meringue buttercream. I found inspiration from this recipe for Swiss Meringue Cream Cheese Frosting. I simply adapted it using my favorite Italian meringue buttercream recipe and substituting mascarpone for cream cheese and it worked out beautifully.

Finally, because I’ve had peaches on the brain ever since my man proposed with a gummy peach ring, I threw in a few beauties from the Hollywood Farmers Market. I chose a variety of yellow and white peaches (way more than I needed) and dreamed up different ways to bring out their best qualities. I diced one large yellow peach and left it juicy and untouched. The white one, which is firmer and sweeter than the yellow, got the star treatment. I diced it up and threw it in a pan with butter, brown sugar and Marsala wine. I’m a tiramisu fanatic, so I’ll take any opportunity to blend mascarpone with Marsala.

The finished product could have been on the cover of Country Living Magazine. However, while I may be getting better at remembering to photograph the process, I always forget to take great shots of the finished product. Oh well, a half-eaten cake is one of the most tempting images in my book. This may very well be my wedding cake!

Brown Butter Vanilla Layer Cake
Adapted from Apples and Butter who adapted it from The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman

  • 1 t vanilla bean paste
  • 12 oz unsalted butter (3 sticks)
  • 332 g sugar
  • 2 whole eggs, at room temperature
  • 4 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 312 g all-purpose flour
  • 3 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 1/4 c whole milk, at room temperature

Set a strainer over a small glass bowl. Place the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook the butter, stirring occasionally, until it caramelizes and emits a nutty aroma. Stir in the vanilla paste. Pour the butter through the strainer to catch any browned milk solids that have formed at the bottom of the pan. Chill the butter for at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350*
Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.

Allow the butter to reach room temperature again and place it in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium for one minute. Add the sugar and beat until creamed (at least 10 minutes). Add the eggs and additional egg yolks one at a time until incorporated.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. Set the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients to the batter in three additions, alternating with the milk until both are fully incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Let the cakes cool slightly in their pans, then invert the cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely. If not using the cakes right away, wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

Italian Meringue Mascarpone Buttercream

  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 8 oz unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
  • 8 oz mascarpone, at room temperature
  • 1 t vanilla

In medium heavy saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Set over low heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Raise heat to high and boil syrup, undisturbed, until candy thermometer registers 240°F, occasionally washing down sugar crystals on side of pan with pastry brush dipped in cold water.

While sugar is boiling, in bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites until they just hold soft peaks. Slowly beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, then beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.

Decrease speed to medium-low. Beat in hot syrup in slow, steady stream (try to avoid beaters and side of bowl), then beat until stiff, glossy peaks form and mixture is completely cool, about 8 to 10 minutes (the bottom of the mixing bowl should be cool to the touch).

Turn mixer to medium and beat in butter, 1 piece at a time, and beat until thickened and smooth. (Mixture will break at first, but, as more butter is beaten in, will thicken and become glossy and smooth.) Gradually add mascarpone. Beat in vanilla.

Buttercream may be used immediately or chilled in airtight container. If chilled, bring completely to room temperature and beat again before using. Mixture will again appear to break, but will then become glossy and smooth.

For Filling:

Dice one large yellow peach and set aside. Dice one large white peach. Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon brown sugar and cook until melted. Add white peach to pan and cook until soft about 3-5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon Marsala and cook until alcohol burns off, about 2 minutes. Transfer sauteed peach mixture to a bowl and cool (can be chilled in refrigerator until mixture comes to room temperature).

To Assemble:

Level cake layers and place bottom layer on a plate or cake board. Add cooled sauteed peaches to about 1 1/2 c buttercream. Spread mixture on bottom cake layer. Sprinkle diced yellow peach on top of filling in one layer (you may have a few leftovers). Top filling with second cake layer. Crumb coat cake with mascarpone buttercream and chill until firm. Finish cake with remaining buttercream and decorate to your wishes.

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