July 28, 2011

Lemon Raspberry Cake

I offered to make my cousin a birthday cake the other day, and she mentioned that she liked both lemon and "raspberry accents." I was immediately reminded of a delicious wedding cake I had at some point in my past. Unsurprisingly for me, I can't remember who it was getting married, or anything about the ceremony, but I distinctly recall delicious white cake sandwiched with tart but smooth lemon buttercream and some sort of raspberry jam or sauce. I am usually a reliable chocolate fan, and I am not really into buttercream (sacrilege I know), but this cake somehow got everything right. And it looked beautiful too: the very white color of the cake and the buttercream contrasted dramatically wtih the deep pink of the raspberry. I decided I needed to recreate the dessert, but in a birthday cake size.

I scoured the internet for recipes, and found quite a lot out there. Again and again, though, I found recommendations to make Dorrie Greenspan's perfect party cake. Like the wedding cake of my memories and dreams, it features raspberry jam and lemon buttercream. Unlike the dessert as I remember it, the cake itself is also lemon scented (rather than vanilla). I decided more lemon could only be an improvement, and set out to make it.

All in all, I was very happy with the result. When I first tasted the buttercream, I was not happy. I really don't like the texture of most buttercreams: it just reminds me too much of eating a stick of butter plain. I thought the lemon would help, but on its own I just thought it tasted like acidic, sweet butter. I was, however, pretty much won over once I had it as part of the cake. It worked really well with the other components, and the texture even reminded me of the wedding cake that had inspired me. (Franklin, who had some of the cake, wasn't quite as convinced, so it may not be for everyone.) I didn't get my layers to look quite as perfect as those wedding cake bakers had, but the pinks and whites still made a pretty contrast.

The only real problem I had was that my cakes didn't really rise! They came out of the oven pretty much exactly the height they went in. And while they tasted good, I do think they were a bit denser then I would have liked. When I showed Franklin the result, she said the same thing had happened to her while making her (far more complicated) wedding cake. Both of us had used buttermilk instead of milk, when given the choice. We wondered if that was the cause. Then I found a very helpful webpost from Dorrie hereself. She suggests that, if you use lemon zest, you should grate it very finely or the pieces will weigh the batter down. Oops! I used a fairly large cheese grater to make the zest (my smaller one was dirty, and I was being lamentably lazy). Plus, I added extra lemon zest, rather than the lemon extract the recipe suggested. (I am sort of frightened of non-vanilla/almond extract. I have a fear they will taste too strong or chemically. This may be totally unreasonable. Thoughts?) So I fear that was the culprit. If you make this: use a microplane. - Madison

Time: About 3 hours, start to finish. Sweetness Factor: 7; Indulgence Factor: 6; Difficulty Factor: 6 Chance We'd Make It Again: 6.

The Recipe (Adapted from Dorrie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake)

2 whole lemons, FINELY zested and juiced (you'll use the zest for the cake and the juice for the frosting)
.75 cups raspberry jam
Raspberries (for decoration)

The Cake:
2.25 cups cake flour
1 tbsp baking powder
.5 tsp salt
1.25 cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites (I used pasteurized egg whites from whole foods, since I bought a pint of them for the frosting)
1.5 cups sugar
.5 cup butter (room temperature)
zest from the above mentioned lemons

1 cup sugar
4 large pasteurized egg whites (you could use unpasteurized, but you won't really cook the eggs, so better safe then sorry)
1.5 cups butter (room temp)
juice from the above mentioned lemons (about .25 cups)
1 tsp vanilla

For the cake:
Set the oven to 325. Butter two 9 inch pans; line the bottom with parchment paper; butter and flour the lined pans.

Mix the dry ingredients in one medium bowl; mix the milk and egg whites in a separate bowl or cup. In the bowl of your mixer, blend the lemon zest and sugar on low for 15-30 seconds (just long enough so your kitchen smells like lemon perfume, and the sugar and lemon look combined). Add the butter, and beat at medium for about three minutes. Then alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients, 1/3 of each at a time. After each addition, beat on low/medium until combined. After the last addition (the final 1/3 of the wet ingredients), beat at medium for another 2 minutes. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for about 30-35 mins: the cake will spring back when touched, and a tester will come out clean when it is done. Cool for five minutes in the pans, then flip onto cooling racks and make the frosting.

For the frosting:
Put the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of your mixer. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water on the stove. (Make sure the bowl is just suspended over the water, not actually touching it!) With a whisk, beat the eggs and sugar in the bowl, until the mixture is hot to the touch (around 3 mins; the sugar will be dissolved and the mixture should -- theoretically -- look shiny; mine never quite got past foamy before it was hot enough that I knew I had to remove it or risk making scrambled eggs, so don't worry too much if you can't get the shine). Take the bowl off the heat, and use your electric mixer with a whisk attachment (or a firm hand, if you are without electronics) and beat on medium until the mixture is cool, about five minutes. Keep one hand on the side of the bowl so you can feel when the temperature has changed. Then, using the paddle attachment of your mixer, beat in the butter one half cup at a time. Beat for another 5-10 minutes, until the icing looks thick, like a butter cream. Do not freak out if it goes through a brief curdled/separated phase at some point in the beating, just keep mixing and it will right itself. Once your mixture looks like butter cream, add the lemon juice in 3 batches. Mix on medium after each addition. Finally, add the vanilla.

To assemble:
Cut each of your cakes in half horizontally, so that you have four cake layers. Heat up the jam enough so that it is spreadable. Take two of the layers. Spread one with jam. Spread the other with frosting, sandwich them together. (I first tried to put the jam and frosting on the same level, but that made a mushy mess of jammy frosting. Franklin tells me I could have solved the problem by chilling the cake after I put the jam on an before I put on the frosting, but I think my pb&j inspired solution worked pretty well!) Put a layer of jam on the top. Put frosting on another of the layers, sandwich it on. Repeat, with the remaining layers. Then frost the whole thing with the rest of the buttercream. Decorate with fresh raspberries. (I also wrote on the cake with raspberry jam. I just put some of the heated up jam in a plastic bag, snipped off one corner, and then wrote with it as you would an icing tube.) Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. While I haven't used it myself, I have often seen lemon oil recommended instead of lemon extract--it's I believe extracted directly from the rind so I don't think there's a chemical taste risk. I think it has a brief shelf life though, and are pricey. Though I would expect that if you used a high quality lemon extract you wouldn't have to worry about it. Interesting that the zest could weigh it down so much!