I love making people birthday cakes, but ever since I moved to Norway, it’s become a little difficult to do that for my family and friends back in the States. Sure, I still send gifts and cards, but it’s just not the same if I can’t also make them a cake. Which is why for the last year I’ve started making cakes in people’s honor, like this Breakfast at Tiffany’s cake I made last week. I can’t decide if this makes me awesome for still making them cakes or evil for showing them awesome cakes that they don’t get to eat… It’s still a little early, but since I have the fortunate of having parents who’s birthdays are only one day a part, I thought I’d start this week with an early birthday cake for my Mumsie. She’s not a fan of desserts, but if I had to force a cake on her, I know she’d want it to be something lemony. Happy birthday Mum! I wish I could send you a slice of this lemon sunshine cake!
Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
Makes one three-layer 6″ cake
For the lemon poppy seed cake:
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 tbsp. lemon juice (about half a lemon)
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. poppy seeds
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
For the lemon curd:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice (about half a lemon)
1 tbsp. lemon zest
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup (57 grams) unsalted butter
For the vanilla buttercream frosting:
1 lb (500 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 lb powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Yellow food coloring (optional)
For this recipe, I recommend starting with the lemon curd since it’ll need some time to cool. If you’re looking to save time, you can easily bake the cakes and make the lemon curd a day or two before you want to serve the cake (the lemon curd can be kept in the refrigerator for a week and the cakes can be kept wrapped up in the refrigerator for 3 days). For the lemon curd, whisk together the sugar, lemon juice and zest, and egg yolks in a bowl over a pot of boiling water. Cook the mixture until it thickens considerably, stirring occasionally (it should reach an almost pudding like consistency). Once the lemon curd has thickened, remove the bowl from the pot of boiling water and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Cube the butter and whisk it into the slightly cooled curd mixture. Cover and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator before use. Is it just me, or does this stuff look like liquid sunshine?
To make the cakes, microwave your milk and butter until melted. Whisk together and set aside to cool in the refrigerator. In the bowl of a kitchen machine, whisk together the eggs and sugar until fluffy and much lighter in color (we’re going for an off-white here). Add the lemon juice and zest, poppy seeds, baking powder, and flour, and whisk together until the batter is smooth. Pour the cooled milk/butter mixture into the batter, and whisk until just incorporated. Divide your batter evenly between three 6″ pans (be sure to line the bottoms and grease the sides first!) and bake at 350*F (175*C) for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean. Make sure your cakes are completely cooled before trying to assemble them.
For the frosting, beat the butter until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract, and beat on low until just combined, then increase the speed to high until the frosting is light and fluffy. To assemble your cake, spread some frosting on the bottom layer, creating a well in the center for the lemon curd. Add the lemon curd and top with the second layer. Repeat until all three layers are stacked, and coat with a thin layer of frosting to lock in all your crumbs (the crumb coat). Refrigerate your cake for about 20-30 minutes to allow your crumb coat to crust.
If you want to create the same ombre effect I did, divide the frosting between 3 bowls with a little extra in the bowl that you won’t be coloring (this one will have to cover both the top 1/3 of the cake and the top). Tint two of the bowls yellow with one slightly lighter than the other. Starting with the darkest color on the bottom, pipe the frosting around the lower 1/3 cake using a large round tip. Switch to the second shade of yellow and pipe that around the middle 1/3 of the cake. Switch to the untinted frosting and pipe the rest of the sides and the top of the cake. Smooth out the frosting using an offset spatula, and then, starting at the bottom, draw the spatula up the side of the cake to create a textured frosting effect.
Garnish the cake with a few dollops of frosting and some fresh lemons and poppy seeds, and voila! A cake full of sunshine!