Well, it happened. Jess turned 30. I knew I had to get her an amazing gift, but I can't keep myself from making everything I do a surprise, so in an effort to get the gift but ensure that Jess didn't see any related charges on our credit card statement, I made this cake "for a photoshoot", and then traded it to a photographer for the actual present: professional portraits of our pets. Technically I wasn't lying, right? The cake was for a photoshoot, right? Whatever, it got the job done! The photographer got "paid" and Jess got her portraits!
The lemon buttercream was key here; it added a much needed tartness to the surprisingly savory (though still quite sweet) cake layer. Fresh flavors and cool textures were imparted by the strawberries, and the searing sour zing of the lemon curd cut through the [I must admit, overwhelming] sweetness of the buttercream. The cake itself was bouncy and moist, but dense and flavorful enough to stand on its own even with all the other strong tastes going on around it. I don't really like sweets, but this was really very good and hit the brief - it reminded me of strawberry lemonade! Nonetheless I'm thinking that next time I will soak the cakes briefly in basil simple syrup to add another small bit of dimension and freshness.
Butter Count: 42 Tbsp (Insanity)
16 Tbsp butter, softened
8 Tbsp vegetable shortening
3 cups granulated sugar
3 cups flour, sifted three times
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp lemon zest, finely zested
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare two 8-inch cake pans by greasing with flour, flouring completely, and then hitting the pans against each other to release the excess flour from the pans.
2. In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and shortening on medium speed until the color has lightened and the mixture is fluffy, about 4 minutes.
3. Add the sugar slowly, one cup at a time.
4.Add one egg at a time.
5. Mix the baking powder and salt into the flour. Mix the vanilla extract and milks together. With the mixer still on medium speed, add one third of the flour mixture to the butter, then add one half of the milk mixture, then a second third of the flour mixture, then the rest of the milk mixture, then the rest of the flour mixture, waiting for each addition to fully incorporate before adding the next.
NOTE: Reduce the mixer speed to low before adding any ingredients to avoid them spraying out of the bowl, then slowly bring the speed back up to medium to incorporate.
6. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides, then turn the speed up to medium for about one minute to make sure that all of the ingredients are fully combined.
7. Transfer the batter to the cake pans in equal measure and move to the oven. Bake about 35 minutes. Check the doneness with a toothpick; when it is inserted into the center of the cake and can be removed with no crumbs on it, the cakes are ready. Remove the cakes from the oven cool them on a wire rack. Allow the cakes to cool completely, covered with a kitchen cloth to prevent drying out.
16 Tbsp butter, softened
2 cupspowdered sugar, plus more
2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbsp lemon zest, finely zested
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbsp whole milk
1. In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until it has lightened in color, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the sugar 1/2 cup at a time, turning the mixer to the highest speed for about 30 seconds after each addition.
3. Add the vanilla, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice, and milk. Continue to mix until completely incorporated.
4. Repeat step 2 until the buttercream has reached the desired consistency.
NOTE: At this point, in my opinion, taste is more important than texture. I prefer my buttercream less sweet, so you may have to add up to a cup more sugar to reach your preferred flavor.
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 cup lemon juice (5 or 6 lemons worth)
1/8 tsp salt
10 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1. Set a sieve over a bowl near the stove. In a heavy pot, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, and salt until smooth. Cook the mixture over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened. The mixture should coat the back of a wooden spoon so that when you slide your finger across it, distinct custard lines form and the mixture does not bleed into the finger trail. It should be quite thick.
2. Remove the mixture from the heat and add the butter, a little at a time, and whisk until the butter is melted and fully mixed into the rest of the filling.
3. Strain the filling into a bowl.
1. Level the cooled cakes and place one on a cake stand.
2. Use an offset spatula to evenly spread about a half inch of buttercream across the top surface of the cake, keeping about a half inch of outer circumference free of frosting. Similarly spread the lemon curd over the buttercream. Roughly chop and dry the strawberries, then spread them evenly over the lemon curd.
3. Place the second cake on top of the strawberries. Evenly spread a thin layer of buttercream on the top and sides of the cake. Place in the refrigerator to cool for at least 3 hours.
4. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and use a paper towel to remove any strawberry goop that may have leaked down the sides. Then use your hands to lightly rub the surface of the cake to remove any dried raised bits of buttercream that are sticking out.
5. Spread a 1/4-inch layer of buttercream all over the sides and top of the cake, and smooth it out as desired. Serve immediately or store at room temperature for up to 2 days (though it will dry out more and more the longer it sits).