by David Fisco
25 April 2016
Word count: 787
Dessert | Baking

I’ve always had a lot of requests for champagne cakes. So, I made them, but I was never completely satisfied with the resulting product. To me, the cake contained a lot of unnecessary flavors from the champagne, including a beer-like taste, presumably from the alcohol. At the end of 2015, I read Dave Arnold’s excellent book Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail. In this book, master chef Arnold describes developing beverages using acids isolated from champagne. This approach has proven very popular in his Manhattan bar Booker and Dax. This made me wonder if these culinary acids could also be used in cakes. So I ran some labs on it and what follows is a successful recipe from those labs.

This cake is a bit tart, but not in a lemony way. If you’d prefer something sweeter without the Campari, try Strawberry “Champagne” Cake

  • 4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • .25 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 cups (384 grams) sugar, divided
  • 3 cups (336 grams) cake flour, sifted
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or .5 teaspoon of table salt)
  • 1 teaspoon tartaric acid (I use New England Cheesemaking Company.)
  • 1 teaspoon lactic acid (I use Milliard.)
  • 2 Tablespoons Campari

Heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease or spray two 9”x3” round baking pans and set them aside.

Put the four egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a metal whip. Whip the egg whites on medium-high speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and whip on medium-high to high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add .25 cup (48 grams) of the white sugar and whip on medium-high to high speed until firm, glossy peaks form. Do not allow the egg whites to become dry. Place the egg whites in a bowl large enough for folding. Rinse and dry your mixer’s bowl.

Fit your mixer with the paddle attachment. Combine the sifted cake flour and baking powder in the mixer’s bowl. Turn the mixer on at its lowest setting and allow the ingredients to mix for 3 minutes.

Add the canola oil and allow it to combine with the flour on the mixer’s lowest setting. Continue until the oil has coated all the flour.

Add the four egg yolks and stir until combined with the flour and canola oil.

In a small bowl, combine the milk, salt, tartaric acid, lactic acid and Campari. Stir until the acids are completely dissolved. This may take over a minute of stirring. The milk will curdle due to the acids; this is normal.

On low speed, alternate mixing the milk mixture and the remaining 1.75 cups (336 grams) of sugar into the batter.

When the batter has taken all the liquid and sugar, turn off the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl to make sure everything is mixed. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and allow it to beat for three minutes.

Stir .25 cup of the egg whites into the mixer bowl to lighten the batter. Fold the batter, in thirds, into the egg whites. Be careful to deflate the egg whites as little as possible.

Divide the batter evenly between your pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack in the baking pans for 10 minutes, then remove the cake layers from the pans and cool on a wire rack until room temperature.


  • 7 Tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 cups whole milk
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1.5 teaspoons Campari
  • 1.5 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1.5 cup (288 grams) white sugar

Put the flour and milk in a sturdy saucepan. Using a fork or hand whisk, whisk over medium heat until it thickens to a pudding-like consistency. It will pull away from the sides and bottom of the saucepan when it is cooked. Remove from heat, place it in a heat-proof container and allow it to cool to room temperature (you can use the refrigerator to speed this up). When cool, stir in the vanilla and Campari.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 8 minutes. It must be light, fluffy and not grainy.

Add the cooled flour mixture, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until the frosting has a consistency between whipped cream and mashed potatoes.

Reduce the mixer to lowest speed and beat for 5 minutes. This will deflate the frosting to make it easier to spread.


  • 8 ounces (by weight) of your favorite seedless strawberry preserves