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.