Strawberry and Vanilla Bean Cake


Vanilla Bean Cake
Makes 3 6-inch layers
Recipe adapted from Call me Cupcake 

300 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
195 g granulated sugar
225 g eggs, lightly beaten
65 g whole milk
6 g vanilla paste
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
337 g all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 g salt
Strawberry Meringue Kisses
50 g egg whites
100 g granulated sugar
5 g freeze-dried strawberry powder
Strawberry Buttercream
100 g egg whites
150 g granulated sugar
340 g unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch dice, at room temperature
2 g vanilla paste
11 g freeze-dried strawberry powder
White Chocolate Ganache
50 g white chocolate, chopped finely
50 g heavy cream

To start, make the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray three 6-inch cake rings with non-stick spray, then line with parchment paper and spray again. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs a little bit at a time, beating after each addition, until fully incorporate. Combine the milk, vanilla paste, and vanilla extract and add it to the mixture, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat again for 2 minutes. 
Sift the dry ingredients and add to the mixture, mixing on low until just incorporated. Divide evenly between the three cake rings and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes and cool completely.
For the strawberry meringue kisses, preheat the oven to 200 F. Line a half sheet baking pan with a silpat.
Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer set over a bain-marie and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture reads 60 C or is no longer gritty when rubbed between your fingers. Transfer to the stand mixer and whip until glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. Fold in the strawberry powder.
Transfer the meringue to a bag fitted with a small circular tip and pipe out as many kisses as you can. This will make many more meringue kisses than you need, but it is difficult to make a small amount of meringue.
Bake the kisses for 45 minutes, or until they are completely dry. 
For the buttercream, combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer set over a bain-marie and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture reads 60 C or is no longer gritty when rubbed between your fingers. Transfer to the stand mixer and whip until glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. 
Add the butter a few pieces at a time and whip until the buttercream is creamy and smooth. Add the vanilla paste and whip for 20 seconds to combine. Take about 200 g of the buttercream out and set it aside. For the remaining buttercream, fold in the strawberry powder until combined and set aside.
For the white chocolate ganache, place the cream in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on 10 second intervals until hot. Pour over the chocolate, let it sit for a minute, and then stir until a smooth ganache is formed. Cool down to 30 C and keep it at room temperature if you are using it the same day. If not, refrigerate it, then heat it up to 30 C when ready to use.
To assemble the cake, first trim the tops of each cake layer so they are flat and even. Place one round on a cake turntable and add 1/3 of the strawberry buttercream. Using an offset spatula, spread into an even layer. Top with a second cake round and repeat with 1/3 the buttercream. For the last layer, place the top of the cake onto the buttercream so that the flat bottom of the cake is now the very top of the whole cake. This will ensure that your cake has a very nice and flat top and corners.
If you need to make sure the sides of the cake are even, patch it up with some buttercream, but make sure you save a small amount of strawberry buttercream for decorating, which you will transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small circular tip. 
Refrigerate the cake until firm, about 15 minutes.
Mask the cake with a very thin layer of the vanilla bean buttercream, then refrigerate for 15 minutes. Spread 3/4 of the remaining vanilla buttercream over the cake. Using a hot offset spatula dipped in very hot water and then dried, smooth the surface of the buttercream on the sides and top. Refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes.
Set aside about 3 tablespoons of the remaining buttercream and transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a small circular tip. With the remaining buttercream, add a few drops of red gel food colouring until you've achieved a dark pink. Using a small offset spatula, spread a little bit of the pink buttercream on the bottom third of the cake, then smear it in. As you go up the cake, use less pink buttercream until you have a nice ombré smeary look. Refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes.
I made the mistake of decorating the cake while it was still on the cake turntable, which you shouldn't do. Transfer the cake to your cake stand, then use a spoon to spread the ganache of the top of the cake and create drips down the sides. Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.
Decorate the cake using the two piping bags of strawberry and vanilla buttercream, flowers, meringue kisses, and fresh strawberries.