Friday, March 16, 2012

Lemon Layer Cake

Recipe modified by You Want Me to Cook? – March 13, 2012
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of it, please click here.

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Frosting recipe originally published in Gourmet - January 2001.

One of the things about the cake decorating class that I was anticipating was getting to bake a lot.  We don’t keep too many sweets around here because my husband is like Cookie Monster… before he got all healthy and stuff.

Seriously, what is so bad about occasionally indulging in cookies?  It isn’t like I am overweight because Cookie Monster told me to eat sweets.  Also, I think most kids realize that he doesn’t eat most of the cookies anyway because he’s shoving them in so fast, they crumble and fall out.  At least I noticed that and wondered why he didn’t just slow down so he didn’t have to cram so many into his mouth.

Okay, Sesame Street rant over…

So I have a ton of cake recipes that I’ve never made because they are layer cakes and I have issues making layer cakes.  They never fit together nicely for me and I couldn’t frost them to save my life.  Now that is all over and done with since I’ve been taught how!  Yippee!!!!!

I’ve been sitting on this recipe for over 10 years.  It was time.

© You Want Me to Cook?
Lemon Layer Cake
It is light and fluffy with a lovely layer of lemon curd between the layers.  Don’t worry… I’m going to write a separate post regarding my second class and my first attempt at frosting and decorating a cake.  Just enjoy the splendor that is my yummy cake right now.

© / Gourmet
As you can probably figure out, I went more on the recipe description than the picture.  In fact, you can’t tell anything about the cake by their picture… other than they have decorators with amazing ability.

for more details about what my ratings mean, go to Gretchen’s Rating System

MessSIGH – There was a lot of equipment for this recipe.  The batter is whipped up in one bowl, but you have to sift and transfer flour multiple times.  Pouring it into multiple pans gives you many chances to drip the batter all over your counter, which I did… A LOT.  When my husband got home that evening, he said I was covered in flour including my own hand prints on my butt.

Start-to-Finish Time: AROUND TWO HOURS – The good news is that you’ll only have to be hands on for about 30 minutes and then pay attention to it baking for around the same time.  The rest is all hands off, but you’ll still need this much time to make it and let it cool before you frost it.

Prep Work: SLIGHT BLOOD LOSS – For the most part, you’re just measuring and adding, but having to grate the lemon peel gives you multiple opportunities to scrape your fingers.  I did.  Twice.

Ease of Recipe: THE BASICS – Yes, it is making a cake, but beware… if you don’t know how to tort or layer cakes and frost it without getting crumbs in your frosting, it will be more along the lines of MORE THAN I BARGAINED FOR.

OverallNOT BAD – It was a pretty good cake, but not so overwhelmingly delicious that I would go through all the work again to make it.

Recipe Information:
I am not a doctor or dietician.  I make my nutritional assessments with the aid of Spark Recipes.  I run the original recipe and my altered recipe through their calorie counter and then compute the differences I find.  My numbers are to be used as a guideline.  Anyone who is under dietary medical supervision should follow the advice of their medical professional if their opinion differs from mine.  PLEASE!

Servings: 1 cake (8” – double layer)
Active time: 1 hr
Total time: 2 hr

The recipe calls for two 8” cakes serving as each layer, but as per my classes needs, I made only a single 8” cake that I cut to make the layers and 6 cupcakes.  Same amount of batter though, just different size cake.

I didn’t have as much hands-on time for this recipe, and I think they were being very generous.  They included in their recipe time an hour to make the cake and curd and then an hour to cool both the cakes and the curd.  I think if you are making the recipe as they did, it is pretty accurate.  Here is how my timing worked out:
For the Cake
  • Prep: 11 minutes
  • Hands-on Time: 21 minutes
  • Cook Time: 23 minutes
  • Cooling Time: 53 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 57 minutes (not including torting and frosting)
For the Curd/Filling:
  • Prep: 7 minutes
  • Hands-on: 4 minutes
  • Cook: 17 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
Keep in mind that I didn’t include creating the layers (called torting the cake) or frosting the cake, which could take a while if you’re just learning.  I’d like to add that the curd took A LOT longer than it was supposed to take.  I should have been finished with it and already having it cool before the cake was finished baking, but it took me almost 3 times as long to get it to thicken.

Nutritional Information:
None Given

First, I figured the average 8” cake would be split into 8 servings.  They are decent sized pieces that way.  Since there wasn’t any nutritional information given, I plugged in their ingredients into the assessment tool and got the following:
  • Calories 480.8
  • Total Fat 23.8 g
  • Saturated Fat 13.8 g
  • Cholesterol 171.3 mg
  • Sodium 457.4 mg
  • Potassium 72.2 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 61.6 g
  • Dietary Fiber 0.1 g
  • Sugars 38.2 g
  • Protein 6.7 g
Remember, this is using all the batter for only the cake.  Since I only used half the batter to make the cake, I had to compute the nutritional information as I made the recipe.  Also, the recipe called for whole milk, but I used a milk blend of 1% and whipping cream (see more on that later).  With my substitutions and serving size difference, the nutritional information came out as:
  • Calories 243.9
  • Total Fat 12.4 g
  • Saturated Fat 7.2 g
  • Cholesterol 87.8 mg
  • Sodium 227.2 mg
  • Potassium 43.2 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 30.7 g
  • Dietary Fiber 0.1 g
  • Sugars 18.9 g
  • Protein 3.3 g
It’s roughly half of what was specified in the original recipe which makes sense… I only used half the batter.  If I had used all the batter, it would have had slightly higher numbers in calories, fat and cholesterol.  Also, there is nothing nutritionally redeeming about this dessert.  Not even the Vitamin C level.

Changes denoted by red text
© You Want Me to Cook?
Lemon Layer Cake - ingredients
For cake layers:
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup 1% milk
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
Cooking Spray with Flour

For curd:
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs

Ingredient Notes:
Cake Flour
  • You might be asking yourself, “What is the difference between cake flour and all-purpose flour?”  I asked the same question and so did someone on TLC’s boards.  To paraphrase their answer, the main difference is in the gluten content which depends on whether the flour is from hard wheat or soft wheat.  Gluten is the protein that helps yeast stretch and rise.  All-purpose flour is high-gluten, made mostly out of hard wheat.  Cake flour is predominately made of soft wheat, which gives it a fine texture for more tender cakes, cookies, biscuits and pastries that don’t need to rise much.
  • If you don’t have cake flour, you can create a substitute.  Measure out a cup of flour and then remove 2 tablespoons from the cup.  Replace those two tablespoons with cornstarch.  You make have a firmer cake, but it should be fairly close.  BEWARE:  Many people in the comments complained of the cake being too dry and/or rubbery.  They didn’t specify which type of flour they used although one person used the term “bag” which is traditionally all-purpose flour.  So, I’d be really weary of doing a one-to-one substitute of all-purpose flour for cake flour.

Milk & Whipping Cream – The original recipe called for ½ cup of whole milk.  I usually have 1% on hand and didn’t feel like buying a half-gallon for a single recipe.  Still, baking is a science and I wanted to make sure I had enough fat in the batter as specified.  I had bought some whipping cream for the frosting, so I used ¼ cup 1% milk and added ¼ cup whipping cream to make the ½ cup liquid needed for the recipe.  Be really careful using anything other than whole milk or a thick blend though.  Many people complained about their cake being too dry.  You need the fat to keep the cake moist.

Lemon Juice – For the cake, I needed used a medium lemon to get the 2-1/2 tablespoons.  For the lemon curd, I used 2-1/2 large lemons to get the ½ cup.

Cooking Spray with flour – In the recipe, you had to prepare the pans for baking but greasing with butter and dusting with flour.  Luckily, Pillsbury has a cooking spray WITH flour added, so I didn’t have to worry about this extra step or mess.

Lemon Zest – The zest of one lemon peel gave me the 2 teaspoons needed for the lemon curd.  Make sure you zest BEFORE you squeeze them or the juice.

Equipment Needed:

© You Want Me to Cook?
Lemon Layer Cake - equipment
Spoon – mixing
Butter knife
Glass measuring cup
Cutting board
Sharp knife
Small bowl
Round cake pan – 8x2
Parchment paper
Cupcake pan
Cupcake liners
Large bowl
Stand mixer / Large bowl with electric mixer
Plastic scraping spatula
Frosting spatula
Cake tester / toothpicks
(2) Cooling racks
2-quart heavy saucepan
Glass bowl
Plastic wrap

Equipment Notes:
Sieve – I actually have a sifter that I use for flour products.  However, when I went to use it, there was dried flour stuck in between the blades and grate.  The thought of it getting it in the cake made me queasy, so I used a fine mesh sieve to sift my flour.

Spoon and Butter knife – When baking, I always spoon the flour into the measuring cup and then level it with a knife.  Scooping the flour into the measuring spoon can pack it and affect the recipe.  After you’ve gotten the right amount of flour, you can use the spoon for mixing and the knife to chop up the butter later in the recipe.

Glass Measuring Cup – I needed an easy way to make my milk mixture and a glass cup made it easy to add ¼ cup of both the milk and whipping cream in the same measuring cup.  Also, I used it to add the lemon mixture which actually curdles the liquid.  Plastic can react to things, so the glass cup was a better option.

Small Bowl – I always crack eggs into a separate bowl instead of cracking them directly into my batter.  This prevents you ruining an entire recipe by accidentally adding a bad egg.  I thank my 8th Grade Home Economics teacher for stressing this and saving me from throwing out entire batches of batter.

Cupcake Pan and Cupcake Liners – Since I made cupcakes with half the batter, I added a cupcake pan to this recipe.  Liners make it easier to clean the pan as well.

Scissors – You’re going to have to cut the parchment paper somehow… unless you’re lucky enough to find it pre-cut to fit your pan.

Stand Mixer – The original recipe called for a large bowl and used an electric mixer to cream the butter and mix the batter.  It is just easier for me to use my stand mixer.

Plastic scraping spatula – Although it doesn’t say it, I would stop creaming/mixing the batter to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  A plastic spatula is perfect for this.

Frosting Spatula – You need to spread out the cake batter in the pan and an angled spatula works great for this task.

Cake Tester / Toothpicks – I happen to LOVE my cake tester, which I got as a gift, but toothpicks work just as well.

Cooling Racks – I was taught Wilton’s pan removal technique, so I needed two racks.  I’ll explain it in the directions!

(1)   Make cake:
(a)  Preheat oven to 375°F.

(b)  Flip over the cake pan and press the parchment paper around the bottom to that it makes a definite mark of the shape on the paper. Cut out the shape making it slightly smaller than the impression.

(c)  Spray the pan with the Cooking Spray and Flour. Place the parchment paper inside the pan and spray the pan again with the Cooking Spray with flour.
If you can’t find the Cooking Spray + Flour blend, you can always butter and dust with flour like the original recipe does.  Butter your round cake pan, line the bottom with a round of wax or parchment paper, butter paper and then dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.
(d)  Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

(e)  Stir together milk and lemon juice in a glass cup (mixture will curdle).

(f)  Beat butter in a stand mixer until creamy.

(g)  Gradually add sugar, beating until pale and fluffy.

(h)  Add eggs 1 at a time, cracking into a bowl before adding them to the butter mixture and beating well after each addition.

(i)  Alternately add flour mixture and milk mixture in batches, beginning and ending with flour, mixing at low speed until just combined.

(j)  Divide batter between pans, smoothing tops with a frosting spatula. Bake in middle of oven until a tester or toothpick comes out clean, about 23 minutes.
The original recipe called for 20 minutes of bake time, but my cake tester didn’t come out clean after the 20 minutes.  Be VERY careful when adding additional time.  Some recipe commenters complained that their cake turned out too dry and some said they only cooked theirs for 15-16 minutes.  If you need to add time, only do it 2 minutes at a time.
© You Want Me to Cook?
Lemon Layer Cake - raw batter in cupcake pan
(2)  While cake is baking, make lemon curd:
(a)  Whisk together juice, zest, sugar, and eggs in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Place over moderately low heat to warm the mixture.
The original recipe says to add butter before heating the mixture to blend, but if there’s no heat, I’m not sure how it will melt.  I heated my mixture slightly and then added the butter.
© You Want Me to Cook?
Lemon Layer Cake - egg mixture before thickened
(b)  Stir in butter and cook, whisking frequently, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 17 minutes.
The original recipe said it should take about 6 minutes to thicken, but it took me almost three times as long.  I have no idea why.
© You Want Me to Cook?
Lemon Layer Cake - mixture thickened (note bubbles and foam)
(c)  Transfer lemon curd to a bowl, preferably glass, and chill, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least 1 hour.
(3)  Remove cake(s) from oven and finish:
(a)  Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes, then invert onto racks, remove paper, and cool completely.
Wilton’s technique for removing cakes from pan is fairly simple: cover the top of the cake with parchment paper and place a cooling rack on top face down.  Turn the pan over pulling the bottom rack and cake pan off, leaving the cake upside down on the second cooling rack.  Remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake, place the cooling rack back into place (upside down on the crust of the cake) and flip over again.  Set aside the second cooling rack and throw away all parchment paper.
 (b)  If using one cake, cut it in half and place some of the lemon curd on the bottom portion side opposite the crust. If using two cakes, place lemon curd on top of one of the cakes (rounded side). Replace the top or put the other cake on top.

(c)  Frost the cake with your favorite frosting.
The original recipe included a frosting recipe with it (which many commenters complained about.  I used a Wilton recipe since I baked this cake for a Wilton class.
The cake tasted good but I agree with some of the other people who have made this cake and though it was a little flavorless.  Without the curd and frosting you probably wouldn’t have known it was a lemon cake.  The lemon curd was pretty strong by itself so when you put them together the cake was pretty good.  That being said, I thought it was a lot of work and didn’t deliver the lemon taste I was looking for.

If I were to make any changes, I would:
  • Follow the suggestions of Cook’s Thesaurus and:  (1) mix the batter as little as possible, and (2) separate eggs, beat the whites, and fold both the yolks and whites into the batter.  I wonder if that would make the cake even fluffier and lemon tasting.
  • Follow the recipe exactly and use whole milk (although my combination was sufficient).
  • Take a suggestion from a commenter on the website: use Meyer lemons which are sweeter.
  • Take another suggestion from another commenter on the website and add lemon zest to the batter to make CAKE more lemony.
  • Take yet another suggestion from a commenter on the website and add poppyseeds!  I love lemon-poppyseed muffins, so I figure this would be a great cake.
  • Make the Lemon Frosting from the original recipe.  Just a WARNING: a lot of the comments said the frosting came out more of a glaze than a frosting, so be careful while making it.  I’d probably start with only a ½ cup of whipping cream and adding more if it needed to be thinned.  Also a lot of people used 2/3 of the curd in the middle of the cake and mixed in the other 1/3 with the frosting, which thickened it up quite a bit.  Yet another person suggested adding cream cheese to make a creamy lemon frosting.  Frankly, that sounds DELICIOUS!
Happy Cooking!!!

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