I loved this cake. I loved its perfectly imperfect messy abandon. I loved its sweet-tart Meyer cloud cream, made with the very last of my Meyer lemon stash, and generously dolloped between layers of cake. I loved those layers of cake: orange-zest-spiked, tender and moist, perfectly flat. I loved the droopy, thick & luscious cream cheese icing, made a glorious pinky-purple with a reduced beet purée, and I loved the finishing touch, a light sprinkle of homemade orange sugar, for color and swank and just that little extra sparkle. And I loved that it was glamorous, and just a little bit sophisticated, to celebrate the birthday of a nearly-grown-up-now girl of 10 whole years old.
And then: I drove to said 10 year-old girl’s house. And it all fell apart. Literally. Forty-five minutes and a cake’s lifetime away. And I did the Charlie Brown walk into the house, sad broken cake in hand.
Here is the problem when you are me: you like to invent. You get caught up in the flavors, the textures, the colors. You forget about things like portability (or, hell, slicability) or the fact that you don’t have a refrigerated car in which to transport a cake to a 10 year-old’s birthday party. On the drive across the county, as Tai was carefully avoiding potholes and slowing down for every curve, I turned to him and said: “I need to invent a cake box with an inertial dampener, such that the cake is held in perfect stasis until it reaches its destination.” He looked at me, rolled his eyes, and said, “Star Trek geek.” Guilty as charged. But I still want that cake box.
We served it in a bowl, my sad, broken cake. Complete with whipped cream from a can, to hide the sad, mangled edges, and 10 festive sparkler candles (which helped to distract us from the sad, broken top) . Kami’s 10 year-old face was still alive with delight when she saw those sparkling candles. The fact that her piece was delivered with a spoon rather than a knife didn’t seem to detract from its deliciousness. Her eyes bright and her smile wide, she whispered to her mom before heading off to bed, “We’ll get to have cake for breakfast!”
Layer cake adapted from Perfect Party Cake in Baking by Dorie Greenspan. Meyer curd & cloud cream adapted from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Icing adapted from Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting.
- two 8-inch round cake pans
- parchment paper
Citrus-Scented Layer Cake
- 10 ⅛ oz (2 ¼ cups) flour, sifted (I used half whole wheat pastry and half whole wheat 00 flour; cake or AP flour will work)
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 10 oz (1 ¼ cups) buttermilk (or whole milk)
- 4 large egg whites (4 ¼ oz)
- 12 oz (1 ½ cups) granulated sugar (organic evaporated cane juice)
- zest of 1 medium orange
- 4 oz (8 tbsp or 1 stick) butter, softened, plus extra to grease the pans
- ½ tsp lemon extract
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter the cake pans. Cut a parchment circle for the bottom of each pan, then butter the parchment.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour(s), baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg whites and buttermilk. In a large mixing bowl, combine orange zest and sugar. Rub between your palms until sugar is colored and slightly damp. Add butter and beat with an electric mixer until light, about 5 minutes. Beat in lemon extract. Add ⅓ of the flour mixture; mix on low speed until incorporated, then on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add half of the egg-buttermilk mixture; mix on high speed for 1 minute. Add another ⅓ of the flour mixture; mix as before. Add remaining egg-buttermilk mixture; mix on high speed for 1 minute. Add remaining flour mixture, beat on slow to incorporate, scrape down the bowl, then beat on high for 2 minutes to aerate and build structure.
- Scrape batter into prepared pans (about 20 oz each). Bake in the preheated oven until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in the pan, on wire racks, for 5 minutes, then scrape a thin spatula around the edges, de-pan the cake layers, remove the parchment, then invert and cool on racks right side up. Once completely cool, double-wrap in plastic wrap and store refrigerated or frozen until ready to assemble cake.
- 6 medium Meyer lemons (about 1 ½ lb)
- 8 large egg yolks (5 ¼ oz)
- 1 ¼ cup (8 ¾ oz) sugar (organic evaporated cane juice)
- 8 tbsp (4 oz or 1 stick) butter, cut into chunks
- large pinch sea salt
- 1 pint heavy cream
- Zest and juice the lemons. Microwave each zested lemon for 10 seconds prior to juicing to increase yield. Place zest in the bottom of a medium, heat-safe bowl; place a sieve on top of the bowl. Measure ¾ cup of juice.
- In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk egg yolks and 1 ¼ cup sugar until well blended. Stir in lemon juice, butter and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens to the consistency of hollandaise sauce and/or reaches 188 degrees F. Do not allow to boil: if steam appears, remove from heat briefly, stirring, until steam dissipates. Push through the sieve into the bowl with the zest, then gently fold in zest until uniform. Refrigerate to cool.
- To make cloud cream, add very cold cream to a chilled bowl suspended over another bowl half full of ice. Beat until the beater starts making tracks. Add 1 cup of Meyer lemon curd. Beat just until stiff peaks form – do not over beat. For best results, chill in the refrigerator prior to using
- 1 small beet, peeled and diced
- 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
- 6 oz butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
- ¼ tsp lemon extract
- about ½ lb powdered sugar, sifted
- To make reduced beet purée: add diced beet to a small saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat, cover and cook at a lively simmer until the beets are very soft, about 30 minutes. Strain beets, reserving cooking liquid, and add the the bowl of a food processor or blend. Process until you achieve a very fine purée (add 1 tbsp of cooking liquid if necessary to get things moving). Meanwhile, return the beet cooking liquid to the saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and continue to boil, reducing liquid down until it is syrupy and nearly gone. Add this reduced liquid to the purée and blend one more time. Set aside to cool.
- To make icing: With an electric mixer, cream the butter and cheese together. Add lemon extract, about half of the beet purée and about 1 cup of sugar. Beat well; taste and continue to add sugar and/or purée to reach the sweetness and color you desire. Remember that the cake and curd cream are rather sweet, so leave the icing a little on the less sweet side. This icing should be thick but slightly runny: chill overnight in the refrigerator to stiffen icing; warm to room temperature, or whisk for a minute or two, to loosen.
- 2 citrus-scented cake layers, chilled
- Meyer lemon curd, whipped with a fork to a spreadable consistency
- Meyer cloud cream, chilled
- beetroot cream cheese icing, chilled
- Using a long, serrated knife, slice each cake layer in half, horizontally, so that you have four cake layers, each about ¾-inch thick. For straight, even slices, I like to balance the tip end of the knife on a wine bottle cork that I slide along as I slice.
- Place bottom cake layer, cut side up, on a cake plate or cardboard cake circle. If assembling directly on a cake plate, slide strips of waxed paper underneath the bottom edges to protect from drips. If assembling on a cake turntable, use a cardboard cake circle for ease in moving assembled cake to the presentation plate. Spread bottom layer with Meyer lemon curd, then plop ⅓ of the cloud cream on in a thick layer and spread evenly. Top with the next cake layer, cut side down. Repeat process with Meyer curd and cloud cream until you place the top layer, cut side down. At this point, it’s a good idea to chill the cake, overnight if you can, before finishing with the beetroot icing.
- Pour spoonfuls of beetroot icing onto the middle of the top cake layer, spreading out to the edges in a circular fashion using the back of a spoon. Add a few layers, letting each chill and harden a bit if you have time, and allowing some to drip and droop down the sides of the cake. Garnish with orange sugar, colored sugar crystals, or flaked coconut.
- As duly noted above: this is not the cake to transport. In fact, I’m not even sure it would slice well, into actual triangle-shaped pieces. They would be delicious pieces; maybe not so neat, though.
- The overall combination was a bit sweet for my taste, though Kami and her Dad proclaimed it delicious. This was a new cake layer recipe, and I think I would cut down the sugar next time to something like 10 oz, or even with the amount of flour.
- This type of soft, whipped cream filling is probably a better bet for a 2-layer cake, to minimize the shifting and sliding potential of the layers. Live & learn.
Refrigerated. Unless you’re fond of sad, broken and soupy cake-in-a-bowl.
Year round. Um, winter. Deepest, darkest, coldest winter. I should rename this Castle Black Cake.