This impressive heart-shaped layer cake is such a great way to say ‘I love you’ on Valentine’s Day, or any other day of the year. Layers of Vanilla Buttermilk Cake are brushed with a raspberry-infused syrup and then layered with a chunky raspberry jam and a silky vanilla buttercream. Fresh raspberries and cake crumbs garnish the top of the cake. Since this cake is a literally a labor of love, I like to make it over the course of two days. On the first day I make the cake layers and the syrup, and the next day I make the buttercream and do the final assembly. And as with any cake frosted with buttercream, make sure to serve this at room temperature.
Makes one 9-inch cake, serving 12
Vanilla Buttermilk Cake
- 3 cups (341 grams) cake flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 16 tablespoons (227 grams) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 3/4 cups (350 grams) granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- 1 cup (242 grams) buttermilk
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (118 grams) water
- ½ cup (57 grams) fresh or frozen raspberries
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon Chambord or other raspberry liqueur (optional)
Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 1 cup (7 oz/ 200 grams) granulated sugar
- 5 large (150 grams) egg whites
- 3 tablespoons (44 grams) water
- 32 tablespoons (454 g) unsalted butter, softened, but cool
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- Cake scraps reserved from leveling cakes
- 10 ounces/283 grams fresh raspberries (about 2 ½ cups)
- 3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam
Make the cake layers
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of two heart-shaped or round 8-inch diameter by 2-inch high cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Dust the pans with flour and tap out the excess.
- In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and beat at high speed for 3 minutes, until well blended and light. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, reduce the speed to medium, and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and mixing until blended (the batter will look curdled at this point, but will become smooth once the flour is added). Beat in the vanilla until blended. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the buttermilk in two additions. Mix just until blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly, and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
- Bake the cakes for 25 to 30 minutes, until they are lightly golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans, set on wire racks, for 15 minutes.
- Invert the cakes onto wire racks, then reinvert them so that the domed side is up, and cool completely.
Make the syrup
- In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water and raspberries and cook over medium heat until the mixture begins to boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes.
- Stir in the lemon juice and pass the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing down on the berries to extract as much liquid as possible. Stir in the liqueur, if using. Set aside (this can be made up to a week in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator).
Make the buttercream
- Pour enough water into a skillet so that it comes 1/2-inch up its sides. Bring the water to a simmer; reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, use a hand whisk to combine the sugar, egg whites, and water. Place the bowl in the skillet of water and whisk gently until the mixture registers 160˚F on an instant-read thermometer.
- Transfer the bowl to the mixer stand and, using the whisk attachment, beat at medium-high speed until the meringue is cool and forms stiff, shiny peaks, about 5 minutes.
- Reduce the speed to medium and beat in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Beat in the vanilla. Beat at high speed until the buttercream is smooth, about 1 minute.
Make the Cake Crumb Garnish
- Using a serrated bread knife, cut off the domed top of each cake so that it is completely level. Break the domed cake pieces into chunks and place them in a food processor. Process the chunks until fine crumbs form. Set the crumbs aside.
Assemble the cake
- In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup (114 grams) of the fresh raspberries with the raspberry jam and 1 teaspoon of the Raspberry Syrup. Using a spoon, mash the raspberries with the jam and syrup to form a chunky jam; set aside.
- Using the serrated knife, cut each heart cake layer horizontally in half to make a total of 4 cake layers. Place one of the layers, cut side up, on a cardboard cake round or cake plate and using a pastry brush, soak it lightly with some of the Raspberry Syrup. Spoon one-third of the syrupy jam on top and spread it over the cake layer. Using a metal icing spatula, spread a generous ½ cup of buttercream on top of it, covering it completely. Top with another cake layer and repeat the soaking and layering, ending with the last cake layer, cut side down. Spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top and sides of the cake (this is a crumb coat). Refrigerate the cake for about 20 minutes, to chill the buttercream.
- Spread the remaining buttercream over the top and sides of the cake, making the buttercream as smooth as possible. Pat the reserved cake crumbs gently and evenly around the sides of the cake.
- Put the reserved buttercream in a pastry bag fitted with an Ateco #805 plain tip. Pipe dollops all around the edge of the cake. Arrange some of the raspberries next to the dollops, outlining the heart shape. Sprinkle some of the cake crumbs in the center of the cake. Serve the cake at room temperature. Store leftover cake in the refrigerator.