This tender cake combines fragrant spices and a sweet maple meringue frosting. The style of décor is commonly called a “half-nude” or “scraped”, referring to the way the frosting is applied to the sides and then scraped away, revealing the cake layers and leaving only a sheer layer of frosting behind.
Makes one 9-inch (23 cm) layer cake
Serves 16 as dessert, 24 as a special occasion tasting portion
Maple Meringue Frosting
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Grease three 9-inch (23 cm) round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Dust the sides of the pans with flour, tapping out any excess.
Sift the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, spices and salt into a large mixer bowl or into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix in the brown sugar and then add the butter, mixing in the butter (using electric beaters, if not a stand mixer) on medium-low speed until no large bits of butter are visible, about 2 minutes. Whisk the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla together and add this all at once to the flour mixture and mix starting on low speed until blended and then increase the speed to medium, beating until the mixer is very smooth and a little lighter in colour, about 3 minutes. Divide the batter between the pans and spread to level it. Bake the cakes for about 25 minutes, until a tester inserted in the entre comes out clean. Cool the cakes on a rack for 30 minutes, then run a palette knife around the inside edge of each pan and turn the cakes out to cool completely.
For the frosting, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large mixing bowl with electric beaters or in a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment on high speed until foamy. While whipping, gradually pour in the sugar and continue to whip almost until the beaters hold a soft peak when lifted. Bring the maple syrup up to a full boil over high heat (it will bubble up a bit, but there is no need to stir) until it reaches 242ºF (116ºC) on a candy thermometer. With the mixer running, pour the hot syrup carefully down the side of the bowl into the whites and continue whipping until the meringue has cooled almost to room temperature, about 2 minutes – the whites will triple in volume. Beat in the vanilla. Work with the frosting immediately.
Place a cake layer on a platter or cake stand and dollop and then spread a layer of frosting on the top. Repeat with the remaining two cake layers. For the “half-naked” or “sheer” effect on the sides, spread a sheer layer of frosting around the sides of the cake, filling in any gaps between the layers but allowing the sides of the cake to show through. Let the cake sit out, uncovered, for an hour to set. Do not refrigerate.
For the décor, spread the edible flowers out onto a parchment-lined baking tray. Lightly whisk the egg white to loosen it, and using a small brush, paint the flowers lightly with the egg white and sprinkle the sugar over each, shaking off any excess. Let the flowers air-dry for at least an hour (this can be done up to 6 hours before serving – the sugar layer preserves the flowers. Arrange the sugared flowers on top of the cake and serve.