Lemon-Lemon Birthday Cake

A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of making a THIRD lemony layer cake for some friends of ours. John & Tracy got married back in 2014 and somehow ended up having me make their wedding cake and cupcakes. Through that process, I learned that Tracy LOVES lemon. LOVES it. Their two tier wedding cake was lemon on lemon. So, for their first anniversary, her sweet husband had me recreate the top tier as a surprise. Fast-forward to 2016 and he asked me once again to recreate the top tier, this time as a birthday surprise. So, of course I agreed – any reason to make cake!

I’ll share the recipe below, even though I forgot to take photos of the process. It’s pretty simple, though!

My one challenge was decorations. Their wedding was a really gorgeous, simple navy, white and pink theme. I don’t do a ton with fondant and fancy decorations, and thankfully they were happy with a “rustic” finish on the frosting and had their florist add some gorgeous pink flowers as the only real embellishment.

wedding cake

For their anniversary cake, I had a garden full of flowers, being that it was August. This time around, the garden was just getting going for the season. So, I looked to my happy, little pansies and I think they worked out pretty well.

Lemony Layer Cake – adapted from Sprinkles Bakes
makes one 6″ 3-layer cake

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flower
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of sea salt
1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp white vinegar
2 large eggs
2 tsp lemon extract
12 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease three 6″ round cake pans and line the bottom with a parchment circle.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In a 4-cup measure, stir together milk, vinegar, eggs and lemon extract; set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until fluffy and light; add sugar and beat until really well blended.
  5. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to butter on low and blend.
  6. Add 1/2 the liquid mixture on low and blend.
  7. Continue alternating adding flour and liquid to batter, ending with flour.
  8. Fill each pan with equal amounts of batter and bake 35-40 minutes, rotating pans halfway through for more even baking. Use cake tester or toothpick to check doneness and remove from oven when it comes out clean.
  9. Cool on wire rack for 10-15 minutes; turn out of pan to cool completely.
  10. Cake layers can be wrapped tightly and frozen. This actually makes frosting easier because you have less crumbs to deal with. Plus you’ll seal in the moisture as the cake layers defrost.

NOTE: I have ONE 6″ round cake pan. Not ideal, but I don’t make enough to have justified purchasing two more pans. I essentially filled the pan about 1/2-2/3 full, baked until done, let it cool 15 minutes, removed the cake to a cooling rack. I washed out the pan, greased and added more parchment and baked the remaining batter. This resulted in one cake I cut into 2 layers, and one cake I used for the third layer. In this case, it’s really important to keep an eye on your cakes because you want to make sure your larger cake is fully baked through, but doesn’t get too dried out. A delicate balance!

Lemony Vanilla Frosting
makes just enough frosting for the above cake

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg whites
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp lemon extract

  1. Using a paddle attachment, beat butter with vanilla extract. Remove bowl and paddle and replace with whisk attachment.
  2. Heat a double-boiler or small saucepan with 1-2″ water to simmer.
  3. Whisk together egg whites and sugar in the top of your double-boiler OR use a stand mixer bowl (I don’t have a double-boiler and I love using the stand mixer bowl in this case because the egg white/sugar mixture will need to be whisked afterward).
  4. Put egg white bowl over simmering water and whisk continuously until the sugar dissolves.
  5. Whip egg whites until they reach room temperature and stiff peaks form and you have a meringue, approximately 5 minutes.
  6. Add butter mixture 1-2 tbsp at a time to meringue and mix on medium until all butter has been added.
  7. Add lemon zest and extract and beat frosting on high for 10 minutes.
  8. You can either use the frosting immediately or store it in the fridge. Meringue frostings can be easily rewhipped to lovely frosting consistency, but they will try to fool you. If you take your frosting out and attempt to whip it right away, it may very well curdle and start getting running and separating. It can be depressing, but wait! Your frosting is not ruined! Simply take about 1/3 of it and microwave to melt. Use your stand or electric mixer to whisk the melted frosting back in and watch it return to fluffy deliciousness. This frosting can also be frozen.

Lemon Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small pan and bring to a boil.
  2. Simmer until sugar dissolves completely.
  3. Cool and store in refrigerator.

NOTE: Simple syrup can be made with a wide variety of flavorings; try mint leaves, vanilla beans, citrus zest, ginger, basil, thyme…go nuts! It can be used for everything from tossing with fruit, to keeping your cake from going dry to mixing up fun cocktails.

Assembling the cake it pretty simple.

  1. Use a serrated knife to slice 3 equal layers of cake.
  2. Place first layer on a cake circle and brush on some simple syrup.
  3. Add a layer of frosting and top with second layer of cake.
  4. Brush simple syrup on second cake layer and add another layer of frosting.
  5. Add third cake layer and frost the entire cake with a thin crumb-coat.
  6. Refrigerate the cake to harden the crumb-coat and then add your final layer of frosting.
  7. Done!



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