How pretty is this naked cake? Don’t worry, it’s safe for even the most modest of cake lovers. The layers are a rich buttermilk cake, the frosting is an only slightly sweet mascarpone, and the middle and top are bursting with fresh summer berries. Who needs to go to the trouble of trying to get perfectly smooth frosting when you can go naked instead? This also happens to be my general philosophy about makeup, so maybe naked cakes and I were made for each other.
With the number of hours I’ve spent trying to master frosting cakes, I’m surprised it took me so long to try this technique. I love the barely-frosted look of the sides, and the middle and top have enough frosting to please even your most diehard frosting lovers. It’s got rustic charm while still being a showstopper, and the fresh berries are exactly what I want to eat for dessert all summer long.
I used a rich buttermilk cake recipe from my grandmother’s Anniversary Slovak-American Cookbook that I hadn’t tried before and will now be my go-to yellow cake recipe. The buttermilk gives it a light and tender crumb, and the cake is rich without being overly sweet. The original recipe made enough for three layers, and while I originally thought this would be a giant three-layer cake, I decided that two were plenty to serve a crowd. The recipe below makes enough for two 8-inch layers.
The frosting is a simple combination of mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar, and whipped cream. On my cake I didn’t even add the vanilla extract because I love the subtle flavor of the mascarpone, but you could add in a teaspoon to give it a sweeter kick. And then I used all the berries I couldn’t resist buying at the farmer’s market, because they deserve to be showcased. I had blueberries, raspberries, and black raspberries, which are even sweeter than the red variety. But you could swap in strawberries or blackberries if that’s what’s good in your neck of the woods right now.
This was one of those cakes that I couldn’t resist eating a slice of as soon as I put down my camera. It’s simple, delicious, and just my kind of sweet. And I need to give a special thank you to my seven-year-old, who volunteered to be my photo assistant for this particular shoot. She helped arrange the berries around the cake, and that’s her steady hand holding the cake server.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ⅔ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 ⅓ cups sugar
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- ⅔ cup buttermilk
- 8 oz mascarpone cheese
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- 2 cups berries
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two 8” cake pans, line with parchment paper, and butter the parchment.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the butter and beat with a hand mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until completely combined, about 2 minutes more.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute between each addition.
- Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and add in a third of the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Repeat with half the buttermilk, another third of the dry ingredients, the rest of the buttermilk, and the rest of the dry ingredients. Be careful not to overmix.
- Pour evenly between the three cake pans. Bake for 25-28 minutes, until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool for five minutes in the pans, then move to cooling racks and allow to cool completely.
- To make the frosting, place the mascarpone in a large bowl and beat with a hand mixer on medium-high speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add in the powdered sugar and heavy cream and whip until the mixture is creamy and holds stiff peaks. Add in the vanilla extract and mix, if using.
- To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cake stand or serving dish. Spoon on enough frosting to cover the top and smooth with an offset spatula. Press fresh berries into the frosting, then top with the remaining cake layer. Spread more frosting on top, then use the spatula to smear a thin layer of frosting all around the sides. Top the cake with more fresh berries, and serve.