Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Elusive Lemon Cake

Last weekend, my fiancĂ©’s son, Mike, Jr., came up from Wichita with his wife, Kaitlin, so he could golf in a local Topeka tournament. It was also his birthday on Saturday, so I asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his celebration. I knew he would pick something other than the standard vanilla or chocolate considering he selected cherry cheesecake for his law school graduation celebration a few months ago.

I was right. Mike, Jr. chose a lemon cake with white frosting—and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream to go along with it!

All of the mass-market cake mix brands have a lemon variety, but I wanted to make one from scratch. So the search was on for a recipe. How hard could it be?

Turns out, a lemon cake recipe isn’t that easy to find! Most of them are for vanilla cakes with lemon curd between the layers. Since I wanted the actual cake to be lemon flavored, I kept looking.

Leave it to Martha Stewart to have the answer. I found this recipe on her website, and it was perfect. I also liked that it is done in a French style, where each layer is soaked in lemon-flavored syrup to enhance the moistness of the cake. And the light whipped frosting was the perfect background to the sweet-tart flavors of the cake.

We all enjoyed the cake on Mike, Jr.’s birthday, and I sent the leftovers home with him. On Monday, he left me this message on Facebook, “Thanks for the birthday wishes and the awesome cake. I had another piece last night and it tasted even better than Saturday night. So good, that I had to split another piece with Kaitlin :)”

Lemon Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 lemon, thinly sliced and seeded
Whipped Frosting (see below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8-by-2-inch cake pans, tapping out excess flour. (I used 9-inch pans and they worked well. Just lower the baking time.) In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, beat in eggs and yolks, one at a time. Beat in 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined.

Divide batter between pans; smooth tops. Bake until cakes pull away from sides of pans, 32 to 35 minutes. (About 25 minutes for the 9-inch pans.) Let cool in pans 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges of pans and invert cakes onto a wire rack.

While cakes are baking, bring remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a saucepan. Add lemon slices and simmer 25 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lemon slices to a waxed-paper-lined plate. Stir remaining 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice into syrup.

Using a toothpick, poke holes in warm cakes on rack. Brush with lemon syrup. (Yes, you will use all of the syrup. Don’t worry, it does not make the cake soggy.) Let cool completely. (This is important!) Prepare frosting. Frost cooled cakes and top with candied lemon slices. (I skipped the lemon-slice decorations since there would be 26 candles on the cake!)

Whipped Lemon Frosting

3 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water, combine egg whites, sugar, salt, and water. Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until sugar has dissolved (or mixture registers 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer), 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium-high until glossy, stiff peaks form (do not overbeat), about 3 minutes (it took mine longer than 3 minutes—just keep checking for those stiff peaks); reduce speed to low, add lemon juice, and beat just until combined. Use immediately.


  1. It was a great cake, though I must admit my ice cream selection definitely did not enhance the cake! Well written post Linda!

  2. Thanks, Mike. I was surprised how well the ice cream actually worked with the cake!

  3. Oh, I wish I had a birthday around here, i neeeed an excuse to make this cake. The idea of soaking the cake layers in lemon syrup...and that frosting. It's too much. You're right, you don't see real lemony cakes like this, ever. You've done the blogosphere a favor by posting this!

  4. Thanks, Sue! It is one I absolutly plan to make again!

  5. I love lemony desserts and I can't wait to try this! The tart-sweet combo just can't be beat!