Luscious Lemon Cake

We celebrated Charles’ 29th birthday at the beginning of this month, so I made him this luscious lemon cake.  Of course, it was pretty difficult to keep it as a surprise with him popping in and out of the kitchen every now and then, and he had already spotted the homemade lemon curd in the fridge, even although I took a jar to his Mum to disguise the true reason for whipping up a batch a couple of days previously.  Not to worry – he knew there would be a cake of sorts so the fact that he knew it was a lemon cake was neither here nor there.  Besides, he had asked for a ‘healthy’ cake after we had spent the previous week working our way through his Dad’s ridiculously chocolatey birthday cake.

Anyway, it was a success all round after a few hairy moments during the decoration stage when the hot, muggy day combined with the heat of the dishwasher drying caused the icing to become a bit too slidey on occasion!  I decided to decorate it with loads of pick’n’mix jelly sweets and Haribo because jelly sweets are just about the only treat Charles has been allowing himself (apart from birthday cake, of course) since we both started eating a bit more healthily in preparation for our wedding (and in preparation for being super old).  I thought his Dad would think it was all a bit childish, but it raised a few laughs and smiles, after all, you can’t have a sweetie birthday cake once you’re in your thirties now can you?  This cake would still be great for general eating, and doesn’t really need any decoration, so you could leave off the sweeties and instead get creative with piping, texturising your icing or perhaps adding some candied lemon peel or edible flowers to make it a little prettier.  It’s effectively a moist lemon drizzle cake sandwiched with lemon curd and lemon curd buttercream, and decorated with the same lemon buttercream.  Delicious.  And perfect for summer.

Luscious Lemon Cake

Luscious Lemon Cake

Ingredients

    For the sponge:
  • 250g butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tbsp double cream or milk, or 2 tbsp crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 4 eggs
  • zest of two lemons
  • For the syrup:
  • 4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 4 tbsp water
  • juice of 2 lemons (so two whole lemons for the whole recipe in addition to the lemon curd!)
  • For the lemon curd buttercream:
  • 150g salted butter at room temperature
  • 4 tbsp double cream or half as much of your substitute
  • 300g icing sugar
  • Around half a jar of fresh lemon curd, although it's easy to get carried away!

Instructions

  1. Start off by preheating an oven to 160c fan or 170c non-fan assisted, and line yourself a couple of sandwich tins. Grab a large mixing bowl and a digital scale and that's you ready to go.
  2. Weigh out the butter and give it a good mix for a couple of minutes with an electric hand mixer to start it off on the road to becoming creamy and fluffy.
  3. Add the sugar and repeat the mixing process, continuing for a good 3-5 minutes on high power until the mixture is really creamy and fluffy and full of air. This is such an important step if you want a light and fluffy cake.
  4. Next, add the eggs, and repeat the process with the hand mixer. The introduction of the eggs should give you another chance to introduce some serious air, and you should only stop once it's pale coloured and almost frothy in texture.
  5. Add the vanilla and lemon zest, and quickly whisk in.
  6. The last stage in making your sponge batter is to weigh in the flour and measure out the cream or crème fraîche and add these to the mixture.
  7. This time, however, you want to introduce your electric whisk relatively gently and for as little time as possible, as this stage is just to combine the flour and moisture - overworking the batter will develop the gluten in the flour and give you a tough, heavy sponge, undoing all the good work you did with the butter, sugar and eggs. Whisk until just combined (although don't stop before it is combined or you might end up with pockets of flour in the finished cake).
  8. Your cake batter is ready for the oven! Divide it as evenly as possible between your greased and lined cake pans - I find a silicone spatula to be really helpful to scrape out the batter relatively efficiently making sure you don't waste too much to the washing up bowl. Even out the surfaces, but don't move it around too much or you could overwork the batter.
  9. Slide the cake pans into the oven and cook for around 20 minutes or until golden on the outside, starting to shrink from the sides of the pans and just springy when lightly pressed on top. Try not to open the oven until they look done as you could risk the sponges collapsing if the middles are still quite liquid.
  10. While your sponges are baking, you can get the syrup ready, as this needs to be poured over the sponges while they're still warm.
  11. Cut the lemons in half and thoroughly juice them, discarding any seeds.
  12. Grab a small saucepan and weigh out the sugar and water then add the lemon juice and stir it all together over a low heat on the hob. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up and allow the mixture to boil and reduce down for a few minutes. You want a syrupy consistency, so don't be scared to keep it simmering if you think it's too thin - it's going to be poured over the sponge so you want it to catch and seep through, not soak immediately through the cake.
  13. When the syrup and sponges are both ready, leaving the sponges in the cake pans, carefully divide the syrup between the two sponges, pouring it slowly over the surface of both sponges, being careful not to over-saturate any one are of the sponge. Now leave them alone until completely cool.
  14. In a clean bowl, weigh out the butter for the lemon curd buttercream and give it a whizz up with the whisk. Add the cream and whisk again. The wetter and creamier you can get it the easier (and less messy!) it will be to add in the icing sugar.
  15. Now add the icing sugar and beat this in well, trying not to cover everything in a cloud of icing sugar dust!
  16. Add the lemon curd and mix again, and that's the buttercream ready for the cake.
  17. When the sponges are nice and cold, turn them out onto a plate or cake board, turning the first sponge upside down and centring it on whatever you're serving the finished cake up on. Peel off the greaseproof paper circle and check it's fully cool underneath before proceeding.
  18. Spread a layer of buttercream onto the bottom sponge, a few mm thick.
  19. Then add a layer of lemon curd, bearing in mind that if this is too thick the weight of the top sponge might squeeze it out.
  20. Now repeat the turning out process with the other sponge, placing it upside down on top of the first sponge. Using a pallette knife, ice the cake all over, as evenly as you can manage.
  21. And that's you ready to decorate!
  22. As I mentioned earlier, I decorated Charles' cake with lots of jelly sweets....
  23. ...and some birthday candles.
  24. But it will be delicious either way!
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