I haven’t been doing too much cooking lately. It’s been too hectic. My beloved “empty nest” imploded. My two youngest moved back home for the summer, and brought with them all their stuff, most of it unwashed and unsorted. One of them brought a living and breathing human house guest for the summer, and had other friends stay with us for upwards of a week, too. The other one had frequent overnight guests, four or five a week. Then my elder daughter, her son and boyfriend moved in for a week, out for a week, then back for three weeks, then finally they moved into the house seven houses down. They drop in at least twice a day, dropping off and picking up my grandson. Borrowing my mixer. Picking up some boxes they left in the garage. Checking out the contents of the refrigerator. Then our house guest left. Then my younger daughter left, too. She went to Ghana. Yes, Ghana, Africa. Not all her stuff fit into the two suitcases she was allowed to take. She packed 93.7 lbs of stuff into those two suitcases. She left her other ton of belongings here, unwashed and unsorted. Tomorrow my son moves out and into an apartment with three other boys, four hours from here. He was going to go today, but not all his laundry is done. All of his laundry may never be done. He’s taking most of his stuff with him. And a lot of my stuff, too. Plus I’ve been trying to teach him how to cook before he goes. I can’t have him starving to death or trying to survive on convenience foods…
So, cooking for me has been down low on my list, but cookbook club sent out an e-vite. It was time for a “Signature Cake” meeting. I had to start cooking, and it had to be good, and it was probably going to have to be a little bit complicated. A “Signature Cake”, as I see it, is show-y cake, one that we might become known for (remembered for?!), a special cake our family and friends might look forward to–even ask for–on birthdays and occasions; a from scratch layer cake, with a filling, and a frosting. I had seen the recipe for “Lemon Layer Cake” in several America’s Test Kitchen magazines (YES, several! Did you know ATK cycles their recipes through various publications? I didn’t either, but I have this recipe in two magazines, and neither one of them is a “Best of…”! I was a little surprised-and yes, disappointed- to discover this little secret.)
Anyway, after being soooo busy and not cooking, I suddenly had to jump into creating a “Signature Cake” and the one I chose really was a bit of a project. But it’s worth it! It looks spectacular. Look!
The white cake is delicious, very tender, not overly sweet, and sturdy enough to support the lemon filling without compressing. The lemon filling has a perfect texture, with a spot-on, bright and tangy lemon flavor. The frosting is a “seven minute” or boiled frosting, which I had never made before, but I fell in love with it’s marshmallow-y creaminess which was a wonderful foil to the tangy lemon filling. (I also loved the fact that the frosting had no butter and no powdered sugar.) I will definately be making this cake again. But I’d have a plan. I’d do it in three parts. Day one, make the lemon filling. Day two, bake the cakes. Day of party, make the frosting and assemble the cake.
A few other hints:
First thing, before you get everything else ready, cut 1 cube of butter into 1/2 inch pieces, and put in the freezer. You will need to use these frozen butter cubes in the lemon filling.
I was tempted to grate the rind of a few lemons to add to the lemon filling. I am so glad I didn’t. The lemon filling was tangy enough as it was. I think adding lemon rind would have ruined it.
Don’t be afraid of the frosting. You’ll need an instant read thermometer, a double boiler, and an electric mixer…but it’s really pretty easy to make (and it’s fat free and yummy!)
I frosted this cake the night before it was to be served, I don’t think that was a good idea. The frosting seemed to loose a bit of it’s volume. I think you could layer the cake with the lemon filling the night before, cover with plastic wrap (or a cake dome) and refrigerate, but I think the frosting needs to be made, and applied to the cake, just a few hours before the cake is to be served.
Lemon Layer Cake
America‘s Test Kitchen
For the filling:
1 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 6 lemons) (you’ll need an additional 1T. of lemon juice for the frosting)
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (less than one package, so measure out a teaspoonful)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
4 large eggs
6 large egg yolks (reserve all of the egg whites for the cake)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen
For the cake:
2 1/4 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting the pans
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
6 large egg whites, at room temperature (leftover from making the filling from the six egg yolks)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, softened but still cool
Fluffy White Icing
2 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
1 tablespoon corn syrup
Begin by Preparing the Filling: Measure 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top to soften.
Heat the rest of the lemon juice, the sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot but not bubbling. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolks until blended. Slowly whisk the lemon syrup into the eggs, then return the mixture to the saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer Stir in the softened gelatin until completely dissolved.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the frozen butter until the butter has melted and the mixture is smooth. If desired/necessary, pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a non-reactive bowl (I skipped this step). Cover the surface with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least four hours or up to two days. Stir mixture to loosen before spreading on cake layers.
To Make the Cake: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
In a large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, egg whites and vanilla. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt at low speed. With the mixer running on low speed, add the butter pieces one at a time until the mixture resembles fine, even crumbs. Stop the mixer and add all but about 1/2 cup of the wet ingredients. Beat the batter at medium speed until it is pale and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. With the mixer running on low, slowly pour in the rest of the wet ingredients, then crank the speed back up to medium and beat for 30 seconds more. Scrape down the bowl and beat for 30 more seconds.
Divide the batter equally among the two cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean–do not overbake. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans, peel off the parchment and cool completely, right side up.
When the filling has chilled and the cake layers are cool, begin assembling the cake. Slice the cake layers in half horizontally. Place one layer golden side down on a serving platter, and tuck a few strips of parchment paper under the edges of the cake to protect the platter. Spread a third of the lemon filling on the cake layer, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edge of the cake. Repeat twice more with cake layers and filling. Place the top layer of the cake golden side up.
To Make the Icing: Combine all ingredients in bowl of standing mixer or large heatproof bowl and set over medium saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water (do not let bowl touch water). Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture registers 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and transfer mixture to standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high and continue to beat until mixture has cooled to room temperature and stiff peaks form, 5 minutes longer. Using icing spatula, spread frosting on cake. Serve.
Notes From ATK… Leftovers can be stored covered in the refrigerator, with the cut side of the cake covered tightly with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.
Thanks for stopping by my kitchen today. I am glad I was home and cooking. I hope you make this cake for an upcoming special occasion. It’s worth the effort…and you may become “famous” for it!