Growing up we were like most immigrant families – money was meant to be saved and not wasted. A trip to Roy Rogers or Pizza Hut was a special outing when we did especially well in school, there was no brand new back to school wardrobe every year, and toys were only bought on birthdays and Eid (Muslim holiday that occurs twice a year). That’s not to say that my parents didn’t do their part either. To this day I don’t think my mom has ever paid full price for anything, and a coffee from Starbucks is still an extravagant treat. The only thing that they ever really splurged on was a trip to visit family in Pakistan every other Summer.
Now I know people have summer homes in the Hamptons or family reunions in North Carolina or trips to Disneyland, but I wouldn’t trade our Pakistan trips for anything. Sleeping under the stars trying to catch a breeze on the rooftop veranda or running around with our cousins splashing each other with buckets of water in the hot afternoon sun… these were my summer days. And if I close my eyes, the immediate taste that fills my mouth is that of mangos. Bright, sweet, incredibly cold mangos.
See, my mom’s side of the family essentially own farms that grow grains. Whenever harvest season came around, the lot would be divided amongst family, bags to sell, and those to give away to friends. Now some of those friends own their own farms – mango farms. So when summer rolled around, my grandmother would get crates and crates full of fresh mangos just waiting to be cut into and devoured. But even after we pickled bottles and bottles, and all my aunts and uncles, cousins, and people who worked for my grandmother ate their fill… there were still hundreds of mangos left over. Those that we couldn’t finish, we froze. And those frozen mango cubes would make the BEST mango milkshakes and lassis.
I don’t know if it was a deliberate feeling or an unconscious effort to try and recreate that taste, but somehow that’s what this cake ended up being. My mother in law had a box full of ripe beautiful mangos that needed to be used up, and I had a cake that needed a fruit filling. So I split open my vanilla cake, whipped up a batch of vanilla frosting, added in chopped up mangos, and frosted the outside in a bright ombre design. Simple and straight forward. A cake that I hope my grandmother would agree tasted like a summer day in Sindh.
*Update* – This post can work with any of your favorite vanilla cake and vanilla frosting recipes. You can even use boxed mixed! However, I’ve included my go to vanilla cake recipe for those interested. I still haven’t found my ‘IT factor’ vanilla frosting, but for this recipe I used one from the Sweetapolita blog.
Technique – bake two round cakes and let them cool completely. Place cakes in the freezer for about 30 minutes. This helps them stiffen up a bit so it’s easier to cut. Even out the tops of the cakes by cutting off the top mound. Then slice both cakes through the middle so you are left with 4 round cakes.
In a bowl, mix a little over 1/3 of your frosting with mango chunks. For this cake I used 2 mangos. Slather 1/3 of the mango + frosting mixture onto of your bottom cake round, and top with a second cake round. Do this another 2 times so you have a total of 4 cake rounds stacked, with three layers of frosting. Place the whole cake in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes so the frosting firms up a bit, then cover the outside and top with the 2/3 frosting that we set aside. The bright coral / peach / orange colors came from food coloring that I added to the vanilla frosting that covers the cake. That’s it!
- 5 large egg whites (room temp!)
- 1 cup whole milk (room temp!)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups sifted cake flour
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temp, cut into cubes)
- Set oven rack in middle position. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray; line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper rounds. If you don't have the spray, butter the pans, dust the pans with flour, and invert pans and rap sharply to remove excess flour.
- Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into 2-cup glass measure, and mix with fork until blended. If the mixture still feels cooler than room temp, microwave it for 15 seconds. Be sure not to overdo it because they eggs will start to cook.
- Sift cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into bowl of electric mixer and mix at slow speed for a few seconds. Add butter; continue beating at slow speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs, sort of like cornmeal or sand.
- Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to flour sugar mixture and beat at medium speed (or high speed if using handheld mixer) for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add remaining 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl.
- Divide batter evenly between two prepared cake pans; using rubber spatula, spread batter to pan walls and smooth tops. Arrange pans at least 3 inches from the oven walls and 3 inches apart. (If oven is small, place pans on separate racks in staggered fashion to allow for air circulation.) Bake until thin skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 - 32 minutes.
- Let cakes rest in pans for 3 minutes. Loosen from sides of pans with a knife, if necessary, and invert onto wire racks. Reinvert onto additional wire racks. Let cool completely, about 1 hour.
- Wrap tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 2 months. Best eaten the same day as baked. Must be served at room temp.