Tuesday, March 8, 2011

This One's a Keeper

If you are one of my good friends, there is a high likelihood I will make you a birthday cake on your annointed day (assuming I know when it is, of course).  That's what happened recently, when I delivered a cake to my dear friend Charla (not her real name) at her place of work.

Charla is very careful about what she eats (far better than I!) and I know she's been doing her best to stay away from chocolate.  I could certainly work around that in deciding what kind of cake to make for her, but I wasn't sure where to go from there.  I ran down my list of favorites (hummingbird and salted caramel came to mind) but nothing sounded right.  I remembered a lavender pound cake I made for her several years ago (which she liked) and lime cornmeal cookies which were also among her favorites.

Then I espied those two Meyer lemons which I'd been hoarding.  I also discovered an unopened bottle of poppy seeds in the spice cabinet.  An idea for Lemon Poppyseed Cake started to dance in my head.....

I turned to that well-used tome in my kitchen, "Sky High" by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne.  I wasn't looking to make a sky high irresistible triple-layer cake, but when I came across their recipe for Lemon Poppyseed Cake with Almond Cream Cheese Frosting, I couldn't resist.  As it turned out, this was a good decision.

If the reaction from Charla's co-workers was any indication, this cake was a pretty big hit.  One gentleman came over to tell me he was swooning and had just finished his second piece.  I loved that!  Haha, and he also made sure to tell me that his birthday is on October 12.  I hear you, Charlie!

The authors state that this cake is both rich and light at the same time.  I would have to agree.  I will tell you though, that brushing the layers with the lemon syrup is crucial.  If you skip this step, I think the layers will be too dry.  I love the fact that the layers are pure white (due to no egg yolks) and speckled with those tiny black poppy seeds which give the cake a lovely crunch.  I debated about replacing the almond extract in the frosting with lemon juice, but in the end, I didn't.  Another good decision.

I have to make a big birthday cake for a friend's big birthday next week. This one just might be in the running!

LEMON POPPY SEED CAKE WITH ALMOND-CREAM CHEESE FROSTING (adapted from “Sky High” by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne)

3 cups cake flour
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt (I used kosher)
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons (Meyer lemons, if possible)
1 ¼ cups buttermilk, divided
5 egg whites (I used extra-large)
1/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Butter the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each with parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

Combine the flour, 1 ¾ cups of the sugar, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to blend.

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until smooth and creamy, scraping down sides of bowl several times. Add the lemon zest and mix well. Add the flour mixture and 1 cup of the buttermilk. Beat on low until completely mixed, then increase speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes to lighten and aerate the batter.

In a medium bowl, combine the egg whites with the remaining ¼ cup buttermilk and whisk to blend thoroughly. Add the egg white mixture to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only enough to incorporate. Divide the batter among the prepared pans.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn out on a baking rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, the lemon juice and the water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let cool slightly.

For the frosting:
1 ½ lbs. (three 8-oz. packages) cream cheese, softened
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ lb. confectioner’s sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon almond extract

Place cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat well on high speed for at least 5 minutes, scraping bowl down often until no lumps remain. Add sugar in three parts, beating well each time and scraping down bowl as needed. Add salt and almond extract and blend well. Try to avoid eating too much of this stuff as you make it.

To assemble:
Place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Brush with 1/3 of the lemon syrup. Spread with a layer of frosting. Repeat with remaining two layers, then frost sides and top of cake.

Serves 8 - 10

* I am givng you this recipe as it was written.  In the interest of full disclosure, I made it in lovely 8-inch pans with removable bottoms which were given to me by my dear friend Stephen (you know who you are).  No need for you to follow that same path; just make it in whatever pans work for you.

*  And yes, I am going to make this for my friend's birthday.  In a tiered version, no less.  Heaven help me!  I have a feeling this could just be the next great cake-wreck!

*  Will keep you posted.  Even if it's ugly. It probably will be. Oy veh.

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