Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lemon Conquers Sweetness

This post is part of a longer series about my wedding cake explorations. To follow the saga from the beginning, search for all posts labeled 'wedding cake', or just look here for the basics.

Today I'd like to share with you one of the first of my early wedding cake tryouts. I was talking with Stacey and Avi about the flavors and textures that they'd like for their wedding cake, (I'll discuss shape at some later date), and I asked them to make me a list of possible flavors and flavor combinations that would really turn them on--old favorites and new fancy blends.

Stacey's first email on the subject ran something like this:
"...lemon cake with three-berry filling and lemon buttercream. Also [Avi] likes white cake,anything with a jam filling. As you know, I love nuts and anything made from eggs, sugar and milk. i also like lemon, and coconut, and almonds.

how about white cake with one layer filled with berry and another with lemon curd, and the whole thing frosted with whipped cream? could that be left outside? or something with egg whites? what would happen if you combined the two?

maybe toasted sliced almonds on top?

trifle in cake form, is I think what i am asking for here :)"
Clearly, white cake base it is, fluffy and soft with just enough texture to stand up to fillings and layering. These two are hard to disappoint, they love so many wonderful flavors and textures. And, as Avi so sweetly said,
"I will just add that I don't think you should feel you have to incorporate everything we throw at you. We'll taste whatever you make and then say, "this is good, maybe we can change this, etc.""
They are ready for anything, and on their happy day, anything delicious will probably make them happy. That said, this is a gift, a wedding gift, and I would like it to be just that much more special. I want them to have lots of input and have exactly what they want, but I also want to put my spin on it, so that it can be a bit of joyful surprise. As both of them are regular readers, some innovations may not make it onto this blog in spite of exhaustive wedding cake research, because I would like there to be some surprises left in life.

After a later conversation, at which we made the tentative decision to have two differently flavored (and possibly colored) cakes, Stacey wrote out this flavor list for me to refer to:
"favorite flavors:

caramel / dulce de leche
custard - rich vanilla eggy
lemon - especially lemon buttercream which is tangy and sweet like
sugar sweet sunshine lemon frosting
strawberry (i actually like it better than raspberry)
ginger! with lemon!
regular vanilla"
One of these cakes will definitely be heavy on the lemon and berries or ginger. For the other, my first impulse was something less fruity, some riff on coffee/caramel/dulce de leche, maybe with pastry cream. As you see above, one of the cakes that is a shared favorite for Stacey and myself is the lemon cupcake with lemon buttercream at Sugar Sweet Sunshine on the Lower East Side. I am not a huge fan of the cupcake craze, but Sugar Sweet transcends genre and makes some incredible cake--I love their lemon cupcake, and the strawberry trifle made with their lemon cake makes both of us swoon. In fact, I had already planned to take the SSS lemon cupcake as a template for one of the four planned cupcake flavors for Becky and Michelle's wedding the following week.

I was thrilled to find that SSS had done half of my work for me by generously posting their recipe for my favorite cupcake on a website called Crave New York. I tested it immediately. And it is perfect. It makes a light, delicate, lemony cake, and a strong, sweet, tangy, slightly crunchy, classic buttercream icing. Matt, who has far less tolerance for tart flavors, found it too intense, and said that the 'lemon conquers the sweetness', but I could have eaten the entire batch. This exact recipe, with no alteration, is perfect for Cupcake #1. I'll have Becky taste it when she's down next week, but I'm pretty sure it's perfect. Perfectly perfect.For the larger cake, I might want to try one or two alterations. I may try to give the cake a little bit more structure--(more egg, maybe?) so that it holds up better to aggressive filling, frosting, and layering, and might want to smooth out the frosting a bit with some corn syrup. It will still form a crust, but it will be a fancy crust. I have found online a method of smoothing hard buttercream so that it looks almost like fondant. Looks like fondant, tastes like buttercream. I smell wedding. I'll try that out when I do the taste test for Stacey and Avi.

All in all, this trial was a huge success, and I'm happy to have snagged a perfect cupcake recipe quite independent of all wedding cake endeavors.Also, just a note on my mixer, which will be making more frequent appearances these days. It is a very old model, salvaged by my mother and Judy from the Welfleet swap shop for my birthday present. At first, I didn't use it much, as it isn't up to bread and it's usually easier for me to mix cookie and cake batter by hand. But now that I am working with temperamental cakes and icings, making white cake all the time, and doing complicated recipe math most of the time, it's a godsend, and I'm having a lot of fun mastering its idiosyncratic turning mechanism, which works about half the time, and the other half I spin by hand. I have a feeling the mixer and I are going to become very good friends this summer.

I've included the recipe for the lemon cake/cupcakes, in slightly altered form, below.

Lemon Cake with Lemon Buttercream
Slightly adapted from Sugar Sweet Sunshine

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 cups cake flour (I usually ignore instructions that tell me to use cake flour, and that is fine for everyday, but if I'm really trying to make a perfect cake, I have started to cave. I don't love all the bleaching and processing, but it does make finer cake. Subbing some cornstarch or potato starch into regular flour is a good though not perfect alternative).
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon extract (optional-I added the zest of two lemons instead)
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour (or spray with Baker's Joy) 2 9" cake pans.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar. (I have been learning a lot about creaming lately, and the single most important fact I've learned is that you should cream for a lot longer than you think you should, until it is very very fluffy. Usually I just cream to combine, and I have learned my lesson). Add eggs, one at a time, continue mixing on medium speed.

4. In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and lemon extract/zest.

5. Alternate adding flour mixture and lemon mixture to the creamed ingredients until well incorporated.

6. Evenly divide cake mixture among cake pans. Bakes for 25-30 minutes (less for cupcakes) or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks.

Lemon Buttercream
  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 9 cups confectioners sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • (possible two tablespoons corn syrup--I'll check back in on this one)
Cream the butter, confectioners sugar, juice, and zest until smooth and creamy. Frost and fill as desired.

Makes 1 2-layer cake or 24 cupcakes

1 comment:

Joan said...

Katya - what a cake extravaganza. By the way - on the mixer, if you hear clicking just bend the times (but not when its plugged in)