Lemon Celebration Cake

When a birthday rolls around and it’s time to bake a cake, I am usually on pins and needles.  Will it turn out?  After all, a birthday cake isn’t an everyday dessert.  I’m usually baking the birthday cake the night before, or even the day of, so if it–dare I say–flops, then I am in some serious trouble.  My daughter celebrated her 8th birthday a few days ago, and there I was, nearing midnight the night before, pulling out my standing mixer to get at least the cake layers done.  She requested her favorite cake:  a lemon layer cake.

It took a few years before I figured out the best lemon cake for my little girl.  I started out using a pound cake recipe.  That ended up being too heavy and actually too dry.  Then I found a photo with a recipe that looked marvelous, only to find that it relied on a boxed cake mix and instant pudding.  Sure, it added a few extra ingredients and steps, but it still used a box cake mix.  Then I found a recipe for a DIY cake mix.  It was made up of flour, sugar, powdered milk, and baking powder.  I used that recipe along with the instant pudding, plus milk (instead of just water), oil (instead of butter), lemon zest, and juice to make cake layers that were very moist and lemony.  But there was a chemical aftertaste.  I suspect that aftertaste came from the instant pudding.  Fast forward to midnight a few days ago, and here I was faced with a dilemma.  Should I continue to use the powdered milk and instant pudding or just risk it–go with the real thing?  Probably because I was so sleepy, I decided to risk it.  (Die hard home bakers probably would have also replaced the oil with butter, but I wasn’t willing to go that far on that fateful night.)

I’m glad I took the risk because the resulting cake was just right–moist, lemony, and no chemical aftertaste.  Will my experimenting on this cake end?  Probably not.  I’m toying with the idea of replacing the oil with butter.  That investigation is for another day.

Back to how I made this layer cake.  I went the normal route of mixing most of the wet ingredients and then mixing in the dry ingredients.  I mixed-in the dry ingredients in a couple of additions, alternating with the milk.  The frosting is a typical cream cheese frosting, but with a lot of lemon flavor.  The sourness from the lemon helps to balance out the sweetness in the frosting and the cake itself.  Yes, as you can see from the photo below, the frosting in the middle might be a little too thick due to the bottom layer not being exactly level, but that extra pocket of frosting is that present-within-a-present that my birthday girl was hoping for.

 

 

Print Recipe
Lemon Celebration Cake
Copyright © 2017 HollyTrail.com
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
For the Cake
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil (e.g., canola, but not olive oil)
  • 2 medium lemons, zest and juice (about 2 tablespoons zest and 1/3 cup juice)
  • 1 cup milk
For the Frosting
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened and at room temperature
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature, (1 cup or 2 sticks)
  • 1 1/2 lemons zest and juice
  • 3 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
For the Cake
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil (e.g., canola, but not olive oil)
  • 2 medium lemons, zest and juice (about 2 tablespoons zest and 1/3 cup juice)
  • 1 cup milk
For the Frosting
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened and at room temperature
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature, (1 cup or 2 sticks)
  • 1 1/2 lemons zest and juice
  • 3 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
Instructions
Make the Cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
  2. In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat eggs on medium speed for two minutes. Mix in vanilla, vegetable oil, and lemon zest and juice. Add half of the flour mixture, mixing at low speed until just incorporated. Add a 1/3 of the milk and mix until incorporated. Add the remaining flour and milk and mix on low speed until just smooth. [Do not overmix.]
  4. Pour cake batter into prepared pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester (or toothpick) comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack to cool completely.
Make the Frosting
  1. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy, and so that there are no lumps. Mix in lemon zest and juice. Beat in confectioner’s sugar one cup at a time. After adding last cup, beat until smooth.
  2. Place in refrigerator for about a half hour to slightly stiffen before spreading on cake. Makes about 4 ½ cups frosting.
Assemble the Cake
  1. On a cake plate or stand, place one cake layer, top-side-up. Spread the top with 2 cups of the frosting (or less if a thinner layer of frosting is desired).
  2. Place the second layer on top of the frosted layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Decorate or garnish as desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
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