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February Cake: Jamie’s Belated Birthday

4.February 2010

“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”

“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

This post is about cake, but first let’s talk about my sister.My sister is, without a doubt, one of the warmest, most generous, helpful (to a fault) people you’ll ever meet. Those qualities, paired with her massive intellect and unmatched way with words make her a formidable creature indeed. But for all that, she’s also humble and kind and generally pretty fun to be around. (Oh, and isn’t she pretty?)

When it came time for her birthday to roll around this year, celebrations were put off for a little while, but it didn’t seem right that she shouldn’t have a party and a cake and all the good birthday-things. And then I remembered my 2010 Cake Project.

So, the morning after her party, when we were all a little bleary-eyed, I concocted a plan, went to the grocery, and Jamie came over. We measured and mixed and baked and improvised a double boiler, debated the consistency of egg whites (shiny? firm? not dry?), and finally dug into one of the finest cakes I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting, much less that I could claim as my own creation.

The other occasion for this cake was the arrival of some beautiful Meyer Lemons on my doorstep. In my debate on what to do with them, I arrived at the notion of filling a cake with lemon curd and began to salivate. That’s just what we did.

A note on the recipe. All the components for this cake came from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott. If you’re at all inclined to bake cakes, buy this book. Although the components all came from this book, I’m going to go ahead and claim responsibility for the combination.

Jamie’s Birthday Cake white cake with lemon curd filling and cream cheese frosting

For the cake

  • 2 c all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 c milk
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 c butter, softened
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° and grease your cake pans (8″ or 9″ rounds, three if you have them) and line the bottoms with parchment. Grease the parchment.
  2. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well.
  3. In a bowl (or measuring cup) combine the vanilla with the milk.
  4. In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a mixer at low speed until foamy, then beat at medium-high speed until they become shiny, thick, and stiff, but not dry.
  5. Then, cream the sugar and butter on high speed until light and fluffy.
  6. On low speed, add the milk and vanilla (DO NOT DO THIS ON HIGH SPEED. I’ve warned you.) and beat until blended.
  7. Add the flour mixture all at once and beat on low speed until the flour is incorporated.
  8. Fold in half the egg whites by hand with a rubber spatula until they are mixed into the batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites.
  9. Divide the batter among your pans (I only had two pans, so I reserved about 1/3 of the batter until after the first layers were done baking.) and bake for about 25 minutes. They should spring back when touched in the center and start pulling away from the sides of the pans. Keep a close eye, because they’re not hard to over-bake.
  10. Cool on wire racks before assembling.

For the lemon curd filling
to do while the cake layers are baking

  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1/3 c fresh lemon juice (this was 1 Meyer Lemon for me)
  • 1 T finely grated lemon zest
  • 6 T cold butter, cut into small chunks
  1. For this you need either a double boiler or a heat-proof bowl that fits tightly into the top of a pan. I used a tempered glass bowl and a 2 qt saucepan.
  2. Bring about 3″ of water to a simmer in the pan (bottom of the double boiler).
  3. While the water is heating, mix the eggs, sugar, lemon juice, and zest in the bowl (or top of the double boiler). Whisk so that the ingredients are well mixed.
  4. Cook the egg mixture over the simmering water, whisking constantly, for 8-10 minutes until it thickens and begins to look opaque. It should have the texture of lightly whipped cream.
  5. Remove from the heat and drop a few chunks of butter into the curd. Mix well until the butter has melted. Repeat until all the butter is incorporated.
  6. Cool until room temperature before assembling the cake.

For the cream cheese frosting to do while the cake layers and lemon curd are cooling

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 c butter, softened
  • 1 lb confectioners’ sugar, sifted (VERY IMPORTANT)
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  1. Cream together the cream cheese and butter with a mixer on medium speed.
  2. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat at high speed until the frosting is fluffy and smooth. (DO NOT ADD THE CONFECTIONERS’ SUGAR AT HIGH SPEED. You’ve been warned.)
  3. If the frosting appears too stiff to spread, keep beating. The volume will increase and the frosting will become fluffier and more elastic with more beating.
  4. You’ll think there is too much frosting, but you’d be wrong. Pile it on.

To assemble the cake:

  1. Place bottom cake layer on a cake stand or pretty plate. Place strips of parchment just under the edges of the cake on all sides.
  2. Slather a healthy layer of lemon curd on top of the bottom layer. Avoid too much dripping on the sides, as it will make frosting the sides harder.
  3. Place another cake layer atop the first one and repeat the lemon curd slathering.
  4. Place the final layer atop the first one and begin piling on the frosting. First do a relatively thin layer on top of the cake, then carefully spackle the sides with frosting. I find that having too much frosting on your spatula or offset spatula or big knife (Chrissy! Bring me the BIG KNIFE!) makes it easier to spread without putting too much pressure on the cake.
  5. Once the sides are satisfactorily spackled, pile the rest of the frosting on top and distribute evenly on top and put more on the sides if you want. Don’t mess around with it too much, though, or you will make a MESS.
  6. Decorate the top with extra lemon zest or dollops of lemon curd. Pull out the parchment strips from underneath the first layer and voila! you haven’t messed up your pretty plate!
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