Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lemon Lust Cake

I didn't name it, okay? I did make it for our latest office birthday. I've been slacking a little in that department, not having the time or energy to really go all out in terms of cakes, but this time I was determined to do something worthwhile. I had noted this recipe in my first cruise through the book, and since our group includes several lemon lovers, thought it would be a good candidate. It met with rave reviews--one group member thought it was my best yet--and the leftovers disappeared with their usual rapidity.

This cake involved two things I have never done before: making lemon curd, and slicing cake layers. I am always terrified by custards, even though I haven't ruined one yet, and I didn't ruin this one, either (it was really, really lemony, though -- almost too much to eat straight). I have also always been certain that I would ruin a cake if I tried to slice it, but there was no getting around it with this one, so I found my ruler and my serrated knife and went at it with my heart in my throat. Slow and easy did the trick; I scored about a half inch all the way around the cake, then went around again a little bit deeper, again and again until it was all the way through.

Note that there are a lot of steps involved in making this cake. For once, I was sensible and broke the project up; I made the lemon curd and the cake layers over the weekend, froze the latter, then assembled the cake Wednesday night. For transport, I put it into my sturdy plastic cake carrier, then put that into a box and stuffed things around it so it wouldn't shift during the drive.

Lemon Curd
8 large egg yolks
1 1/4 c granulated sugar
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3/4 c freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1/2 c unsalted butter, cut into Tbsp chunks
  1. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl and set aside. In a medium heavy nonreactive saucepan, whisk together the yolks and sugar until blended. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, salt, and butter, and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens (7-10 minutes--do not let it boil, or it will curdle). It should leave a path on the back of a wooden spoon when you draw your finger across it. Immediately strain the mixture through a sieve, pressing it through with a rubber spatula.
  2. Set the bowl containing the mixture in a larger bowl filled about 1/3 with ice water (be careful that the water doesn't splash into the lemon mixture). Stir frequently until it is slightly chilled, about 15 minutes. Cover the surface of the curd with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
Makes two cups, the amount needed for this cake. You can store the curd in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

Lemon Cake
3 c cake flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 c granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/4 c strained freshly squeezed lemon juice
2/3 c whole milk
  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Grease and flour the bottoms of two 9-inch cake pans. (NOTE: I lined them with parchment paper as well, because I was absolutely terrified that they might stick regardless.)
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Whisk to combine, and set aside. 
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and beat at high speed until well blended and light, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the lemon zest and juice. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the milk in two additions, and mixing just until blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the tops.
  4. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until they are golden brown around the edges and a tester come out clean. Cool in the pans on racks for 15 minutes. 
  5. Invert the cake onto wire racks and let cool completely. 
Lemon Cream Cheese Filling
3/4 c heavy cream
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c lemon curd (half of above recipe)
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream at high speed until firm peaks form. Transfer to a smaller bowl, cover, and refrigerate. 
  2. In the same mixer bowl (no need to wash it), using the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until very creamy, about 2 minutes. On low speed, beat in the vanilla extract. Add the lemon curd and beat at medium speed until well blended and smooth, about 1 minute. Remove the bowl and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the whipped cream until almost completely blended. Cover the bowl and refrigerate while you make the syrup and buttercream. (The filling can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to one day.)
Lemon Soaking Syrup
1/2 c water
1/4 c freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 c granulated sugar
  1. In a small saucepan, combine the ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Set aside at room temperature. 
Lemon Buttercream
1 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
1 c lemon curd (half of above recipe)
Pinch of salt
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy and light, about 2 minutes. At medium speed, gradually add the lemon curd, a large spoonful at a time, then add the salt and beat at medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 1/2 minutes. Set aside at room temperature while you assemble the cake.

  1. Using a serrated knife, trim the domed tops of the cakes so they are even (NOTE: I did not have to do this, for once my layers did not dome -- but I think I underbaked them slightly.)
  2. Cut each cake horizontally into two layers. Reserve one of the flat bottom layers for the top of the cake.
  3. Place a layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or serving plate. Generously brush with lemon syrup. Spoon a scant cup of filling onto the cake and, using a small offset spatula, spread it into an even layer, leaving a 1/2 border aroundthe edge.
  4. Top with another cake layer and brush with more syrup. Top with another scant cup of filling. Repeat with another layer, more syrup, and the remaining filling. Brush the reserved layer with syrup and place, cut side down, on top of the cake.
  5. Frost the sides and top of the cake with lemon buttercream. Serve or refrigerate. If refrigerated, let stand at room temperature 45 minutes before serving. (Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.)
Well worth the effort for you lemon lovers out there.