I work in a lab that takes birthdays seriously. And with over a dozen members, it means that we get to eat birthday cake on a fairly regular basis. More often than not, it involves copious amounts of chocolate.
I volunteered to make my own birthday cake. Unheard of, I know. But I wanted to make something slightly out of the ordinary. Just like me. Triple lemon layer cake with lavender honey ice cream. A little kooky, kind of like a girl with purple hair. I’ve had my eye on David Lebovitz’s recipe Lavender Honey Ice Cream and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a try. But what’s a birthday with ice cream and no cake? I went directly to lemons, with their bright tartness and screaming sunshine in the dregs of winter. Lemon chiffon layer cake separated by layers of lemon cream, wrapped up in a lemon frosting tinted beautifully pink by some beet juice.
You know how I was talking about patience earlier? This birthday cake was no easy feat. I’ve never made a layer cake before and I was a little intimidated. I had had visions of the cake just crumbling apart when I went to cut the layers or having the whole thing just slipping and sliding. But it wasn’t so bad. However, it did take a lot of time with many, many steps. And dishes.
As first attempts go, I was pretty pleased with how the whole thing turned out. Sure, my layers weren’t cut perfectly even and I need to develop some frosting skills, but even so, it looked like cake and tasted like cake. As for the ice cream, well, it was just about as good as you could get. Soft, creamy and calming. I think one of my colleagues called it ‘relaxing.’ I was pleasantly surprised how appreciative my midwestern coworkers were of my offbeat combination of flavors. Of course, they could have just been saying so…
Triple Lemon Layer Cake
Lemon Chiffon Cake
adapted ever-so-slightly from Tartine, by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson
2 1/4 cups (315 g) flour
1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 large egg yolks (~1/2 cup)
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
lemon zest from one lemon
11 egg whites (~1 1/3 cups) at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup lemon juice
lemon zest from one lemon
3 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup (170 g) sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup (225 g) butter
Lemon and Beet Juice Frosting
3/4 cup butter, room temerature
4 cups powdered sugar
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons beet juice*
For the cake:
Preheat oven to 325º F. Line the bottom of two 8-inch springform pans with parchment paper. DO NOT grease the sides! (The cake will need something to cling to).
Sift together the flour and baking powder into a very large mixing bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups (250 g) of the sugar and the salt, whisking to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, oil, lemon juice and zest and the water. Make a well in the flour, add the yolk mixture and then whisk thoroughly and quickly for about 1 minute until very smooth.
Place the egg whites in a large bowl. Using a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat on medium-high speed until the whites hold soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar and beat on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks. Using a rubber spatula, scoop about 1/3 of the whites into the yolk mixture and gently fold in to lighten the batter. Gently fold in the remaining whites until just combined.
Divide the batter among the two springform pans. Bake for ~45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in pan. To remove, run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake and then release and lift off the pan sides. Invert the cakes and peel off the parchment.
For the lemon cream:
In a double boiler over medium heat; combine lemon juice eggs and egg yolk, sugar and salt. Whisk the ingredients together until the mixture becomes very thick and reaches a temperature of 180º (this will take at least ten minutes). Remove the double boiler from the water and let cool to 140º, stirring from time to time to release heat.
Cut the butter into 1-tablespoon pieces. Transfer the lemon cream to a blender. With the blender running, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, blending after each addition until incorporated before adding the next piece. The cream will be pale yellow, opaque and quite thick.
Divide cream into thirds and set aside.
For the lemon-beet juice frosting:
Beat together butter, powdered sugar, lemon juice and beet juice until light and fluffy.
*I had roasted beets earlier in the week (peeled, in a small casserole dish with about 1/2 inch of water and covered with foil – roasted at 400º for about 45 minutes.) When I took the beets out of the oven, the water had turned a brilliant blood red. I reduced the liquid to about 2 tablespoons and saved it for dying purposes, namely this cake frosting. Alternatively, you could use food coloring, but where’s the fun in that?
Carefully cut each of the cakes in half, yielding four ~1/2 inch layers of cake. Place the first layer on a flat surface (I used the plate for my cake stand) and spread 1/3 of the lemon cream on the top. Place the second layer of cake on top of the lemon cream, spread with 1/3 lemon cream. Repeat with all of the cake layers. Spread frosting over the top and sides of cake. Since this was my first cake-decorating attempt, I kept it simple and just tried to make it look intentionally messy.
Lavender Honey Ice Cream
from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup dried lavender flowers, divided
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
Heat the honey and 2 tablespoons of the lavender in a small saucepan. Once warm, remove from heat and let steep at room temperature for 1 hours.
Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Pour the cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. Pour the lavender-infused honey into the cream through the strainer, pressing down on the lavender flowers to extract as much of the flavor as possible. Discard the flowers and return the strainer to the bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly and then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan. Stir constantly over medium heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Pour the custard through the mesh strainer and stir it into the cream. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of lavender flowers. Chill thoroughly.
Before churning, strain mixture once again to remove remaining lavender flowers. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker.