Thursday, March 10, 2011

So I Don't Forget: A Post About Lemon Lavender Cake.

Cake. I probably like baking cake more than cooking or baking anything else. Like no other thing, it symbolizes everything good and happy in life and it can be either be made decadent or benevolent depending on your whim. There was a time not so long ago when I though baking cake would be a career path I'd choose for myself, but now I know that I'm far too absorbed with other things to be solely obsessed with cake. However, I love when someone asks me if I can make one.

Last week, a friend asked if I'd make a cake for her birthday. She may have been shocked at my over-enthusiastic and immediately-texted-back response, but birthday cakes are my absolute favorite. I may not be the best cake decorator, but birthday cakes give me the chance to make something much more extravagant that anything made for day to day consumption. (Yes, there is more often than not an everyday cake of some kind lying around my house.) They are a challenge, and they have the bonus of being shared. I asked what flavor she preferred, and without hesitation she said lemon-lavender.

I have never had this combination before. Thanks to the Internet, which at times seems like my own personal oyster-arsenal of recipes, I quickly found a way to make an infused lavender cream using the one tiny bouquet of lavender that I stored from my garden last summer. Last year, I planted lavender for the first time, and I fully anticipated using it in baking. Procrastination set in and I never got around to it, although I snatched plenty of pretty stems that decorated my dining room summerlong, and I had the immense pleasure of running my hands through the plant whenever I strolled past the garden. Never once did I make the batch of shortbread cookies I intended to make or experiment with it in other sweets, and I had the one pale purple cluster tied with kitchen twine hanging around my kitchen to remind me.

Perfect cake.

The resinous perfume of lavender is strong, so after thinking about making it into a stabilized whipped cream for a filling, I decided on understatement instead - that I'd use it only in the frosting. For my base layers, I used Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake which is perfect and white, and slices handsomely without fear of toppling. My Perfect Party Cake never rises as high as the pictures of Dories in her Baking book, but I still like the flavor and stability of this cake. Every time I make it, I think it will rise higher - and I still hold out hope that one day, I will have a mile-high white cake. The cake lacks any yolks to color it, but I used more grated lemon peel to amp up the lemon flavor and I'm convinced it made it look faintly yellow. I love to think of Dorie in her kitchen whenever I bake from her Baking book - it really is one of my favorite cookbooks.

With the frosting and cake decided, I just had to decide on a filling. I waffled between using lemon curd or lemon marmalade, or perhaps some of each. When I tasted the finished curd, then subsequently tasted the lemon marmalade, the marmalade tasted positively bitter. I decided on three layers of lemon curd. When cloaked in lightly sweetened lavender whipped cream, I think it really worked. I want to write it down so I don't forget. It happens.

I made the lemon curd and infused the lavender simple syrup the day before I baked and assembled the cake. I had one little jar of lemon curd leftover - I kind of wanted to save a little for myself, to use as a topping on Dorie's Cream Scones that I made last week. She says it will keep up to 2 months in the refrigerator, but I know I'm never going to have to worry about that.

Dorie's Lemon Curd (Dorie's Baking: From My Home to Yours)
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 6 T. butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 6 egg yolks (save those whites! You'll need 4 for the cake.)
  • lemon juice from 4 freshly squeezed lemons (zest them all first prior to juicing. I use organic to ensure they haven't been dyed or sprayed.)
Combine all the ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Stirring continuously with a heat proof implement, heat over medium-low heat until the butter melts and the mixture gets thicker. Depending on your heat, this should take about 6-10 minutes. (Be careful not to get it too hot, or it can separate.) When done, it should coat the back of a metal spoon without running into the track you create by running your finger down the center. It will thicken in the refrigerator, so you aren't looking for it to be as thick as finished curd when it's still hot.

Pour the still hot, finished curd into a glass bowl, and press a piece of plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin from forming. Cool completely to room temperature before refrigerating.

Lavender Simple Syrup - for Lavender Whipped Cream Frosting (Cupcake Bakeshop)
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • heaping 1 T. lavender flowers
  • 2 c. heavy cream
Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add lavender flowers, stir to combine, and let steep uncovered for 10 minutes. Place a fine sieve over a small glass or bowl and strain out lavender flowers, pressing to release all the syrup from them. Cool, then refrigerate until ready to make whipped cream.

Whip cream using a stand or hand mixer (or by shear brute hand force if you are up for that) until soft peaks form. With mixer still running, slowly drizzle in lavender syrup and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

You can find the recipe for Dorie's Perfect Party Cake here at Ezra Pound Cake, along with the original buttercream frosting...

I love rich cakes paired with airy light frostings, and this one was no exception. The lemon curd was lemony and tart, and the lavender read more as floral than perfume-y, so I was very happy with the combination of the two. It sliced like a dream, and was rich enough that a small piece was enough. A room full of people were served, and there were still a few pieces for the Birthday Girl to have leftover the next day.

Before the onset of Winter, I covered my first season lavender plant with a large, overturned flower pot - so I have high hopes for it's reemergence this Spring. And, with the time change coming up this weekend already, I feel more ready than ever for the change in weather. I'm glad I have a bit of sunny lemon curd to hold me over until the sunlight is good and properly warming when I wander around outside. I certainly will remember both to use my lavender more during the season and to stash more of it away come Fall. I can see this becoming a habit.


  1. I love to think of Dorrie in her kitchen, too. I hang my Kitchen Aide attachments from above in homage....have a great day....I love you!

  2. My birthday is in September...I'll be calling. Will trade yarn for cake.

  3. impressively inspired cool that all of your prior knowledge came together into such a cohesive new cake! i wish that i could have tasted it.

  4. That cake looks so simple yet has a soft elegance about it too. It sounds delicious. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog and I'd like to invite you to stop by and link your cake up.


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