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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Princess Cupcakes

Princesses have come a long way in popular culture. As a kid, I had the classics: Cinderella, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and the coolest princess ever, Princess Leia. Since my 1980s childhood, we’ve seen many strong female role models emerge in children’s stories. Today’s princesses aren’t lying around waiting for some rich guy to kiss them; they’re going off to battle, undoing spells from witches to save their families, and discovering that what makes them different is actually what makes them awesome. Even Princess Leia became a general, not that I’m surprised.

Princess cake and cookie flavor is a vanilla-citrus-flavored baking emulsion (read: flavoring that is water-based, so it won’t bake out) that you can find at cake stores and specialty baking suppliers like King Arthur Flour. This is the first time I’ve used it, and I’m very pleased with the results. I decided to go the traditional princess route and tinted my frosting pink, then added some pearl sprinkles as well.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon princess cake and cookie flavor
  • 3 tablespoons milk

For the frosting

  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon princess cake and cookie flavor
  • 3-4 teaspoons milk
  • Red food coloring
  • Pearl sprinkles, if desired

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with 6 paper liners.

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 egg and princess cake and cookie flavor and beat until combined.

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

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into each cupcake well.

Bake for 16-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and immediately place cupcakes on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting: beat butter in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 1 minute. Add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes. Once all the sugar is incorporated, beat on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes, then add flavor and 2 teaspoons milk; if frosting is too thick, add remaining milk. Add a few drops of red food coloring to tint frosting pink.

Fit a large pastry bag with a Wilton M1 tip and pipe generous swirls of frosting onto each cupcake. Top with pearl sprinkles.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Makes 6.

Confetti Cupcakes

I work with a great group of smart, hilarious women, and there’s a lot to celebrate on our team right now. Cyndy just had a birthday; Melissa is expecting her second baby; Megan got engaged last weekend, and it’s also her birthday later this month. Naturally, this calls for cupcakes.

You’ve probably had funfetti before – at least, I sincerely hope you have. These confetti cupcakes are a scratch-made alternative to Pillsbury’s brilliant sprinkles-in-the-cake idea, made with a fluffy vanilla buttercream and topped with more sprinkles, because is there really such a thing as too many? This recipe is adapted from one I found at Brown Eyed Baker; I cut the recipe down a bit to make a slightly smaller batch of just 18 cupcakes. You could easily double this recipe for a larger crowd.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into 1-inch cubes, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon rainbow sprinkles

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • rainbow sprinkles

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcake tins with paper liners; my recipe made 18 cupcakes.

Combine milk and vanilla; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine cake flour, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat on low speed for about 1 minute, then slowly add butter, a few cubes at a time, beating on low until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low and scraping the sides of the bowl after each. Keep beating on low while slowly adding milk/vanilla mixture, then beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until batter is smooth. Stir in sprinkles.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop batter into cupcake wells, filling about two-thirds full.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from pans and cool on a wire rack completely.

To make the frosting, using the whisk attachment on your mixer, whip butter for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times. Add powdered sugar one-half cup at a time, beating well between each addition to fully incorporate the sugar into the butter. Once all powdered sugar is added, whip for 1-2 minutes on medium-high speed, then add vanilla extract and whip for another 1-2 minutes.

Frost cupcakes and top with sprinkles. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 18.

Winter Wonderland Cake

When most people think about Christmas desserts, they probably think of cookies. And while there are some amazing cookie recipes out there, I like to get creative for our Christmas desserts. This year, I wanted to do something peppermint-based, and this little vanilla peppermint cake turned out very well.

I found several recipes for pine tree/winter wonderland cakes online, but decided to make my own from recipes I’ve previously baked. To make the pine trees, I melted some vanilla candy coating (rather than using candy melts, as I don’t really like the way they taste) and tinted them green with candy coloring.  It’s important to use candy coloring, which is oil-based and available at cake shops, rather than liquid or gel-based food coloring. Oil-based coloring will blend into your melted coating very well, while liquid or gel-based coloring will make the coating clumpy.

Ingredients

Candy Pine Trees

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces vanilla candy coating*
  • Green candy coloring
  • 10 lollipop sticks
  • Nonpareils

*I use CandiQuik vanilla candy coating, available at Target.

Preparation

Line two baking sheets with waxed paper; set aside.

Chop candy coating into pieces, then place in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds to distribute the heat.

Add green candy coloring and stir well.

Dip the top of each lollipop stick into the melted coating, then place several inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Spoon candy coating into a zip-top bag; carefully snip off one corner and pipe coating onto lollipop sticks in tree shapes.

Sprinkle nonpareils on trees while they are still wet; allow to set completely, then carefully peel off waxed paper. Trim stick bottoms, leaving about 1 inch to insert into the cake.

Vanilla Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons milk

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 and vanilla extract 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.

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.

Peppermint Vanilla Buttercream

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons peppermint extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • About 2 tablespoons milk
  • White cupcake pearls, optional

Preparation

Place butter in a mixing bowl and beat on medium speed for 1 minute using a paddle attachment. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated; this will take several minutes. I cover my mixer with a kitchen towel to prevent a powdered sugar storm.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and add peppermint extract, vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon milk. Beat until well combined, scraping sides of the bowl frequently; beat in additional milk and continue beating for 1-2 minutes for a smooth, even consistency.

To assemble the cake:

Place the bottom layer on your cake stand and frost the top, then top with remaining layer and frost the top and sides. Place remaining frosting in a zip-top bag; snip off one corner and set aside.

Press trees into cake top, starting at the back, and piping additional buttercream around the bottoms as you work toward the front of the cake. Sprinkle with cupcake pearls.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.