Dear baking world,
One word: birthdays. Anybody who is a baker knows what that word means. It means an excuse to make a delicious baked good rather than just “I really wanted fresh homemade cookie dough to eat” (which happened on Thursday and I ate more cookie dough than actual cookies).
So who’s birthday is it? Well, my best friend and roommate of course. I wouldn’t go to such lengths to make a layered cake if it wasn’t for her and if it wasn’t because I love her so much. And, I have posted two lemon cakes/cupcakes in the past month, but I promise you, there is a long-winded explanation.
See, Kristina is easy to figure out. She doesn’t like too sweet. She doesn’t like those kind of desserts where you layer Oreos and Reese’s in a brownie because that’s too much (I totally agree with her. Simplicity, fellow bakers, is a more is less type thing). And, oh yeah, she goes absolutely gaga over citrus anything. I’ve never seen anyone eye a lemon cupcake the way she did; it was the way a predator eyes prey or the way I eye a burger. And so I had to make her a lemon layer cake because a birthday isn’t complete without lots of layers.
The cake itself is absolutely divine. It’s one of my favorite cake recipes of all time, but I worked some magic on it, and a little bit of chemistry, and came up with a cupcake that absolutely upped the ante from it’s lesser cousin. How did I do this? Science time!
This recipe does not have any baking soda and only baking powder in it? Why? Because Buddy’s recipe doesn’t have any acids. Baking soda is only required in a recipe when acids are present. For example, a recipe made with buttermilk instead of whole milk will have baking soda; with only baking powder, the cake would not rise because the acidity of the buttermilk would neutralize the little amount of baking soda in the baking powder and you have a flat mess.
So I worked a little magic and followed Shirley Corriher’s rule: add 1/4 tsp. of baking soda per cup of flour. Any more baking soda is way too much. What happens if you put in more baking soda? Your cake will be over-leavened. Rule of thumb: more baking soda does not mean fluffier cakes. In fact, too much baking soda makes too many bubbles that quickly escape from the cake during baking and leaves you with a flatter, less fluffy cake.
In order to add baking soda, I also had to add in acid, which is where buttermilk comes in. I replaced the whole milk with buttermilk. Then, I added a little bit of lemon juice (which is also acidic) and voila! My cake baked perfectly in the oven and based on my test cupcake, tasted absolutely fan-freaking-tastic. It was moist, flavorful, dense and had a hint of lemon. Perfection.
The final touch was lemon curd and some cream cheese frosting. I absolutely adore lemon curd. There is a bakery in Eau Claire that is old-fashioned and makes a mean lemon sponge cake with a generous layer of lemon curd. I had to duplicate that in my own kitchen, so I did. This recipe does not require straining, and the author explains it in this article.
And finally, lemon cream cheese frosting. There’s nothing like it. And we all know that cream cheese frosting makes me pass out every time I eat it, but in the best way possible.
Happy baking, and please, make this cake. It’s amazing.
P.s. Happy 21st birthday, Kristina! ❤
- For the cake:
- 2 ½ cups cake flour
- 2 cups sugar
- ¾ cups vegetable oil
- 2 ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 2/3 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice (preferably fresh)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 extra large eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup buttermilk
- (lemon curd and cream cheese frosting recipes below)
- For the lemon curd:
- 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolks
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
- For the frosting:
- 4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
- 4 oz. butter, room temperature
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- a dash of vanilla
- a dash of lemon zest (freshly grated)
- a dash of lemon juice (to your taste)
- For the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Put the flour, sugar, vegetable oil, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla and salt in a large bowl. Mix on slow for a few seconds or just until the ingredients are blended together then raise the speed to low-medium and continue to mix until smooth, approximately 1 additional minute.
- Add 1 egg at a time, adding the next one after the previous one has been absorbed into the mixture. Stop the motor periodically and scrape the bowl from the bottom with a rubber spatula to integrate ingredients, and return the mixer to low-medium speed.
- After all the eggs are added, add the lemon juice.
- Then, continue to mix for an additional minute to ensure the eggs have been thoroughly mixed in. This will help guarantee that the sugar is dissolved and that the flour has been thoroughly mixed in, which will help produce a luxurious mouth-feel in the final cake.
- Add the milk, 1/2 cup at a time, stopping the motor to scrape the sides and bottom between the two additions. Continue to mix for another minute or until the mixture appears smooth.
- Bake for 25-28 minutes, or until a toothpick to the center comes out clean.
- For the lemon curd:
- In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer, about 2 min. Slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for 1 min. Mix in the lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled, but it will smooth out as it cooks.
- In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth. (The curdled appearance disappears as the butter in the mixture melts.) Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes. It should leave a path on the back of a spoon and will read 170°F on a thermometer. Don’t let the mixture boil.
- Remove the curd from the heat; stir in the lemon zest. Transfer the curd to a bowl.
- Press plastic wrap on the surface of the lemon curd to keep a skin from forming and chill the curd in the refrigerator. The curd will thicken further as it cools.
- Then, place a generous amount (or however much you desire) on top of the first layer of cake and spread out.
- Layer the second layer.
- For the frosting:
- Cream the cream cheese and butter.
- Add the powdered sugar. (Add more until it is to your desired taste.)
- Add vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice.
- Adjust the frosting further to your taste.
- Spread onto layer cake. Add as much or as little as you desire.