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Neapolitan Cake

Neapolitan CakeI make a lot of cakes—a lot. In any given month, I make at least ten, plus any that are tested and posted on this blog. What can I say? I have friends who like to celebrate and like my cakes. I’m flattered.Neapolitan CakeOf course, this means that making cake—something that once only brought joy—can sometimes be a slog. I don’t necessarily mind when baking feels like work (because it is my work), but I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t wait to come home and bake layers after a long day of blogging and personal cheffing. The joy understandably gets a little lost when I’m making a double batch of vanilla layers at 11pm on a Tuesday.Neapolitan CakeBut when inspiration strikes and I can be creative, it could be 4am and I’d be psyched to be baking. My roommate might not particularly like it, but I’d be in heaven.Neapolitan CakeSuch was the case last month when I made a cake for a friend whose only instruction was that it should have something strawberry involved, at his young daughter’s request. Other than that, I could go wild.Neapolitan CakeAnd so that request for a strawberry element somehow meshed with vanilla and chocolate and became Neapolitan…and I went wild. Wild! And it was so much fun (and so delicious!) that I went and made a second cake for this blog. You’re welcome 😉Neapolitan CakeY’all. Y’ALL. This cake. It is a thing. A real undertaking. A project best done over the course of two days. The most intricate cake work that’s ever been on this blog (aside from the wedding cake, of course).Neapolitan CakeBut I am also completely obsessed with it. I mean, what’s not to love about this checkerboard chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry interior and the ruffled tricolor buttercream exterior? It’s the most fun!Neapolitan CakeThe cake layers are all made from one batter. Once it’s mixed together, it’s divided in thirds. One is left plain—that’s the vanilla layer. Another is spiked with freeze-dried strawberries, and the last with cocoa powder and melted chocolate.Neapolitan CakeThey’re baked, cooled, evened…Neapolitan Cake…and then punched into rings and reassembled.Neapolitan CakeAnd layered in a specific order with thin layers of vanilla buttercream.Neapolitan CakeNeapolitan CakeNeapolitan CakeNeapolitan CakeNeapolitan CakeAnd then decorated in the most fun (and shockingly easy!) ruffle pattern. Or, you know, however you like.Neapolitan CakeWhen all is said and done and sliced and served, all your friends’ minds will be blown at your Neapolitan Cake prowess. As they freaking should be.Neapolitan Cake

Neapolitan Cake
makes one 3-layer 9-inch round cake

Cake Batter:
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted & cooled slightly
5 large eggs, room temperature
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups whole milk, room temperature
1 cup full-fat sour cream, room temperature

For the Strawberry Layer:
1 1.2 ounce package freeze-dried strawberries, pulverized
2 tablespoons whole milk
red food coloring (I used 6 drops red gel), optional

For the Chocolate Layer:
1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup whole milk

Special Equipment:
6 inch round cake ring/cookie cutter
3 inch round cake ring/cookie cutter

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 3 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment and grease again.

Make the cake batter. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and granulated sugar. Set aside.

Pour melted butter into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in eggs one at a time, followed by vanilla.

In a large measuring cup, use a fork to stir together whole milk and sour cream.

Whisk half the butter mixture into dry ingredients, followed by half the milk mixture. Add remaining mixture, followed by remaining milk mixture.

Make the flavored layers. Pour 3 1/4 cups of batter into one of the pans. This is the vanilla layer. Set aside.

Pour 3 1/4 cups of batter into each of two small mixing bowls.

To make the strawberry layer, whisk pulverized freeze-dried strawberries, whole milk, and food coloring into one of the bowls of batter. Transfer to another prepared pan. Set aside.

Make the chocolate layer. Whisk cocoa powder into the last bowl of batter.

Put chopped dark chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 15 second increments, stirring in between, until melted and smooth. Whisk into batter, followed by whole milk. Transfer to remaining prepared pan.

Smooth the tops of all the pans-full of batter. Tap each full pan on the counter five times to release any large air bubbles. Bake cakes 32-37 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pans for fifteen minutes. Run a small thin knife around the edges of the pans and invert the cakes onto cooling racks to cool completely. Layers may be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Even the layers. Working with one layer at a time, use a serrated knife to trim all layers until they are of even height (mine were each 1 1/4 inch tall).

Assemble the layers. Working with one layer at a time, place layer on a cutting board or other surface. Use the 6-inch ring to cut out the center. Use the 3-inch ring to cut out the center of the 6-inch circle of cake. Wipe rings clean. Repeat with remaining layers.

Separate all circles/rings of cake so that you have 3 3-inch center pieces, 3 6-inch middle rings, and 3 9-inch outer rings. Make layers by pressing pieces together like a puzzle. Layers should be as follows:

• chocolate outer ring, vanilla middle ring, strawberry center
• vanilla outer ring, strawberry middle ring, chocolate center
• strawberry outer ring, chocolate middle ring, vanilla center

For Layering & Assembly of Cake

Simple Syrup:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water

Vanilla Buttercream:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3-5 tablespoons heavy cream

Strawberry Buttercream:
1 1.2-ounce package freeze dried strawberries
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups confectioners sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5-6 tablespoons heavy cream

Chocolate Buttercream:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
6 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Make the simple syrup. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly until sugar dissolves, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Make the vanilla buttercream. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in confectioner’s sugar in three installments, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Beat in salt, followed by vanilla. Add in heavy cream until desired consistency is reached.

Make the strawberry buttercream. In a medium-large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low, beat in confectioner’s sugar, strawberry powder, and salt. Mixture may be alarmingly crumbly—this is normal. Add vanilla and 5 tablespoons of heavy cream. Beat until very fluffy, about 2 minutes. If desired, mix in another tablespoon of heavy cream until the proper consistency is reached.

Make the chocolate buttercream. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter until light and fluffy (about two minutes). Beat in confectioner’s sugar, followed by cocoa powder and salt, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add in vanilla and heavy cream. Beat on high for 1-2 minutes, until very fluffy.

Place the layer with the chocolate outer ring on a serving plate or cake stand. Brush with simple syrup. Top with a thin layer of vanilla buttercream. Place the layer with the vanilla outer ring on top. Brush with simple syrup. Top with a thin layer of vanilla buttercream. Place the layer with the strawberry outer ring on top. Brush with simple syrup. Frost the entire cake with a very thin layer of vanilla buttercream (a “crumb coat”). Refrigerate for 15 minutes or up to 1 day.

Load remaining vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate buttercreams into piping bags (or ziplocks with smalls corners snipped off). Remove the cake from the refrigerator.

To decorate the cake as pictured, working with one buttercream at a time, pipe a ring of dollops around the entire bottom of the cake. Use the back of an offset spatula to press into each dollop and drag upward to create a “ruffle” effect, wiping clean as needed. Use another buttercream to make a ring of dollops above the first (now-ruffled), and repeat the same pressing/dragging method to create the same pattern. Use the remaining color of buttercream, and continue the method, alternating in a pattern until you have frosted your way up the cake, onto the top, and to the center.

Slice and serve. Leftover cake may be kept covered at room temperature for up to two days or in the refrigerator for up to five.Neapolitan CakeNeapolitan CakeNeapolitan Cake

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Neapolitan Shortbread

Neapolitan ShortbreadI have never had many feelings about Neapolitan ice cream—that classic all-in-one combination of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry—except that I’d probably prefer a scoop of vanilla with sprinkles instead.Neapolitan ShortbreadNeapolitan Shortbread, though, are a different story. I saw a few recipes for them while scrolling through Pinterest a few weeks ago and thought they were super cute with their different colored stripes. I just had to make them, if only to make the world’s most adorable ice cream sandwiches. Neapolitan ShortbreadI clicked on a link and saw, to my utter (and definitely over-the-top) horror, that the layers were all made with one dough, the chocolate portion being mixed with melted chocolate and the pink part being just vanilla with food coloring! I clicked through more links and found a lot more of the same. Some had mixed their pink portion with strawberry jam, but that was even more problematic—it meant that all three portions would have different textures and bake differently. Neapolitan ShortbreadAnd so, I set out to fix this problem. Yes, I know that this “problem” is one I created with my own pickiness, but I don’t care because I believe in cookies that bake evenly and deliver flavors as advertised, damn it! I will not apologize for being a cookie snob. #justiceforstrawberry

Okay, rant over. (Sorry.) Neapolitan ShortbreadI set to work, and it took me five test-batches, but y’all, these Neapolitan Shortbread are fantastic. They’ve got bold colors and big flavors and they bake evenly and they are shockingly easy to make.Neapolitan ShortbreadNeapolitan ShortbreadEach layer is made from its own quick, simple dough, all three of which can be made in the same bowl in under twenty minutes. Here’s the rundown:

  • the chocolate dough is made with cocoa powder and a hint of espresso.
  • the vanilla dough is made with vanilla (duh) and a touch of almond extract.
  • the strawberry is made with pulverized freeze-dried strawberries (a la these) and a few drops of food coloring to keep the pink portion vibrant while baking.

Neapolitan ShortbreadNeapolitan ShortbreadNeapolitan ShortbreadNeapolitan ShortbreadAll the doughs are all pressed together in a wax paper-lined loaf pan and chilled until hard. Then the edges are trimmed off, the dough is cut into two long pieces, and each one is sliced into cookies. I ❤ ❤ ❤ a slice & bake recipe! Neapolitan ShortbreadNeapolitan Shortbread bake at a low temperature for 17-18 minutes. The cookies will be a little soft coming out of the oven, but should set up quickly. They’ll be crisp at the edges, slightly chewy in the centers, and oh, so buttery. Neapolitan ShortbreadThese cookies are as delicious as they are beautiful, with plenty of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavors in every bite! And that’s to say nothing of the bright, bold colors—I just love that berry pink!Neapolitan ShortbreadNeapolitan ShortbreadNeapolitan ShortbreadOh, and I was right. They do make adorable ice cream sandwiches 🙂 Neapolitan Shortbread

Neapolitan Shortbread
makes about 6.5 dozen cookies

Chocolate Dough:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder (natural or dutch process)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon espresso granules (optional)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

Vanilla Dough:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

Strawberry Dough:
1 cup freeze dried strawberries
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3-5 drops liquid red food coloring (or 1 drop red gel food coloring), optional
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

Line a 9×5-inch loaf pan with wax paper, leaving a couple of inches of overhang on the sides. Set aside.

Make the chocolate dough. In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix in vanilla. Add cocoa powder, flour, espresso granules and salt, and mix until a dough forms. Dough will look crumbly, but should pinch together very easily. Press chocolate dough into a mostly-even layer in the bottom of the prepared pan. Refrigerate while you make the vanilla dough. Wipe down beaters and bowl.

In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix in vanilla and optional almond extract, followed by flour and salt. Press vanilla dough into a mostly-even layer over the top of the chocolate dough. Refrigerate while you make the strawberry dough. Wipe down beaters and bowl.

Combine freeze dried strawberries and sugar in a food processor* and blitz until they are a powder. Transfer to mixing bowl. Add butter and use an electric mixer to beat it together until fluffy. Mix in vanilla and red food coloring, followed by flour and salt. Dough may be crumbly, but should hold together very well when pinched. Press strawberry dough into a mostly-even layer on top of the vanilla dough. Fold wax paper overhang over the top of the dough. Refrigerate for 3 hours or up to 3 days.

Place oven racks in top and bottom positions. Preheat oven to 300F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Unfold wax paper overhang and use it to lift dough brick onto a cutting board. Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to trim the edges (which can be cut into rectangles and baked into cookies). Slice rectangle down the middle lengthwise so that you have two long, skinny rectangles of dough. Refrigerate one rectangle.

Slice rectangle into 1/4-inch slices, placing them at least 1 1/2-inches apart on prepared pans. If dough gets too warm, refrigerate full pans for 5 minutes before baking.

Bake cookies for 9 minutes. Rotate pans top-to-bottom and front-to-back. Bake an additional 8-9 minutes, until no longer wet looking. Shortbread should not turn golden. Let cool on the pans for 7 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Repeat slicing and baking processes with remaining dough, letting pans return to room temperature between batches.

Neapolitan Shortbread will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for at least a week. They will soften slightly over time.Neapolitan ShortbreadNeapolitan ShortbreadNeapolitan Shortbread