all at once

just frosted
There is about to be a mass exodus from Cambridge. All at once, some of my closest friends are moving away, and soon. Before the summer is out, we will say goodbye to our down-the-hall neighbors, Amy, David, and their three Johnnycake-baking, joke-cracking daughters; Varina, our resident cheerleader of all things green and budding, and Tim, her office floor turkey-brining husband; those storytelling unleashers of hilarity, Jonathan and Hila, and their newly toddling daughter Naomi; and, last but not least, the pistol packin' Eitan, and the expert sesame noodler, Julia.* They're out of here. All of them. In case you're keeping track, that's twelve people, folks. Twelve. And that's before we count my dear friends Sarah, Rachel, and David.

It is quite a blow.

These people are not your everyday, run of the mill friends. They are the kind that bring you bean soup and honey wheat bread when you're sick, who show up at your door with a tray of still-warm homemade hummus, hard boiled eggs, and pickles, and who tell you to take the whole jar of molasses when all you need is half a cup. They are the friends who join you on your birthday for a race through Boston, cheer for you at the finish line, and celebrate that night with warm cookies and a breathtaking view of the city. They invite you to their lake house and, when your irrational fear of dead bodies lurking beneath the water threatens to keep you from wading out too far alone, they accompany you on a swim clear across to the other side of the lake. They even drag the buoy, so that all you have to do is glide along, unencumbered, and take it all in. When you're in the hospital, they visit, and when they tell you that your scar looks "bad ass," you forget to be afraid for a moment, and instead, feel sort of... cool. They loan you pants, cry on your sofa, and let you cry on theirs.

And, if you're very lucky, they understand that the question "whipped cream or buttercream frosting?" demands serious deliberation. In my group, it's Varina's husband, Tim, who has this last bit covered. I would expect nothing less from a guy whose last name sounds like an Italian dessert. (Think "torte" and you have the right idea.)

from above

That Tim's birthday cake would feature some lemony tang was a no-brainer. The guy has a thing for lemons. (It was for Tim that I first made these most lemony lemon bars.) A riff on the strawberry custard cake from a few weeks back, with lemon curd swapped in for the custard and some extra zest in the batter, would be just the thing. There was, however, a problem. As a rule, Tim prefers buttercream over whipped cream frosting. I am not one to deny birthday wishes, but the thought of rich, buttery curd and buttercream frosting duking it out in a single cake made me shudder. I had a nagging feeling that this cake wasn't big enough for the both of them. A dedicated baker himself, Tim totally got my dilemma. After a thoughtful silence - in which I noted more than a hint of disappointment - Tim agreed that whipped cream was probably the more appropriate choice.

Little did we know that there was a third option, a frosting that captures the very best of what whipped cream and buttercream frosting have to offer. As it turns out, airy whipped cream folded into a small bowl of tangy curd, chilled until firm, yields the best of all possible worlds. I mean it: Given a solar system of frosting planets, I would choose to live on this one. It's rich yet delicate, lightly sweet, and plenty tart. It's festive, yet subdued. It spreads like a dream, but clings to the spatula just enough to warrant a proper lick before clean-up. In short, it works with the cake instead of against it.


They say the world is small these days. I know there will be e-mails, phone calls, and visits across the continent - even across the ocean. But no matter how you slice it, there is no simple way to share a piece of cake with someone thousands of miles away.

Friends, I'll miss you.


*Eitan and Julia would no doubt like me to emphasize that they are not "moving away," but taking a year and a half long "hiatus" from Cambridge. (Can we hold you to it?)

Lemon Curd Layer Cake
adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2009 and this Strawberry Custard cake

One thing to have in mind before you get started is that the lemon curd needs to chill for at least 5 hours before you can slap it between the cake layers. I find that an overnight chill works well where timing is concerned. This cake can be entirely prepared a day before serving and kept in the refrigerator overnight. A convenient way to split up the labor for the cake would be to prepare the curd and bake the cakes the night before, slice the berries, split the cakes, and whip up the frosting the next morning, allow the frosting to firm up, and then assemble. It is ideal if you can chill the fully-composed cake for 6-8 hours before serving.

I have lifted the ingredients and directions for the cake component of this recipe almost to the letter from my strawberry custard cake recipe. The difference is just a little extra lemon zest. This time around, I did not chill the cakes, but split them just after they cooled to room temperature. Chilling supposedly makes the cakes less prone to breakage, but to my surprise, the warmer cakes stayed perfectly intact. This cake is s-t-u-r-d-y. I also used a new splitting technique: Instead of splitting the cakes with a long, serrated knife, I used dental floss! Unwaxed. I simply wrapped the floss around the circumference of the cake, and pulled. When the spongy cake squished up in the middle like an hourglass, I got a little nervous, but once the floss had pulled its way through -boing!- the cake sprang back to its original shape. And the layers were perfectly even. Neat, huh?

For the lemon curd:
2 1/3 c. granulated sugar
2 t. cornstarch
1 c. fresh lemon juice
4 large eggs
4 large egg yolks (save the whites to use in the cake batter)
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

For the cake layers:
2 1/4 c. cake flour
1 1/4 and 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
3/4 c. cold water
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 T. lemon zest
1 t. vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks at room temperature
8 large egg whites at room temperature
1/2 t. cream of tartar

For the frosting:
2 c. heavy cream
3 T. powdered sugar
1 1/4 c. of the prepared lemon curd

2 lbs. strawberries

Make the lemon curd:
In a medium saucepan, combine the 2 1/3 c. sugar and the cornstarch. Whisk in the lemon juice, the eggs, and the yolks. Add the butter. Whisk over medium heat until the curd boils and thickens, about 12 minutes. Pour into a medium bowl, cover, and chill for at least five hours, or overnight. (The curd can be prepared up to 1 week in advance. Keep covered and chilled.)

Make the frosting:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. In a medium bowl, combine 1 1/4 c. of the lemon curd and the 3T. powdered sugar. Fold the whipped cream into the curd mixture in three additions. Fold gently, so as not to deflate the cream. Chill until firm, at least 4 hours.

Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with lightly oiled (I use cooking spray) parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, 1 1/4 c. sugar, baking powder, and salt twice into a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, use an electric hand mixer on high speed to beat together the yolks, water, oil, zest, and vanilla until smooth. Stir into the flour mixture.

In another large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 1/4 c. sugar, and beat on high until the peaks are stiff but not dry.

Using a rubber spatula (and a very light touch), fold about a quarter of the fluffy egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Then fold in the remaining whites. Be very gentle. The goal here is to incorporate the egg whites without allowing them to deflate significantly. It is all of the air that has been whipped into the egg whites that will make for tall and light cake layers. As soon as the egg whites are no longer visible, stop folding.

Scrape the batter into the two prepared pans and spread evenly. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

For the next step, and for the splitting, wax paper is your friend. Any surface that carries a cake layer, I line with wax paper for easier transfer.

Allow the cakes to cool in their pans on a cooling rack for at least an hour. When completely cool, run a knife around the sides to release the cakes, cover each pan with a wax paper-lined plate, and flip. Gently lift the pans off of the cakes, and carefully peel back the pieces of parchment, taking care not to take the very tops of the cake with you.

Split each cake into two layers, using a serrated knife, or the dental floss technique, explained above.

Assemble the cake:
Wash, hull, and slice the strawberries.

Place one cake layer on a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Top with a generous layer of lemon curd. Place another cake layer on top, and cover with sliced strawberries. Add another cake layer, spread with more lemon curd, and then top with the final cake layer. Using a spatula, frost the outside of the entire cake with the lemon cream frosting. Top with the remaining sliced strawberries. (Any leftover strawberries and lemon curd should be eaten together in a bowl, if you ask me.)

Chill the cake, preferably for 6-8 hours, and bring to a cool room temperature before serving.

(To transfer the cake from the baking sheet to a cake stand or serving plate, use the wax paper to gently scooch the cake from one surface to the other, then tear away the visible wax paper.)


Sarah said...

oh la la! that cake is a beautiful piece of art!

Julie said...

Beautiful post! and dreamy photo. Makes me miss my pals back in Vancouver. sniff.

ttfn300 said...

love the sounds of that frosting!!

Barbra said...

This is one of my favorite ways to frost a cake. Yours turned out beautifully!

Jess said...

Thanks for the "oo la la," Sarah. Never gotten one of those before.

Julie - I'm just hoping that if I keep posting pictures of yummy cakes, I'll be able to lure my friends back to Cambridge for frequent visits.

Hi, ttfn300. Thanks for stopping by. Yes, the frosting was really something special.

Barbra, hello. I assume you are referring to the dental floss. Who knew? My first thought after splitting the cakes into layers: "I want to do that again!"

megan said...

oh! this one made me sad - I know the feeling. I also have the feeling your cakes will be excellent incentive for visiting...

Lindsey said...

I know the feeling, when all of your friends leave at once...I went through a mass exodus in 2007, and luckily was able to find some new local friends (not to replace the ones that had left, of course).

Hopefully they aren't moving TOO far away...

kickpleat said...

Whoa, super impressive cake! And I know how you feel about leaving friends....we're thinking of moving and it's the only thing really holding me back.

oneordinaryday said...

What a nice post and what a gorgeous cake.

oneshotbeyond said...

I dig it!

koshercamembert said...

Oh, la tristesse of the mass exodus. I'm with you on that.

I love cutting stuff with dental floss -- it's how I cut brie in half to fill with caramelized onions before baking. Also a good technique for slicing a multi-layer cake into even pieces if you're afraid it might topple (but could be difficult here with the berries and unnecessary since you're more expert with your layers than I). I do it for a choc layer cake.

Jess said...

Megan - I know you know. I'd gladly bake one cake for each long distance friend if it would draw you all to Cambridge for a visit.

Lindsey - Glad to hear you bounced back from your 2007 mass exodus. Most of my friends are, in fact, moving quite far away. Across continents and oceans, far. But at least that means excuses to visit fun places!

Thanks, kickpleat. Good friends really do make a place feel like home, don't they?

oneordinaryday and oneshotbeyond - Thank you!

Koshercamembert: Yes, I did indeed use dental floss to cut this cake into layers. (Take a look at my recipe notes.) Neat trick!

Hadley Gets Crafty said...

Dude... Quadruple double yum....

Safe travels to your friends, and thanks for the recipe (as always)!

ajw said...

From my hummus creating husband, my joke telling daughters and me...we will miss you and your hubby more than you'll know. Life became that much more fun, warm and TASTY since our down the hall jaunts began. I loved watching the girls eating this particular creation from the same plate the other morning before school. Those were some happy faces!

Jess said...

Hi, Hadley. Well, double, quadruple thank you!

ajw - I love the image of the girls devouring the cake for breakfast. Thanks for that. You guys are the best. We sure will miss you.

Anonymous said...

Just made this cake! Turned out amazingly. Things I changed:

1) didn't add any confectioners sugar to the whipped cream, as the curd was already VERY sweet. I loved the result of delicate-sweet-tart so might recommend that to others.

2) I macerated the strawberries with just the lightest sprinkle of sugar (maybe 1/2 a teaspoon?) and they exploded with juices, which I used the moisten the layers

3) Put a single layer of strawberries and a nice spread of curd between every layer. I was concerned about slippage and thought that the curd and single layer would cement nicely, and it looked (and tasted) beautiful.

Thanks for the great recipe and clear instructions!

Jess said...

Hi, Anonymous! I'm so happy to hear that you made this cake and that it turned out so well for you. Thanks for taking the time to report back, and to share your alterations.

I also prefer things on the tarter side, and it makes perfect sense to me that the cake would work very well with unsweetened whipped cream. I'll try it next time! About macerating the berries, I did the same thing in this other version of the recipe, here. And I also sometimes combine strawberries and curd (or custard, in the other version of the cake) in a single layer. Either way works for me - I don't think you can go wrong!

Anonymous said...

Hi! I love your recipe and would like to bake this cake soon but Im in England and we use diffent measurements to you. Please can you tell me if the small 't' and capital 'T' used in your recipes for measuring ingredients are teaspoons and tablespoons, and which way round is it???

Many Thanks!!! :)

Jess said...

Hi there, Anonymous. The large "T" is for tablespoon and the small "t" is for teaspoon. I'm so happy to hear that you're making this cake! If you think of it, I'd love to hear how it turns out.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for clearing that up! I am going to buy the ingredients now. I'm making the cake as a surprise for a friends birthday.. she loves lemony cakes and this one is a bit different so I can't wait to make it. I will let you know how it goes, i'm sure it will be delicious!

Thank you :)

Arielle said...

I just discovered your blog, and I love it! I have a question about the cake layers. I baked only one layer with 1/2 the cake recipe and it rose above the top of my pan. How deep are the pans you use? And could it be that the proportions shouldn't be halved?

Jess said...

Hi, Arielle, and welcome! I believe that my pans are two inches deep. I'll double check in the morning (it's after midnight here now) and get back to you. I hope when you say "rose up" you don't mean "spilled over..."

Arielle said...

Nope - just the dome of the cake rose above the pan. It turned out *fabulous*!