Fashion Week’s Victorianna Cake

This past week I had the honor of participating in fashion week in an entirely new way: making an after-party cake for designer Anna Sui’s new VICTORIANNA collection launch. This season’s whimsical styles billowed like perfect buttercream and were as ethereal as poufs of drifting meringue. Sui’s designs were a nod to mid-20th-century fashion illustrator Lila de Nobili. Take a look at de Nobili’s illustrations, and you’ll understand their whimsical and gauzy allure.  Cupcakes shaped like roses and succulents were part of Sui’s mood board for this season, so my role in creating a pastry pairing built upon her already sugar-inspired collection.

Focusing on Sui’s affinity for purple in both her designs and branding, I composed a watercolor two-tiered cake with three layers per tier, each tier featuring ombre lavender layers. Ultra-moist almond cake was the luscious vehicle for layers of snappy lemon curd and bright raspberry jam. Everything was topped with an eye-opening lemon buttercream with refreshing pops of zest.  Frothy pink roses and edible wafer paper butterflies embellished the sides of the cake. 

This cake brought me to some of my favorite places in New York.  NY Cake, my second home, is a must-know for anyone who wants to up their own pastry game.  Wandering though gives me so much inspiration! Another stop, the flower district, continues to take my breath away whenever I walk through… I first became acquainted with the flower district when I began food styling in 2017 and was smitten with the glamorous early-risers and their important missions of buying candy-bright flowers for Vogue shoots.  The flower market opens around 5:30am, and shops begin closing around 10:30am; the early bird gets the bouquet.  

Monday of fashion week was one long list of logistics, and I went into a headspace where I just power through one task after another.  Even though my brain was in list-mode, I was able to appreciate the fact that every single cake process is a story.  Every cake is a mini hero’s journey of highs, lows, trials, romance, magic, and ultimate triumph.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe for two days straight while this two tiered buttercream beauty was under construction!

The first challenge is coaxing the buttercream to a perfectly smooth state. With buttercreams that contain abnormal shapes like bits of lemon zest, it’s hard to get it perfectly smooth. Challenge ACCEPTED. Blemishes drive me crazy. Marbling icing colors for a watercolor effect was an especially enjoyable part of the process. Then, if you’re delivering (and I was), there’s always a tense Uber ride where you’re clinging to the cake for dear life, lurching when the car lurches to counterbalance any unfortunate inertia. I had a hard time even lifting this cake, so enlisted the help of my boyfriend and most trusted assistant.  Putting the cake’s fate in the hands of anyone else is a terrifying prospect in and of itself.  There is such relief when the cake is finally GONE, out of your hands, to its final destination!

This is truly a cake that I am very proud of… I love when art mirrors art, and it was a treat to channel Anna Sui’s ethereal shapes and dreamy colors. What artist do you most want to see translated into cake form?  Be sure to comment with any suggestions!

Satsumaimo Layer Cake

I don’t recall hearing the sing-song jangle of ice cream trucks during my time living in Japan, but I do remember a yakiimo cart that made its rounds near Yoshikawa station.  Yakiimo are warm,  whole roasted satsumaimo, Japan’s sweet potato with red skin and a white interior.  The cart owner would always be bellowing a steady song dedicated to the celebrated yakiimo.

To me, roasted satsumaimo are mouthwateringly good without any alteration; butter and sugar aren’t necessary.  When you do add those two ingredients into the equation, you’ll float away on a rich flavor cloud!

One popular treat in Japan are satsumaimo cakes, reformed into a small potato shape after mixing mashed satsumaimo with sugar, evaporated milk, butter, and a few other key ingredients.  There are even some regional Kitkats that are flavored after Japan’s ubiquitous sweet potato varieties.

This luxuriant layer cake is dedicated to the lovely, sweet tuber that has grown close to my heart.  Three layers of satsumaimo cake are topped with daigaku imo, a caramelized, candied version of the wonderful root.  The cake is slathered with kuromitsu (black sugar) cream cheese icing, and drizzled with kuromitsu syrup.

Taking a bite out of this cake reminds me of helping one of my host grandmothers tend to her satsumaimo crop in the garden.  There are so many moments in Japan that I hope to always carry with me, and rooting around in the dirt with someone I couldn’t communicate with well over the common goal of nurturing latent sweetness is definitely one that takes the cake.

Scroll down for the recipe!

Satsumaimo Layer Cake

For the Cake

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups mashed cooked satsumaimo sweet potatoes, cooled (about 4-5 sweet potatoes)
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 6-inch round cake pans with canola oil. Line bottoms with baking parchment and spray the top of those too.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
  3. In the bowl of a mixer, beat together butter and sugar on medium-high for 5 minutes until creamy.  Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl, so all is well incorporated.  Add in eggs one at a time.  Beat on medium-high for 1-2 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down bowl as needed. Add vanilla and sweet potatoes and beat until smooth, scraping down bowl as needed (scraping down the bowl is important stuff, y’all).
  4. Add the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, alternating with buttermilk. Beat on low speed until just incorporated.
  5. Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake at 350-degrees F for 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes before removing the cake and placing on a cooling rack.  Torte each cake in half when the cakes are completely cool.

For the Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons kuromitsu syrup 
  • 1 pinch cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese

Instructions:

  1. Beat butter with the cream cheese on high, until light and fluffy.
  2. Gradually incorporate the powdered sugar
  3. Add the kuromitsu, salt, an cinnamon.  Beat until well incorporated

For the Daigaku Imo

Ingredients:

  • 2 satsumaimo, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or another neutral-flavored oil)
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon rice vinegar

Directions:

  1. Wash the skin of the potato carefully.  You will not peel it.
  2. Cut the potato diagonally in the rangiri style – by rotating the potato a quarter between cuts.  Soak the pieces in water for 15 minutes to remove starch.  Change the water half way through.
  3. Wrap the lid of your frying pan with a kitchen towel and tie on the top near the handle.  By doing this, you prevent condensation from the lid dripping down onto the potatoes.
  4. Before turning your burner on, combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and oil in your frying pan.  Stir well.
  5. Dry the potatoes with a towel before placing in your pan.
  6. Cover with your prepared lid and turn the stove on to medium heat.  Every two minutes, open the lid and flip the potatoes so that all sides are cooked.
  7. Cook in this style for approximately 10 minutes.
  8. Take off the heat and sprinkle with black sesame seeds, to taste.