Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I spent many happy afternoons at the Baskin Robbins my grandparents owned. Oddly, I don’t remember eating that much ice cream. There was the occasional clown cone (my favorite!), and tons of Blow Pops that my cousins and I would grab from a cup that sat on the counter. Mostly, I remember the cakes. Chocolate jelly rolls filled with fudgy icing and mint chocolate chip ice cream, and birthday cakes adorned with lacy borders or plastic figurines of Disney characters.
When I decided to get into Pastry, my grandma gave me a wonderful offset spatula that she used at the store decades ago. I use it a lot, and I used it to make her this really cute birthday cake, which she loved. It’s a vanilla bean cake with lemon curd, and swiss meringue buttercream.
I love lemon curd! And I love making it. Never buy lemon curd if you can avoid it. Making it is so much fun, and so rewarding, and frankly, really easy.
Think of the zest as a tea. Rub the sugar and lemon zest together to make your kitchen (or my entire apartment) smell amazing, and to encourage the oils from the fruit peel to infuse the sugar. When the eggs are added, steep the zest in the yolks, and once it’s all mixed, and cooked, and thick; strain the zest (like tea!) and there you have it. Buttery, tart, sweet, lovely, and awesome. Inject it into cupcakes! Fill cake layers with it! Top it with a pillowy meringue and then scorch that meringue! Make yourself some french macarons and sandwich-cookie-ify it!
To assemble this cake, I baked it in two 8″cake pans, and split each layer in half after they had cooled. I tinted my butter cream, and using a pastry bag with the end trimmed off (no use using a tip for this job), I outlined each layer in buttercream so the filling wouldn’t be squeezed out the sides once it was assembled. Then, I used the lemon curd to fill in the outline. I did this for three layers, and the fourth was the top of the cake.
Then, I used the same bag of tinted icing to put a decent layer of buttercream around the cake, and I used g-ma’s trusty offset to smooth everything around. A great tip for when you are icing a cake, and you can’t quite get everything smoothed over…use a smaller offset spatula dipped in hot water to iron out lines in your buttercream.
I was really inspired to make ths cake by the book Organic and Chic by Sarah Magid. I used her vanilla cake recipe, which is beyond awesome. The design was also inspired by her use of unexpected colors, and that cute branch technique, which is something that just never occurred to me. The book suggests tinting cake fillings in bright and surprising colors, and I definitely considered hot pink lemon curd, but the yellow and blue paired really nicely. Also, this cake was for my grandma. She thought it was wild enough that the filling was lemon.