My cousin Amy asked why I didn't make a cake shaped like a bottle of hot sauce, since my father is well-known for his love of all things spicy. I honestly hadn't even thought of it! Clever girl. The flowers may not have been the most manly-looking cake, but I had fun piping them from candy melts. The centers of the flowers are sugar pearls.
I got to try a few other new things with this cake. The cake recipe is Flour Bakery's recipe (printed online here), which my friend, Mary, says is her very favorite yellow cake recipe. Naturally, I had to try it! I added lemon zest and swapped out about 1/4 cup of the buttermilk for fresh lemon juice, and voila! Lemon cake. I actually thought it was delicious. Very sturdy - it held up to being torted and filled and frosted. The cake did not have any of the cornbread texture that yellow cakes often seem to. The flavor was mild, and the crumb was nice. I will probably try just the plain vanilla version again soon so I can really taste it.
For the filling, I used the tried-and-true lemon curd recipe I've made before. It is so smooth, and the silkiness of the butter mellows the tart lemon flavor. I made it without lemon zest this time and therefore didn't have to strain it.
The frosting was the biggest difference: I had a lot of egg whites leftover (from all that lemon curd!) and decided to make a half-batch of Swiss meringue buttercream. It is really rich and buttery and speckled with vanilla bean. However, I actually think it is too rich and buttery on cakes. As I did with my sister- and brother-in-law's wedding cake, I mixed about 40% of the "good" buttercream with regular bakery frosting. It tames the overwhelming sugary taste of the bakery icing but doesn't leave your mouth feeling like you've rubbed it with a stick of butter. (Also, to make it lemony, I reduced the amount of milk in the frosting and added some lemon juice.) I actually really like the pale ivory color of the frosting as well as the vanilla speckles (like you get in really good vanilla bean ice cream), though if you wanted a pure white frosting, you'd want to use vanilla extract instead of vanilla bean.
I made a 10" cake, and I cut it wedding cake-style (made a ring, two inches in from the edge, and then sliced it. So there was a 6" center left that everyone kept slicing away at. The cake sat out for an hour or so following dessert, and then I put it in the fridge to firm up before re-wrapping it for the night. Apparently, when my mom went back later to wrap it, she discovered that all the layers had oozed and slid in different directions! Oh well. They stacked it back up and it was none the worse for wear - taste-wise, that is.
Flour Bakery's Yellow Cake
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups (12 ounces) cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour two 8" round cake pans. (You could also use 9" or 10" - just adjust the baking times. You may also line the pans with parchment and/or spray with baking spray with flour.)
Cream the butter and sugar together for 3-4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. (This will take 8-10 minutes with a handheld mixer; using a stand mixer cuts down the time significantly.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle to ensure everything is mixed evenly.
Whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla. With the mixer on low, pour the egg mixture into the butter mixture. Mix until just incorporated, scrape down the sides/beater again, and then beat for another 20-30 seconds until the mixture is homogeneous.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Add half the buttermilk, again mixing until just barely combined. Repeat with another 1/3 of the flour, the rest of the buttermilk, and finally, the rest of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix again briefly, just until the mixture is combined. Do not overmix. The batter will be thick and almost fluffy. (Original directions suggest adding the last third of the flour and folding it in by hand, using a rubber spatula. This avoids overmixing.)
Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and gently smooth the tops with a rubber spatula or offset spatula.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the cakes spring back when pressed in the middle with a fingertip. Cool completely in the pans. (I didn't actually read this - I typically cool my cakes for 10-15 minutes in the pan and then turn them out onto a cooling rack. I didn't notice any problems with this.)
You can frost and layer the cakes once they're cool, or you can wrap the layers tightly in plastic wrap and store them in the freezer to up to a week. Thaw them, still wrapped, at room temperature, and then frost and assemble the layers.
To make this into a lemon cake, add the zest of two lemons. Reduce the buttermilk to 3/4 cup and add 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice.
One recipe of cake made a 2" tall, 10" round cake. I made two full layers (made the recipe twice) and torted them, and the resulting cake, once filled and frosted, was well over 4" tall. In the future, 1 1/2 recipes' worth would probably do for a more modest cake.
Happy birthday to my lovely dad!!!