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Dreaming of a White (Cake) Christmas

No matter the season or the reason, we love a good tradition.

One of the best times of year at Evansville Living is planning our November/December issue. Since ours is a bi-monthly publication, we can’t devote an entire issue of the magazine to the holidays, but we certainly dress it up and give it a full dose of holiday cheer.

We enjoy sharing family recipes (“All In The Family,” 2020), poring over antique ornament collections (“Shiny & Bright,” 2013), exploring gifts that reflect individuality (“Presents with Personality,” 2004), and encouraging our readers to rest, reflect, and find peace (“A Moment Of Reflection,” 2001).

Our 2015 cover featured one of Evansville’s foremost holiday gems: a gorgeous, gilded Reitz Home spruced up and resplendent in Christmas decorations. We’ve delved into all the unique ways to celebrate the holidays in the Evansville area (“Our Winter Traditions,” 2016.) We have even replicated an early holiday favorite cover (“The 12 Doors of Christmas,” 2000) nearly 20 years later.

So, you can imagine our delight in Southern Living magazine’s long-held tradition of staging a beautifully decorated white Christmas cake on its holiday cover. As Southern Living Senior Food Editor Lisa Cericola said in her December 2020 article chronicling 25 years of white cakes, “It all began in 1995 with a Coconut-Lemon Cake from Sissy Nash and her daughter, chef Kathy Nash Cary of Louisville, Kentucky. Our former Editor in Chief John Floyd chose it as the cover, and it was an instant hit across the South.”

Since then, Southern Living has cultivated a legacy of white Christmas cake magazine covers. Some cakes have featured classic embellishments, such as elegant whipped frosting and green icing artfully piped to create garland. Others have exemplified holiday decadence: intricate gingerbread men standing guard on each side of a square cake; glittering snowflakes delicately placed in the frosting; fondant-crafted ribbons cascading down to the plate below.

No matter the theme or accoutrements, Southern Living readers can count on being presented a Christmas cake that evokes the joy, friendship, and spirit of the season. The familiarity of the tradition, mixed with the novelty of a unique cake design each year, feels like a gift itself — something warm and comforting that, nearly two years into an at-times crippling pandemic, is especially treasured.

Thanks to more safety measures regarding COVID-19, this Christmas has more opportunity to be shared with loved ones than in 2020, but gatherings will still be far from what we’re used to. Menus, activities, and travel plans will likely remain simplified compared to years past. But good cheer is not in short supply. Local artisans and retailers are still sharing their holiday wares. Residents are gifting their time, talent, and money to help others. Even across great distances, many of us are closer than ever before.

So to celebrate this season, Evansville Living asked Lexi Bailey, a talented baker in Newburgh, Indiana, to create a special white cake for our readers. Lexi chose a spice cake flavored with brown sugar and buttermilk, and dressed in a delectable cream cheese frosting. Artfully trimmed in glittered pine cones, snaps of fir trees, sugared cranberries, and an eye-catching drip glaze, the resulting white cake is simple, elegant, and the perfect centerpiece for your holiday table.

Although Lexi’s two-tiered cake was prepared in about five hours under her professional direction, she says bakers of any skill level can bring the accompanying recipe to life.

“Spice cake is warm and comforting, and perfect for winter,” she says. “It’s very easy to make, and it’s so versatile.”

To us, a white Christmas cake symbolizes comfort, kindness, and good cheer. We invite you to pull up a chair and enjoy this holiday treat with us.

From our family to yours, we wish you a happy, healthy holiday season, served with a delicious slice of white cake.

Brown Sugar Buttermilk Spice Cake

Recipe by Lexi Bailey of Lexi Bailey Baking

Ingredients

For the cake:
• 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
• 2 cups brown sugar
• 3 large eggs, room temperature
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2½ cups all-purpose flour
• ¼ cup cornstarch
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
• ½ teaspoon ground allspice
• ½ teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

For the frosting:
• 2 sticks plus 3 tablespoons butter,
softened
• 16 oz of cream cheese, softened
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 4-5 cups powdered sugar

Instructions

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper.* 

In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, cream the brown sugar and butter. Add vanilla and then eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, spices, and salt.

Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to batter, starting and ending with flour, mixing well, but not over-mixing.

Pour batter evenly into greased and floured pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cool completely on wire racks and then invert onto parchment paper. (Cling wrap-covered layers can also cool in the freezer for one hour prior to frosting.)

For the frosting:
In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and cream cheese until silky smooth. Add vanilla and mix on high approximately two minutes, or until fluffy. Add powdered sugar, half a cup at a time, until frosting is thick, smooth, and spreads easily. For a stiffer frosting, use the full amount of powdered sugar.

Fill and frost your cake as desired.

Note: For this cake, Lexi separated the batter between two 6-inch cake pans, let it cool, and then torted the two cakes to make four even layers of cake. If choosing to make two 6-inch layers, bake on 335 degrees for 40 minutes due to the layers’ thickness. This recipe could be baked in a double batch and used to make a tiered cake using 8-inch and 6-inch pans.

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