Yesterday was Nate’s birthday, and I wanted to make him a cake. He suggested something lemony with cream cheese icing, so I came up with a layer cake filled with lemon curd and covered in white chocolate cream cheese icing. Sounds good, right?
In theory, it was good. It looked good. In reality, it could have been better in several ways. One thing is for sure, this cake was SWEET. Holy sugar headache, Batman!
Sometimes I get a little over-enthusiastic about trying something new, in that I start trying to re-invent the wheel. I Googled “lemon layer cake” and came up with several tried and true recipes (many of which used a 1-2-3-4 cake as a base), but did I go for one of them? Nope, I wanted to do it differently – better, I was hoping.
For some reason I got stuck on finding a cake recipe that didn’t use too many eggs (2 was okay, but 3 was too many, apparently?) and would fit into two 8 inch round pans, even though when I finally got my pans out of the cupboard they were 9 inches (*sigh*). I ended up using this white cake recipe from Joy of Baking… it didn’t go super well. It was kind on labour intensive, what with all the egg white beating and folding, and I didn’t have any cream of tartar, which is supposed to help the egg whites retain their air and volume. I also somehow managed to add 1 cup of milk instead of 1/2 cup to the batter. The cakes barely rose at all in the oven, but they smelled heavenly, and when I split them in half to inspect them, they seemed to be fine – a bit on the dense side, but not hard or dry, which I was kind of expecting. I ended up using them because I didn’t really want to waste all that cake and start over, but in retrospect, a lighter, airier cake would have been much better.
I filled the cake with the lemon curd recipe I got from my Uncle Mike, which is really delicious and tangy and sweet, perfect to spread on scones with thickened cream. However, in this application, it was perhaps not the best choice – it was a bit of lemony overkill. It would have been fine if I was just using a light spread of lemon curd and filling the cake with, say, whipped cream or something – but on it’s own as a filling it was a bit much. I’ve noticed that some lemon curd recipes contain cream, which would sort of mellow out the lemon tang and make it a little more suitable for a cake filling – next time! I used frozen egg yolks to make it, which made no difference to the finished product, but required tweaking the method a bit. Frozen egg yolks get this weird, gelatinous consistency that makes them hard to blend into anything, so I had to use an immersion blender to combine the egg yolks with the melted butter, sugar, and lemon juice. It also took about half an hour of cooking (and constant whisking!!) for the stuff to thicken to the right consistency, which I’m not sure is due to the frozen yolks or what. Regardless of all this, I’m still going to share the recipe, because it is delicious.
A lot of the lemon layer cakes that I looked at were frosted with Seven Minute Frosting, giving them kind of a lemon meringue/marshmallow flavour. Next time I’m totally doing that, and I’m going to toast it with a blowtorch, kind of like this. This time, I made a white chocolate cream cheese frosting from the rebar cookbook, which is super delicious, but again, super sweet. rebar pairs it with their carrot-coconut cake (which is TO DIE FOR!) and the sweetness of the frosting pairs well with the less-sweet cake. But with this lemon cake thing, it was overkill.
And then, because I hadn’t already experimented enough, I decided to top the whole thing off with candied lemon slices. These actually worked pretty well and looked awesome. The lemon slices end up soft (thanks to a good drenching in simmering sugar syrup) and are totally edible (rind and all) with kind of a marmalade flavour. I would make these again for sure, so I’m sharing the recipe here as well.
So overall, this cake was a learning experience. It looked nice and tasted okay, but next time I will definitely go with a fluffier, lighter cake, a less intense, creamier lemon curd, and Seven Minute Frosting. Or maybe I could just follow someone else’s recipe!?
Recipe from my Uncle Mike; not sure of the original source. For a rich, yellow colour, try to use free-range or pastured eggs – the yolks are usually yellower (and higher in nutrients!). The recipe calls for both lemon juice and lemon zest – to make it easier on yourself, zest the lemons before you juice them! Makes about 1 1/4 cups.
Melt 1/2 cup unsalted butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat (do not allow it to bubble, just melt). Remove from heat and whisk in:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 1/2 lemons worth)
3 tbsp lightly packed lemon zest (about 2 lemons worth)
pinch of salt
Whisk in 6 large egg yolks until smooth (use an immersion blender if using frozen egg yolks). Return the pan to medium-low heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and turns slightly darker and glossy (5 – 6 minutes, or up to 30 with frozen egg yolks!).
To check the consistency, dip a wooden spoon in the mixture and draw your finger across the back of the spoon: it is ready when the spoon is thickly coated and your finger leaves a well-defined path. Don’t let the mixture boil.
Immediately force the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, using a rubber spatula. Let cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally (I skipped this step). Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Candied Lemon Slices
The original recipe calls for one lemon; I used one and a half and probably could have used two for the amount of sugar syrup. Or, you could easily use half the amount of syrup in a smaller pot and still get away with using a whole lemon. Modified from my trusted friend Martha.
Slice 1 lemon into 1 millimeter thick slices, discarding the seeds and ends.
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and add the lemon slices for about 1 minute, until softened and slightly translucent. Drain.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, make a sugar syrup of 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water and bring to a boil.When the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is clear and bubbling, reduce heat to medium low and add the lemon slices. Try to spread them out evenly. Simmer (do not let it boil) for about 1 hour, moving the slices around every so often, until the rinds are translucent.
Transfer the slices to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet until ready to use.