I need to call this my Cake Wreck cake. Because it literally wrecked my kitchen. I started out making this recipe innocently enough. I had woken up at my usual early time and once again, rather than doing a morning workout, I decided to get a head start on this cake. I was meeting a friend for dinner that night and I thought I'd tackle this cake recipe from one of my Baked books. A couple of my aunts had raided their lemon trees to give me fresh lemons and what better way to use them up than with a three layer lemon cake filled with homemade lemon curd and lemon frosting?
Making the cake was easy enough and I had it in the oven and baked before my first meeting at 7:30 am. I'd never made lemon curd before but that also turned out to be straightforward and I made it while the cake layers were baking. The only thing I was uncertain about was if I had cooked the lemon curd to a proper thickness. It seemed okay and it tasted good so I went with it.
However, once the work day was over and I started on the frosting, that's when the wheels started to come off the bus. I'd never made frosting like this before but I thought it was intriguing so I was looking forward to seeing how it turned out. I boiled the mixture then poured it into my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and set it on high speed to beat "until it cools". Then I made the mistake of turning my back to it while I started to wash the baking accoutrements I'd used. It did not occur to me that my mixer wouldn't stay where I put it. It didn't have legs after all. But....do you know when your stand mixer is set at high speed and near the edge of the counter, the vibrations from the mixer start to move it? Next thing I know, I hear a loud thunk and my beautiful pink Kitchen Aid is on the floor, the bowl is in an unnatural position it was never meant to be in, sticky white goo which was the frosting base is everywhere and I'm staring at a gouge in my kitchen tile. In hindsight, I probably should've taken pictures of the whole thing but I was so horrified, dismayed and beat-my-head-against-the-wall exasperated with myself that I didn't think of it.
Cleanup was my first instinct and I had some bad moments when I couldn't get the bowl out from the mixer because it was firmly stuck and the lever that would lift the stand head wouldn't budge. I was left wondering if, like my kitchen tile, my mixer was damaged. But some maneuvering and a few curse words later, I was finally able to extract the paddle attachment and free the bowl. It took me awhile to clean up all the sticky mess that would have been the frosting (more cursing) but when my kitchen was finally put back to rights except for the gouge in my tile, I was able to plug the mixer back in and ascertain that it still worked. Its most noticeable war wound was slight and didn't seem to have affected its functionality so, in the battle between the kitchen floor and the Kitchen Aid, the mixer won that round.
After all that aggravation, you knew I was still forging ahead with the cake, right? The stakes had gone up but I wasn't going to be stopped by
Once the frosting was made, I started to assemble the layers: lemon curd over the first layer, top with the second layer, more lemon curd and crown with the third layer. Then I tried to crumb coat the cake with a thin layer of frosting. Tried being the operative word. I don't know if my lemon curd was too soft (I hadn't thought so) but the cake layers kept sliding whenever I tried to frost because the curd wasn't firm enough to hold them in place on top of each other. By the time I had even applied a thin layer on top and somewhat on the sides, the whole thing threatened to topple so I decided to place it in the fridge to chill briefly and hopefully set a little so I could finish frosting the cake without killing it with my bare hands.
That seemed like such a good plan and I got ready while it was chilling. Only to open my fridge to discover the cake had a mind of its own and part of it had slid off, smashed itself into the side of the fridge and broken apart. Seriously, could this cake be more of a pain? So I had to take it out, clean up the refrigerator, and slapdash whatever frosting I could whilst trying to keep the lemon curd from further oozing out and mingling with the frosting. At a certain point I gave up, sliced it as best I could, took the obligatory pictures and rushed off to my dinner.
The irony in this saga? This cake is fan-freakin'-tastic. I loved the taste and texture of the cake, the lemon curd and even the substitute frosting I came up with. I'm not sure it was worth the sacrifice of my kitchen tile but it was some consolation that I went through all that aggravation for something so tasty. I might even dare to make this cake again but I'm either going to fill the layers with frosting instead of the curd or incorporate the lemon curd in some other way (because it really was tasty) or not make it three layers or something. And get my kitchen tile fixed.
2 ½ cups cake flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup shortening
1 ¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
1 ½ cups ice cold water
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Lemon Curd Filling
¾ cup fresh lemon juice (from about 6 lemons)
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 large eggs
7 large egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, room temperature
Lemon Drop Frosting
1 ½ cups sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into tablespoons
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup lemon curd
Make the cake
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly spray three 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and spray the parchment. Dust with flour and knock out the excess flour.
2. In a large bowl, sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the egg and beat just until combined. Reduce the speed to low. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the ice water, in three separate additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.
4. In a clean bowl, with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
5. Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans and let cool completely. Remove the parchment when ready to assemble the cake.
Make the lemon curd filling
6. In a small bowl, pour the lemon juice over the lemon zest and let stand for 10 minutes to soften the zest.
7. In a nonreactive bowl, whisk the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar until combined. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice to the egg mixture and whisk until just combined.
8. Place the bowl over a double boiler filled with simmering water. Continuously stir the mixture with a heatproof spatula until the mixture has thickened to a pudding-like texture, about 6 minutes.
9. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the butter until emulsified. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve. Cover curd directly with plastic wrap so that it does not form a skin.
10. Set lemon curd aside while you make the frosting. Do not refrigerate the curd unless you’re saving it for a future use.
Make the frosting
11. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 20 minutes.
12. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.
13. Add the vanilla extract and ½ cup of the lemon curd and continue mixing until combined. If frosting is too soft, place in refrigerator to chill slightly until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, lace the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.
Assemble the cake
14. Refrigerate the frosting for a few minutes (but no more) until it can hold its shape. Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface and evenly spread about 1 cup of the remaining lemon curd on top. Add the next layer, trim and fill with 1 cup of lemon curd, then add the third layer and trim. Crumb coat the cake (apply a thin layer of frosting to seal the layers together) and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Frost the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting.