I haven’t made a layer cake in a while, but for some reason I was feeling it. My lemon tree is dropping lemons like grenades every four seconds right now as it’s time for the ol’ tree to shed all of it’s lemons, so after making what seemed like endless pitchers of lemonade, I decided a lemon cake was in order. This cake is super fun to make because of the speckled decorating part. It’s a bit of an ambitious cake, so by all means make parts of it ahead; such as the filling and the cake a day before if you like. Just make sure to wrap the cakes well in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge. I even brushed the cakes with the syrup the day before and wrapped the cakes each separately in plastic wrap and chilled in the fridge. If you’re not feeling that ambitious you can of course buy a store bought cake mix such as vanilla- and use that (I won’t judge)- but by all means make the buttercream yourself as you’ll want that amazing vanilla flavor that you can’t get from store bought.
For pure white looking layers- use a sharp knife to cut off the browned areas of the cakes from top, bottom and sides.
Speckled Easter Egg Cake: Lemon-Vanilla Cake
yield: 4 layer 6 inch cake or 2 layer 9 inch cake
Lemon Vanilla Cake
1 Cup unsalted butter, room temp (227 g)
1 1/2 C sugar (300 g)
finely grated lemon zest of 2 lemons
6 large egg whites, room temp
3 1/4 C sifted cake flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. pure lemon extract
1 1/3 C whole milk (320 ml), room temp
Optional for finished garnish: toasted coconut and Cadbury mini chocolate Easter eggs
Prepare four 6 inch cake pans with baking spray; bottom and sides (that contains flour) or grease and flour pans. Line bottom of each pan with parchment paper. You can use 2 nine inch cake pans also if you don’t want to make a six inch tall cake.
In a medium bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
In the bowl of stand mixer place the sugar and lemon zest and rub the sugar and lemon zest together with fingers to release natural oils in lemon zest. Add in the softened butter and using paddle attachment cream on medium speed until fluffy; about 2 minutes. Add in the egg whites one at a time and mixing until incorporated. Stir in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
Add in flour mixture in 3 additions alternating with milk; beginning and ending with flour mixture. Note: I like to fold in the flour mixture and milk with a spatula by hand first then gently turn on the mixer and beat gently- This ensures a lighter cake and avoids over beating the batter and helps that the crumb stays light and soft. Divide the batter evenly between the pans.
Bake the pans in a preheat 350° F oven for 27-29 minutes or until the cake springs back when pressed gently with a finger. The cakes will just start to pull away from the sides of the pans. Do NOT overbake. Cool the cakes in the pans for about 15 minutes, then turn out and allow to cool completely.
1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup water
4 one inch strips of fresh lemon peel (careful to make sure no white pith remains)
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
In a glass measuring cup place the sugar, water, and lemon peel and microwave on high until sugar dissolves. Let lemon peel steep for 15 minutes, then remove. Stir in lemon juice. You can do this a day or two before to save time.
Note: any leftover syrup you can strain to remove any cake crumbs , keep chilled in the fridge and use in iced tea.
Lemon Cream Filling
3 oz. cream cheese, room temp
9 Tbsp. heavy cream, cold
1 1/2 tsp. nonfat dried milk powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 Cup purchased Lemon Curd (I like Dickinsons brand)
Beat the heavy cream and dried milk powder on high speed using an electric hand mixer to stiff peaks. Move the whipped cream to a separate bowl and chill while proceeding. and using the same mixer bowl (no need to wash), beat cream cheese on medium speed for 2 minutes. On low speed, beat in vanilla. Add in the lemon curd and beat until well incorporated and smooth. Fold in the cold whipped cream by hand until mostly blended (don’t overmix), and cover and chill while making buttercream. Note: you can make a day or two ahead if desired and keep covered and chilled.
Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream
5 large egg whites
1 Cup + 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
4 sticks unsalted butter
2 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla, or seeds of one vanilla bean + 1 tsp. vanilla
Sky blue gel food coloring
In the bowl of a stand mixer combine egg whites and sugar. Set over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk until mixture is hot and sugar is dissolved. Remove bowl and place on mixer and beat until stiff meringue forms and bottom of mixer bowl is cool to touch; about 5 minutes. Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time until all is incorporated. Add vanilla, then beat until smooth.
Note: Reserve about a cup of the buttercream (before coloring blue) to pipe a dam of buttercream on 3 of the layers to “hold” in the lemon cream layer.
To color the buttercream: Beat in one drop at a time of gel color until desired color is achieved. [I ended up using about 6 drops, but go SLOW and add a tiny bit at a time]. Note: the color of the buttercream will deepen in color about 1-2 shades as it sits.
Cocoa Speckle for decorating
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 1/2 Tbsp. vanilla
small clean brush for decorating (I used a never used clean toothbrush)
In a small bowl whisk together the cocoa and vanilla. To “speckle” lay down wax paper underneath your work area and dip your brush into the mixture and then dab the brush onto the wax paper to remove any excess. You don’t want it too thick- if too thick you’ll end up with huge spots or unattractive drips. Practice first a few times on the wax paper-you’ll want to use your index finger to quickly flick the bristles of the brush about an inch away from the cake. It’s also best to whisk your cocoa mixture from time to time to prevent it from becoming too thick-you may need to add a few TINY drops of water occasionally if needed. If you end up with a real bad boo boo just chill the cake then use a small offset spatula to lift off any spots you don’t want. Note: you WON’T taste any cocoa flavor in the finished product.
To Assemble: Brush each layer of cake with the lemon syrup. Pipe a ring of “dam” of vanilla buttercream on 3 of the layers to hold in the lemon cream filling. Spread the lemon cream inside the dam of buttercream and continue stacking until you reach the top layer. Apply a crumb coat of buttercream and chill the cake for about 30 minutes. Continue frosting the top and sides of the cake.
Make the cocoa speckle mixture and speckle the top and sides of the cake as noted above. (Note- I find it helpful to lay down a few sheets of wax paper as you will get speckles of brown on your work area).
Garnish the top of the cake by toasting small amount of sweetened coconut in the oven at 350° F for about 6 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Top off with a few of mini candy coated Easter eggs.