Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Luscious Lemon Cake

February is a busy month in our family. Nana's birthday, Jamie's birthday followed by Emma's. I started baking cakes for them on their birthdays as I find it so much more interesting rather than driving to the bakery and buy one. I mean birthday is supposed to be a special day for the person, so how special will it be if you present them with a store-bought generic cake, right?

Nana's birthday falls in the beginning of the month. When it comes to baking a cake for Nana, it was an easy task as we all know what she likes best, LEMON! Makes me think of the song Lemon Tree.

The hard part is which lemon cake recipe to use. I admit I can be extremely picky when it comes to baking recipe I am researching for. After all, I get one good shot at it and the cake better be right when it comes out on D-Day. After researching countless websites and cookbooks, I finally settled on the one that I like best, a Lemon Layer cake recipe from Country Living. Is it me or does it seems like every cook just love doing lemon pound cake instead of a lighter lemon cake for frosting purposes.

The first sign of a good cake recipe is the ratio of dry to wet ingredients used. When I first started out baking, I have had plenty of mishaps with cake. They almost always comes out dry even though they look fabulous in the pictures posted on the website. As a rule of thumb, if the recipe calls for addition of sour cream or buttermilk, that is a good sign. You know that the cake will be moist.

Another thing I look for when contemplating a new recipe is flavor. As a rule of thumb, I am more persuaded to try a recipe that tells me to use fresh instead of bottled juices. This holds true for any recipe that uses citrus as a flavoring. Believe me, they ain't kidding when they tell you fresh tastes better than bottled.

Thirdly, the fat factor. Every now and then, I will come upon recipes which called for margarine or shortening instead of real solid butter. Now, I have nothing against margarine or shortening, having grow up on Planta margarine instead of real butter. After endless trial and error, I have this rule. Butter is for cakes and shortening is for pie crust. Not to say there is no exception to that, however, there really are few. Baking with real butter gives you a nice buttery flavor whereas replacing it with margarine produces an artificial flavor to the end product. I guess the choice is yours when it comes to deciding on the fat factor.

Last but not least, the frosting or icing for cakes. I have to admit, I have yet to have much luck when it comes to the perfect cake frosting. Thanks to my friend, Pick Yin - a pro home baker, who recently advised me to try the meringue butter cream technique, I am hopeful that in the near future, frosting will be a breeze. Meanwhile, pardon the "rustic" appearance of the cake.

Luscious Lemon Layer Cake
(Adapted from Country Living)

For the cake

3 cups of cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cup sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (1 whole large lemon or 2 small)
3/4 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 350F or 176C. Prepare two 9-inch cake pan. Greased and layer bottom with parchment paper.
2. In a bowl, sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3. In a large mixer or a large bowl using hand held mixer, cream butter till light and fluffy, about 5 mins.
4. Add in sugar and cream till light and fluffy.
5. Add in eggs, one at a time till well combined. Beat in vanilla.
6. Add in flour, in a third, alternating with lemon juice and buttermilk till all flour is fully incorporated.
7. Divide cake batter in half. Pour into cake pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
8. Bake for 45-50 mins till a toothpick inserts in the center comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack for 20 mins.
9. Remove cake from pan and continue to cool cake on wire rack till they are completely cool before slicing.
10. Once cake is completely cool, usually takes about 2 hours, sliced cake into 2 layers with a long serrated knife. Wrap cake in plastic wrap till ready to assemble.

Lemon Curd
(Adapted from Joy Of Baking)

3 large eggs
1/3 cup lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
1 tablespoon of lemon zest
3/4 cup of sugar
4 Tbsp of unsalted butter

1. In a pot, bring about 1/3 pot of water to a boil.
2. In a stainless steel bowl large enough to fit onto the pot without touching the water, combine all ingredients except for lemon zest and butter. Whisk till well combined.
3. Placed bowl over boiling water. Cook, stirring constantly till mixture reaches 160F/71C. If you do not have a candy thermometer, this will take about 10 minutes.
4. Pour through a strainer to remove lumps. Add in lemon zest. Whisk to combine. Add in butter, one tablespoon at a time. Whisk till all butter has melted.
5. Cover the top of the lemon curd by pressing a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface. Store in the fridge till cold or overnight.

Swiss Meringue Butter Cream
(Adapted from Pick Yin)

3 egg whites
120 gram caster sugar (fine grain)
Pinch of salt
220 gm of butter, at room temperature
1  teaspoon of vanilla

1. Combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.
2.Whisk frequently, keeping it over the heat, until the mixture reaches 160°F/70°C and the sugar has dissolved (rub some between your fingers - if it feels grainy, it hasn't dissolved).
3.Transfer the mixture to a mixer with a whisk attached and beat on medium-high for 8 minutes, until stiff peaks have formed and the mixture has cooled to room temperature. 
4.Turn down the speed to medium and start adding small chunks of butter, checking that it has incorporated before adding more. 
5.Keep beating until it comes together, after about 5 minutes. 
6.Stir in the vanilla extract.
    Plan of Attack:
    Day 01: Make the lemon curd. Store in fridge in a container.
    Day 02: Make the cake. Sliced each cake into 2 layers. Wrap with plastic wrap. Store on the counter.
    Day 03: Make the butter cream and assemble the cake.
    - Begin by cutting four pieces of parchment or wax paper. Create a square with the papers on the plate, leaving the middle section empty. Place a tablespoon of lemon curd in the middle. Place the base of the cake on the platter. The curd will act as glue to hold your cake in place. 
    - Brush off coarse crumbs from the cake with a silicon brush.
    - Divide lemon curd into thirds. Apply a portion of lemon curd onto cake layers. Repeat till all lemon curd is used. 
    -Make the frosting
    -Apply a thin layer of frosting all around cake, starting from the top. Let set for 5 mins.
    -Begin frosting from the top, working extra frosting onto the side of cake. Decorate by piping cream onto cake or used edible icing flowers.
    Note: I will be trying Pick Yin's icing recipe next time and see if I will have better result with my frosting.

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