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!

Sakura Mochi Layer Cake

This cake is inspired by sakura mochi, a wagashi treat that is served during the springtime in Japan.  It is typically sweet rice covering a dollop of red bean paste, then wrapped in a pickled sakura leaf or topped with a pickled sakura blossom.  I incorporated these elements and gave them an American layer cake twist.

Three layers of sakura cake are covered with ethereal sakura frosting; not too much of it, as I wanted the flavor of the cake to really shine through and buttercream can often dominate.  In between the cake layers are two layers of sweet red bean paste (koshian), and bits of chewy homemade mochi. The cake is dotted with pickled sakura blossoms. You can preserve the sakura flowers yourself if you have access to cherry blossoms, or you can buy small packages of them on Amazon.

Last year, I went to the sakura matsuri at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and was blown away by the number of people.  I don’t think I had seen so many New Yorkers in one place before! The people watching proved to be just as delightful as the petal watching.  I went to the festival alone, lending it a similar feel to the days I wandered Kyoto’s streets alone as an exchange student.

This cake reminds me of the beauty of wandering alone in a strange place.  When you’re alone, you can absorb the little details without being distracted or rushed.  I hope that you can make and eat this cake in a similar fashion – leisurely and with the luxury of noticing every deliberate detail.

Scroll down for the recipe!

Sakura Mochi Layer Cake

For the Cake

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons sakura extract
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk
  • Pink gel food coloring

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare two 6 inch circular baking pans with cooking spray and parchment.
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Incorporate the egg yolks one at a time, and add the sakura extract.
  5. Add pink food coloring, if desired.
  6. Alternate adding the milk and the dry ingredients until just incorporated.
  7. Evenly distribute the batter in your pans.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

For the Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 12 tbsp butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1.5 teaspoon sakura extract
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Instructions:

  1. Beat the butter in a stand mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Slowly incorporate the powdered sugar.
  3. Incorporate other ingredients and mix until all are combined.

For the Mochi

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup mochiko flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 granulated sugar
  • corn starch, as needed

Instructions:

  1. Mix the mochiko with the granulated sugar.
  2. Add the water to the mixture and mix until a paste forms.
  3. In a microwave, heat mixture for 2 and a half minutes.
  4. Using corn starch to prevent the mochi from sticking to the table or your hands, roll the mochi into small balls.

Additional notes:

Add store bought packaged red bean paste in between the cake layers.

When working with pickled sakura, be sure to soak the blossoms before use, as they are preserved in salt.  I soaked the blossoms for about 30 minutes and sprinkled sugar on them after laying them out to dry on a paper towel.