April 4, 2012.
Spring has sprung! Literally. About a month early, at least here in the mid-Atlantic. And when I think of spring, I think of lemon cake. That’s right, lemon cake. I don’t think of baseball training camps, or Peeps, or pastel-colored eggs, or cherry blossoms, or that gigantic upright-walking rabbit. No, I think of lemon cake in all its yellow-y, zesty sweetness. So, imagine how ecstatic I was when searching for a perfect, new lemon cake recipe and I came across this one: lemon cake with fresh raspberry buttercream. Hallelujah!
The recipe calls for making the cake using two, nine inch cake pans. Not having any of those, priority one was a trip to Sur La Table to procure said pans. I ended up with Sur La Table’s own new (oooh) and exclusive (ahhh) Platinum Professional pans which, I am happy to say, are made in the good ‘ol U.S. of A. (Pittsburgh, to be exact) using 65 percent recycled steel. How could I not buy these? These commercial-quality pans also have a nonstick silicone coating. So, even though the recipe called for lightly coating the pans with baking spray and lining them with parchment paper, I was feeling a bit daredevilish and only coated the pans with a light amount of baking spray. You have to take risks in life sometimes.
The cake is similar to a basic 1234 (yellow) cake with the addition of lemon zest and lemon juice. It came together quickly and easily despite one small mistake on my part. Step two of the recipe suggests, but it is not necessary, pulsing together one and one-half cups of the total one and three-fourths cups sugar, with the one-half remaining cup of sugar to be used when whipping the eggs for the meringue. Oops. I pulsed together all of the sugar and the lemon zest, so I didn’t have any “clean” sugar left to whip with the eggs. The meringue turned out seemingly fine, so I didn’t worry about it too much. Reminder to self: always read recipe slowly and at least three times.
Final step of making the batter: folding the whipped egg whites (meringue) into the batter. Notice the dark yellow color? Courtesy of farm fresh eggs from chickens raised by my friend, Carol, who runs Pot Pie Farm in Wittman, MD.
Since the cake pans used were larger (nine inch), the batter filled each pan only about half way up the two inch side. Although, in theory, the recipe should have accounted for filling up the pans to a higher level. At any rate, I wasn’t too concerned about this at the time as the cakes rose while baking (good). But, then, they fell when removed from the oven (bad), so the final cakes were back to the original one inch height of the batter. This was going to result in a pretty wimpy-looking frosted cake if I didn’t do some quick thinking. Based on some Google research and a conversation with a knowledgeable person, as it turns out, I think I made a couple of crucial mistakes while baking the cake: I opened the oven a couple of times (cakes do not like this) and I moved the pans around once (cakes really do not like this). Oops.
Next up was making the fresh raspberry Italian meringue buttercream. If you’ve read any of my past posts from the pastry techniques course I took, you might remember that making Italian meringue buttercream can be scary stuff. This type of buttercream involves heating sugar to softball stage, which is 238 degrees Fahrenheit, and subsequently adding that very hot sugar into whipped egg whites, thereby creating the meringue. Done correctly, you’re a superstar. Done incorrectly, not so much. The biggest issue is making sure the sugar reaches the correct stage and temperature. Thankfully, they make tools known as candy thermometers to help with this. I’m happy to report that the meringue came out fine as did the buttercream, so I guess, technically, I’m a superstar. You know I’m just kidding. (Or am I?)
With the cake done and the buttercream done, it was assembly time. As I mentioned, I was pretty certain that just putting together the two cakes with only one layer of frosting between, as directed by the recipe, I would end up with one short little cake and not a cake I’d be proud to take to a dinner party. Enter my quick thinking. I figured if I sliced each cake in half and slathered buttercream between those layers, I’d have a shot at a cake with a more normal height. I followed the technique I learned in the pastry course, which is to run the knife around the edge while rotating the cake and gradually moving the knife toward the center. It worked like a charm. Granted my layers were layers similar to those of Smith Island cakes, but now wasn’t a time to get fussy and particular. I had a cake to build.
In addition to making four layers, my quick thinking came up with the idea to put raspberry jam between one of the layers for a little something different. I’m not sure it helped the height any, but visually it was interesting and gave the cake another dimension.
The finished cake ended up being about four inches tall, which all, told, wasn’t too bad. I would have liked it to be about another inch or so, but it was what it was. I also had about one and half cups of buttercream left over. I thought that with the extra layers, I would have had barely enough. However, I’m a bit skittish when it comes to (over) icing cakes, so that may have been the problem. All told, I was happy with the end result and would happily make this cake again as well as recommend it. I think the recipe could be used to make great cupcakes, too.
Now, I present to you: Lemon cake with fresh raspberry buttercream.
And just in case you’re wondering…
Well? Pretty close, I’d say. The recipe can be found on Serious Eats.
Hello, Spring. You can arrive early any year.