Naked cakes show what they’re made of

By Bill Colvard -
A vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream goes naked while piling sugared berries on top. - Submitted photo

There have been naked cakes for as long as there have been cakes, but a trend isn’t a trend until it has a name, preferably a name that’s either silly or provocative. “Naked cake” nails it on both counts. And no trend worth its salt is not without a backlash. And if that trend can survive the backlash, you’re probably looking at something that’s going to be around for a while.

The naked cake has made it to the finish line, although “scantily-clad cake” would be a more precise term, albeit a less titillating one. A naked cake is not so much undressed, or unfrosted, as it were, as it is not adequately covered by frosting. It’s more of a peek-a-boo effect.

Pound cakes, unfrosted and sometimes unglazed, are the original naked cakes. Even when glazed, the cake can usually be seen between drips of glaze or glimpsed through a semi-sheer glaze. But proponents of the naked cake trend don’t want to acknowledge the groundbreaking role of something as old-fashioned as pound cake.

The trendy naked cakes are frosted or filled between the layers, top frosted and often covered with elaborate decorations of fresh fruit, fresh flowers, chocolate-covered accoutrements, or whatever else an imaginative baker can think of, leaving the sides exposed.

If these cakes are to be considered as food porn, as their name clearly suggests they want to be, then they are less Triple XXX and more Edwardian pinup, voluptuous young ladies whose seductive charms are exposed while hiding faces under an enormous, elaborate hat, perhaps with ribbons trailing down over the naughty bits.

The other sort of naked cake, and this is the real innovation, is a cake that is frosted, but just barely. Particularly on the sides. Frosting is applied so sparingly that the cake peeks through. This cake’s nakedness is of the see-through lingerie variety.

And the top is often even more elaborately decorated, apparently so guests don’t suspect you forgot to frost it, ran out of frosting or simply gave up after the crumb coat.

Christina Tosi, the chef, owner and founder of Milk Bar with several outlets in New York and an outpost in Toronto, is often credited with inventing or popularizing the naked cake. It wasn’t long until the last bastion of confectionery overkill — the wedding cake — fell to the naked trend. Bakers across the land threw out their fondant and shelved their piping bags and tips to go naked.

Until the inevitable backlash when the trend got too trendy. Sparsely frosted, naked wedding cakes may not survive indefinitely, but as for birthday cakes and dinner party desserts, and anywhere else fancy cakes turn up, the naked cake is here to stay.

Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Buttercream and Sugared Fruit

The cake in the photo has two thick layers, but this cake recipe makes three layers. Stack them high for an even more impressive cake, or use the third layer for something else. This idea is infinitely adaptable. Lemon cake and lemon buttercream or lemon curd would be delicious with sugared fruit. A chocolate version with the fruit chocolate-dipped instead of sugared would please even the most dedicated chocoholic.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 -1/2 cups self-rising flour

1 -1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour three 9 × 2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper.

To make the cake: In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the flours and add in four parts, alternating with the milk and the vanilla, beating well after each addition. Divide batter among the cake pans. Bake for 20–25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pans for ten minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack.

When cake has cooled, ice between the layers with a thick layer of icing, then ice the top of cake with a thick layer of icing, and then pile on the sugared fruit and mint leaves.

Vanilla Buttercream

This is not technically a buttercream frosting, but the old-fashioned kind made with butter and confectioner’s sugar the way Southern grannies did it before canned frosting was invented. It makes enough to frost middle, top and sides, so you’ll have some left over with a naked cake. Make good use of it.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

6–8 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup milk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3–5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Sugared Fruit

The pictured cake is topped with sugared strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and mint leaves. Use any one or combination you prefer. You can also sugar larger fruit, like apples and pears, to make a dessert table centerpiece. Just pile them up on a footed compote dish or cake stand after they have dried.

egg white

superfine sugar

fresh berries

Lightly beat egg white. Lightly and gently brush fruit with egg white. Roll fruit (covered in egg white) in superfine sugar coating the fruit entirely. Spoon fruit unto a drying rack and let dry until hard, approx. 2 hours. Store sugared fruit at room temperature in a non-humid environment for up to 24 hours. If the fruit is stored with moisture, the sugar will dissolve into a syrup like consistency. It’s best to use fruit that isn’t too ripe; otherwise, it will be difficult to coat the berries.

Black Forest Cake

Black Forest Cake is a perfect candidate for nakedness. There are many ways to assemble the cake, but piling the cherry sauce and whipped topping in the middle and on top, leaving naked sides with just a bit of cherry sauce drizzling over them is certainly one of the better ways to go.

For cake:

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1-1/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

1 large egg

1 egg white

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp. vanilla bean paste

1/2 cup hot coffee

1/4 cup brandy

For cherries:

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1 tbsp. cornstarch

3 cups frozen whole cherries, pitted

2 tbsp. kirsch

For whipped topping:

2 cups heavy whipping cream, very cold

8 ounces mascarpone cheese

6 tbsp. powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla bean paste

For cake: Preheat oven to 350°F, line the bottom 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with parchment paper and spray the pans with non-stick cooking or baking spray. In the bowl of an electric mixer add flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and kosher salt. Whisk to combine. In a medium sized mixing bowl add egg, egg white, buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Whisk together until well combined. Drizzle in the coffee and brandy while whisking constantly so you do not scramble your eggs, about 2 minutes total. Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir to fully combine. The batter will be runny. Divide the batter into the prepared pans and bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when tested in the middle. Cool completely.

For cherries: In a small bowl mix together brown sugar and cornstarch. In a small pot add cherries, dark brown sugar mixture and kirsch. Cook over low heat until the mixture cooks down and begins to thicken. Once it’s thick (about 10-15 minutes) remove from the heat and let cool. The mixture should thicken as it cools as well.

For whipped topping: In the bowl of an electric mixer add heavy whipping cream and beat on high (using your whisk attachment) until soft peaks. Add in mascarpone, powdered sugar and vanilla bean paste and whip until stiff peaks have formed.

For assembly: Place one cake on the bottom of your cake stand or cake plate. Top with 1/2 of the mascarpone whipped topping and 1/2 of the cherry mixture. Top with remaining cake and spread remaining whipped topping on the top of the cake. Top the cake with the remaining cherries. Keeping the cherries away from the edges will cut down on drizzle.

A vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream goes naked while piling sugared berries on top. vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream goes naked while piling sugared berries on top. Submitted photo

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.