"It's pretty. And it looks delicious. But don't you think it's a little... um... girlie? For the Super Bowl, I mean."
I was putting the finishing touches on a lemon layer cake, one of two desserts I was bringing to a Super Bowl party at our friends' house. And my husband was watching with a conflicted look on his face.
On the one hand, he loves my cakes. Especially when I frost them with Swiss meringue buttercream, his favorite. On the other hand, this was the Super Bowl. Football! Chicken Wings! Beer! And... lemon layer cake?
"I think it looks nice," I replied. Of course it was pretty. Of course it was girlie. 'Cause, I'm a girl! Not only that, but I love baking and cooking so much that I take pictures of my food and then write about it. Which may be a little strange, admittedly, but I can't help myself. Hi, my name is Dawn and I'm a food blogger. Have we met?
I teased him, "Don't you like the lemon curls I put on top?" He tried a different approach. "Oh. Yeah! The lemons look great! I love the lemons. But, well... maybe you could pipe the teams' logos in frosting? That would be cool." Okay, he had a point there. That would have been pretty cool. Only I was out of frosting and we were literally getting ready to walk out the door. Did he really want me to whip up another batch of Swiss meringue buttercream just to make a fleur-de-lys and horseshoe for my cake?
"No, Dawn, don't do that. We're already late." He hesitated momentarily. Then, "hey - I've got an idea! Hold on a sec. Here, you can use these," he said, handing me a package of plastic football and goal post appetizer picks left over from a Super Bowl party we hosted a couple years ago. (Apparently, we never throw anything away.) Sigh. "Okay, Randy. But can I at least take one more picture?"
Lemon Layer Cake
Don't be put off by the length of this recipe. Although there are multiple steps, the components (cake, filling, frosting) are fairly simple can be made over the course of a few days if you like. If you've canned your lemon curd ahead of time, this cake is even easier. I like to bake my cake layers and flash-freeze them at least one day in advance, since they are easier to slice when frozen. Lastly, we needn't have worried about this cake being too girlie for the Superbowl. The men in attendance practically fawned over it, and there wasn't a single slice left by the time the game ended. Touchdown!
Makes one two-layer, 9-inch round cake.
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
scant 2 tablespoons baking powder
heaping 1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 3/4 sticks (scant 7 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temp
1 1/8 cups buttermilk
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter bottom and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.
Combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to blend. Add the butter and 1 cup of the buttermilk. Mix on low speed briefly to blend, then increase speed to medium and beat until the batter is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.
In a separate, medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and remaining 1/8 cup buttermilk until well blended. Pour one-third of the egg mixture into the cake batter at a time, folding it just enough to completely blend after each addition. There will be 6 cups of batter. Pour 3 cups of batter into each pan.
Bake for 26 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in pans for 10 minutes.
Turn the layers out onto wire cooling racks, peel off the paper liners and cool completely. Once cooled, the cake layers can be individually wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for several days. Or, you can do what I did: wrap in 2-3 layers of plastic, and store layers in the freezer until ready to use (up to one month). Placing cake boards or cardboard between the layers helps to hold their shape.
Make the filling: Lemon Curd
I used my own lemon curd recipe, previously featured on this site. You will need 1 1/2 half-pint jars (equivalent to 1 1/2 cups) of curd to fill the cake. If you want to make only enough lemon curd for this cake, here are the measurements and directions:
1/2 cup + 1/8 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 stick)
2 large eggs, beaten (*tip: alternatively, you could use the 4 yolks leftover from your buttercream recipe in place of the two whole eggs)
Finely grate the zest of the lemons into a medium saucepan. Squeeze juice from the lemons. You should have around 1/3-1/2 cup of juice. Add lemon juice to the saucepan, along with the sugar. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the pan.
Set the pan over low heat, and stir until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Strain eggs through a fine-mesh sieve into the lemon mixture. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly. As the mixture begins to steam, it will thicken, take on a creamy consistency, and coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat. Cool. If not using right away, store in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to a week.
Make the frosting: Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Perfect as is, from Smitten Kitchen
Although many of my recipes are adaptable to be dairy-free, I do not recommend using all margarine as a substitute in this recipe. I tried it... once. Even after 45 minutes of whipping, the frosting never did come together (*sniff*). If you must, sub in no more than one stick of margarine for one of the butter sticks. Trust me on this one.
Makes enough to frost the top and sides of a two-layer, 9-inch cake (plus some extra, for piping).
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks + 2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers, just a few minutes.
Wipe the underside of the bowl dry with a towel. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. (Or, if you're using a hand-mixer like me, just whip in the same bowl.)
Add the vanilla and mix briefly.
Finally, add the butter a stick at a time and whip until the frosting comes together and resembles the consistency of mayonnaise. (I second Deb's sentiment that this sounds gross but is actually a-maz-ing for frosting cakes.) If not using right away, refrigerate in a tightly sealed container for no more than a few days. For best results, allow buttercream to return to room temperature before frosting your cake.
(Note: Deb says she panicked when the frosting turned soupy after adding the butter and then took a long time to come together. Except for my initial margarine failure, I have never had that problem. It always comes together right away for me - thank goodness! If you have trouble, try cooling the mixture by placing in the freezer for a few minutes or putting the bowl on ice, then whip, whip, whip again. It will come together, eventually.)
Assemble the Cake!
1. Level cake layer tops if necessary. Cut each layer in half horizontally; you will have a total of four layers. Place the bottom half of one cake layer cut-side up on serving plate or cake stand. (tip: Place overlapping squares of waxed or parchment paper on your serving plate prior to setting down the first layer. Remove paper after cake is fully assembled and frosted. Voila! Your cake plate will be perfectly clean.)
2. Pipe a ring of buttercream atop the layer (see photos above). Spoon approximately 1/2 cup of lemon curd onto the cake, then spread outward to just meet the buttercream piping.
3. Place the top half of the layer cut-side down on top of the first. Repeat step 2.
4. Place bottom half of second cake layer cut-side up on top of the first two layers. Repeat step 2.
5. Place the top half of the second layer cut-side down on top of the first. Frost entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream. This is called a "crumb coat" - see photos above. Refrigerate briefly until set, about 5-10 minutes (or longer, say, if you need some time to shower and get dressed before a Superbowl party).
6. Remove cake from fridge and frost with remaining buttercream.
Assembled cake will remain perfectly delicious and lovely at room temperature for several hours, and for that reason, this recipe is a great choice for parties. I imagine you could store this cake in the fridge, covered in plastic wrap, for 2-3 days. But since ours didn't last the night, I've not yet tested that theory.