Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

Today I turned 41. And while it feels like I was 17 years old about five minutes ago, I’ve never been intimidated by getting older. Not everyone gets to get older, right? And so to celebrate entering my “early forties,” I baked myself this lemon poppy seed layer cake.

This past week I weighed my birthday cake options, considering a caramel cake, a lemon raspberry cake, and a spice cake with maple buttercream. Then yesterday, Mike mentioned something about a lemon poppy cake, and here we are. It’s one of my favorite cakes I’ve ever made. And being a proud Pittsburgher, I do love that it’s black and gold.

Ingredients

For the lemon poppy seed cake

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • About 1 cup poppy seed filling*
  • About 1/2 cup lemon curd*

For the lemon curd buttercream frosting

  • 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon lemon curd
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

*Truth: I used bottled filling this time, because I’ve never made my own poppy filling and my homemade lemon curd went awry. Even experienced bakers have mishaps in the kitchen, my friends. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 6-inch round cake pans, line each with a parchment circle, and lightly grease the parchment.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until very well-blended. Add eggs, vanilla extract, lemon extract, and lemon zest and beat well to combine, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times.

Add flour and milk alternatively in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour and beating until completely combined. Stir in poppy seeds.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cakes to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting: in a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add 2 cups powdered sugar and beat on low, then medium speed, until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add lemon curd and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, then slowly add remaining cup powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed for another 2-3 minutes; you want a spreadable consistency that is not too soft or firm.

To assemble the cake:

Slice each cake in half lengthwise to create four layers. Place the first layer on your cake stand – I anchored my cake with a blob of buttercream to help it stay in place. Spread about 1/2 cup poppy seed filling on the first layer, leaving about a 1/4 inch border at the edge of the cake; some of your filling will spread further once the other layers are added.

Top with the second layer, then spread that layer with lemon curd, again leaving a bit of a border around the edge. Repeat with the third layer, topping it with poppy seed filling, then place the final layer on the top of the cake.

Frost the entire cake with a thin crumb coat and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Remove from the fridge and frost to completely cover the crumb layer; you don’t need to put the frosting on too thick, as it will take away from the flavors in the cake itself. I chose to add some flower decorations to the top of my cake because I had a bit of frosting left over.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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Amaretto Brownies

Chocolate and almond are great flavor friends. So when I found a little bottle of Disaronno in our liquor cabinet, I thought brownies with amaretto sounded like a great idea.

The funny part about this is that Mike and I aren’t big drinkers. He enjoys a good whiskey or bourbon, and I can manage a small glass of wine without getting a migraine so long as I drink tons of water with it. But we’re really not the kinds of people who have fully stocked liquor cabinets; when I need specific types of alcohol for baking, I usually buy miniature bottles from the state store. I have no idea where we got the amaretto, but it inspired these treats, which accompanied Mike to his masonic lodge meeting tonight. I imagine the masons – especially our friend Kevin – will enjoy them.

Ingredients

For the brownies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons amaretto
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cups Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

For the frosting

  • 5 1/3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons amaretto
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons almond extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add sugar and stir to combine, then heat until the mixture is just hot, 110 to 120 degrees, but not bubbly.

Pour sugar mixture into a large bowl and add amaretto, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Add cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder, stirring to combine. Add eggs and stir until smooth. Add flour and stir to combine, until no dry streaks remain. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into baking pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Cool brownies completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, combine butter, amaretto, and 1 tablespoon almond extract in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for about 1 minute; mixture will be clumpy, but it will smooth out once you add the powdered sugar. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating until smooth between each addition. Add remaining 1/2 to 1 additional tablespoon almond extract to taste.

Spread frosting over cooled brownies; cut into 24 squares. Store, covered, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

 

Summertime Swiss Roll

Having watched a great deal of The Great British Baking Show in recent months, I’m inspired to bake more creative treats. This Summertime Swiss Roll features a delicious combination of lemon almond sponge cake, lemon buttercream, and raspberry filling. I’m not sure how this cake would fare in the tent with Paul and Mary as judges, but it was absolutely delicious.

Swiss roll is another term for jelly roll; it’s a sponge-type cake with jam, preserves, buttercream, pudding, or a combination of fillings. I made a “plain” vanilla cake/strawberry preserves jelly roll earlier this summer and decided to branch out to a lemon, almond, and raspberry creation. I had some extra raspberry sauce that I served on the side of each slice; you could also garnish with fresh berries if you like.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest

For the filling

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest*
  • 1-2 teaspoons milk
  • About 3/4 cup raspberry filling

*You can omit the zest if you like and use a full teaspoon of lemon extract if you prefer. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 10 x 15 x 1 pan with parchment. Place a lint-free tea towel on a heatproof surface (I use a cutting board) near your oven and lightly dust it with powdered sugar.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat eggs until foamy, then slowly add the sugar, beating on medium speed until the mixture is thick and a light lemon color, about 5-7 minutes; add almond and lemon extracts and lemon zest just before you stop beating. When the batter is done, it will fall from the whisk in a ribbon, then mound on top of the batter before blending back in. Gently fold the flour mixture in (I used my whisk attachment for easy clean-up).

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading with a spatula to create an even layer. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the top is golden brown and springs back when you touch it. Remove from oven, then quickly and carefully flip your cake onto the powdered sugar-sprinkled tea towel. Gently peel the parchment away, then starting at one of the short ends, roll the cake up in a tight spiral and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before filling.

To make the buttercream, in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter, about 3-5 minutes. Add lemon extract, 1 teaspoon milk, and lemon zest, if using; continue to beat on medium-high speed for another 1-2 minutes. Add remaining milk if necessary.

To fill, unroll the cake and spread with buttercream, then raspberry filling; roll back up and wrap in plastic; chill for about 30 minutes to help filling set. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Fairy Bites

One of the best parts of being a godmother/aunt is getting to spoil the daylights out of the kids in your life. Such spoiling can be accomplished through regular provision of baked goods.

Now before you freak out and say that I shouldn’t be plying children with sweets and teaching them to make poor nutritional choices, please remember that these are really active kids with balanced diets, whose treats are monitored by their parents (and whose parents also benefit from such treats). These fun fairy bites, which are just shortbread cookies rolled in colorful nonpareils, made their way to Mo and Margo in Maryland last week along with two adorable little wolf pup toys I found in Niagara Falls. I adapted the recipe from one I found at The Cards We Drew, using princess cake and cookie flavor instead of vanilla extract. They were a big hit, right along with the wolf pups.

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons princess cake and cookie flavor
  • Multicolored nonpareil sprinkles

Preparation

Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add princess cake and cookie flavor and beat well, then add flour about 1/2 cup at a time, beating to combine.

Chill dough until just easy to handle; the original recipe called for 1 hour of chill time, but I found that this made the dough much harder than necessary.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place sprinkles in a small bowl.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop portions of dough and roll into balls, then roll balls in sprinkles, coating completely.

Place about 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake for 11-13 minutes, until edges are just golden brown. Allow to cool on cookie sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen.

Lemon Tart

Some of the best treats are the simplest treats. This lemon tart, with a shortbread-like crust and tangy filling, is a simple but elegant dessert far easier to make than you might imagine. Dust it with powdered sugar, add a few berries and some whipped cream, or just eat it plain – I promise, you won’t be disappointed. I have big plans for a raspberry or strawberry sauce to accompany this tart the next time I make it.

Adapted from The Best Lemon Tart Ever on Allrecipes, this tart remind me of a hybrid between lemon meringue pie and lemon bars. My version is very tangy, so you’ll want to serve it in small slices. I added more lemon zest than the original recipe called for, and also highly recommend blind baking your crust – I realized about halfway through baking that the crust had puffed up so much it really needed some weight to keep it from just ending up as a tart-shaped cookie, so I blind baked for the last 15 minutes or so of the total time.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Dash salt
  • 1 3/4 cups flour

For the filling

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 4 medium lemons)
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Preparation

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Add flour and mix to combine completely, then press crust into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Allow the crust to rise slightly above the edge of the pan because it will shrink slightly during baking. Chill for 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the crust with foil or parchment and fill with dried beans or pie weights; bake for 20-25 minutes, until crust is light golden brown at the edges.

While crust is baking, make filling; whisk sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, eggs, flour, and powdered sugar together until smooth. Pour filling into a large glass measuring cup; keep cool while crust finishes baking.

When crust is ready, remove it from the oven and remove foil/parchment and pie weights. Place a sheet of parchment paper on your oven rack (or on the rack below) and return the crust to the oven, then slowly pour the filling into the crust. Carefully place a crust guard around the edge to prevent over-browning. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until center is set; my center was set at about 25 minutes.

Remove tart from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack to room temperature; remove edge from tart pan and store tart, covered, in the refrigerator. Dust with powdered sugar or serve with whipped cream and berries if you like.

Jelly Roll

Does the thought of flipping a delicate, just-baked cake onto a tea towel and rolling the cake in the tea towel terrify you? I’ve been there, man. How can it possibly work, right? Somehow, through baking magic (or chemistry, if you want to get technical) the cake remains intact, and you end up with a lovely spiral of cake to fill with your heart’s desire.

I used to think I couldn’t bake any type of roll cake, but one autumn I conquered this fear and made a pumpkin roll. I didn’t realize back then that you really should roll up your cake in as tight a spiral as you can possibly manage, because although they’re delicate, roll-type cakes are also quite flexible when prepared and baked correctly. This jelly roll is a classic confection based on a recipe I found at King Arthur Flour, featuring a vanilla foam cake (read: more eggs, less fat) and strawberry preserves, dusted with some powdered sugar. I do wish I’d rolled my spiral just a bit tighter once I filled it, and I already have a handful of ideas for future treats Stay tuned!

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces strawberry preserves*
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

*You need a thicker fruit filling than jelly for a jelly roll, as it turns out. Jam and preserves are both good ideas, as are fillings like lemon curd, pastry cream, etc. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 10 x 15 x 1 pan with parchment. Place a lint-free tea towel on a heatproof surface (I use a cutting board) near your oven and lightly dust it with powdered sugar.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat eggs until foamy, then slowly add the sugar, beating on medium speed until the mixture is thick and a light lemon color, about 5-7 minutes; add vanilla just before you stop beating. When the batter is done, it will fall from the whisk in a ribbon, then mound on top of the batter before blending back in. Gently fold the flour mixture in (I used my whisk attachment for easy clean-up).

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading with a spatula to create an even layer. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the top is golden brown and springs back when you touch it. Remove from oven, then quickly and carefully flip your cake onto the powdered sugar-sprinkled tea towel. Gently peel the parchment away – I needed to use an offset spatula to prevent some of the cake from sticking to the parchment. Starting at one of the short ends, roll the cake up in a tight spiral and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before filling.

To fill, unroll the cake and spread with preserves; roll back up and place seam-side down on your cake plate, then dust with powdered sugar. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Makes about 9 servings.

Victoria Sponge

What better way to celebrate the royal wedding than with a traditional English dessert? I’ve wanted to bake a Victoria sponge for a while now, and yesterday’s Harry-and-Meghan-extravaganza presented the perfect opportunity.

Victoria sponge, also called a Victoria sandwich or Victorian cake, was named for long-reigning British monarch Queen Victoria. This simple cake is an absolutely delicious treat; two layers of cake filled with raspberry jam and whipped cream. The cakes themselves are very easy to make, requiring only butter, sugar, eggs, self-rising flour, and baking powder; no extracts of any kind. You might wonder if they’ll turn out bland, but trust me, they don’t. The tart raspberry jam and sweet whipped cream go a long way to complement the cakes, which are a bit like pound cake. This recipe is adapted from Mary Berry’s Victoria sandwich from BBC Food; I measured all of my ingredients by weight for the cakes, rather than volume, to ensure that my ratios were correct.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces (1 cup) butter, at room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 8 ounces superfine sugar*
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 8 ounces self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup raspberry jam
  • 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

*To make superfine sugar, place regular granulated sugar in a food processor and pulse to a fine consistency, like sand. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans with butter, then line each with a circle of parchment.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until combined; add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in flour and baking powder.

Divide batter evenly between the two cake pans, leveling the tops with a spatula. Bake for 20 minutes, then check to see if cakes are done; they will be golden brown on top, have pulled away from the sides of the pan, and will spring back when pressed lightly.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans for 5 minutes; run a butter knife around the edge of each cake and turn onto a wire rack to cool.

Once cakes are cool, place one layer on a cake plate (handling very gently using a large spatula – my cake cracked easily when I started to move it). Top with raspberry jam.

To prepare whipped cream, place cream and powdered sugar in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip at high speed for a few minutes, until soft peaks form. Be careful not to over-whip your cream, or you’ll end up with butter!

Drop whipped cream in dollops over the jam and gently spread to cover the whole surface. Top with remaining layer of cake; dust the top with powdered sugar if desired. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Most recipes note that Victoria sponge is best eaten within about 12 hours after it’s made.