Early mornings are the best time of day for me, when everyone else is either sleeping or getting ready to go out. It’s usually dark when I leave & I love catching that inky blue sky as it slowly melts into an array of pretty pinks & golds. It’s a serene time of day for me & as Christmas is getting closer, people are bustling about, bags bulging & feet burning, so I like to soak up the calm before the chaos.
Christmas cakes have been decorated with snowy scenes, presents wrapped & cards sent (except mine, because I’ve not had time to write any yet). I’ve been sculpting little cute creatures from my homemade modelling chocolate, ready to be wrapped & hopefully not eaten. This time of year can become a bit of a whirlwind of things to do & when this happens, I find it soothing to put on an apron & bake a cake. Cake should be created with care, not rushed but relished & enjoyed. A happy Cook makes a happy cake!
Cake: even the mere mention of this magical food can cause a frenzy of fresh faces at the door, eyes wide in anticipation of sweet creations. As a child, baking always seemed like some kind of magical spell – you put a tin full of sweet tasting goo in the oven & a fluffy cloud of cake comes out! This particular cake is the one I am best known for, my Lemon Drizzle Cake. Lighter-than-air layers of lemon cake & whipped buttercream that seem to evaporate like a zesty zephyr with every mouthful. It tastes like freshly squeezed sunshine & sherbet lemons, almost defying you not to feel brighter & more cheery as you eat it. This recipe is for a seven inch three layered cake, perfect for afternoon tea with friends or a celebration of your own & yes, even Christmas!
Now you’re probably only going to need about one lemon’s worth of zest, depending on size, but you need their juice. You all know by now that I don’t like waste, so zest all the lemons & pop spoonfuls of the extra zest in ice-cube trays & cover with a little water, then freeze for future bakes. Ready to bake it happen? Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!
What you need:
2-3 large Unwaxed Lemons, washed & dried, room temperature
For the Cake:
8oz Unsalted Butter, softened at room temperature
8oz Self-Raising Flour
4 large Eggs
2 teaspoons fresh Lemon Zest
A few drops Vanilla Extract
For the Syrup:
100ml approx of fresh Lemon Juice topped up with Sugar to 150ml (see picture here)
1 teaspoon fresh Lemon Zest
For the Buttercream:
5oz Unsalted Butter, softened at room temperature
12oz Icing Sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
1 tablespoon fresh Lemon Zest for decoration/filling
What to do:
Pre-heat the oven to 190*C & prepare your tins. You will need three 7″ cake tins. Wipe them out with a little melted butter. I use the butter wrapper for this – you can keep them in the fridge or freezer for future bakes (you’re welcome!). Sprinkle with a little additional flour & shake around to coat the inside of your tins. Tap them upside down to tip out any excess flour. Place a circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom of each tin & set them aside on your worktop.
Next, prepare your lemons. Wash them well in warm soapy water, drying them equally well. Once cleaned, give them a good firm roll on the worktop. This will encourage them to give up their juice easier.
Using a zester or the fine side of a cheese grater, remove the zest of the lemons carefully. You just want to zip off the golden skin, not the white pith underneath, so try not to use too much pressure as you zest. Cover & set aside.
Cut each lemon in half & squeeze the juice into a cup or mug. Don’t worry about pips, simply pour the juice into a strainer over a measuring jug. I use a fork to juice lemons – jab it into the middle & twist while you squeeze the outside. Set aside.
Now to make the cake batter! Beat the butter & sugar in a large mixing bowl until a soft golden paste.
Add one egg, beating well until your mixture is glossy & fluffy. Repeat with the rest of the eggs, one at a time.
Sift half the flour into the mixture carefully, then fold into the wet ingredients using a spatula. Once it’s started to combine, sift in the rest of the flour & continue to fold until fully blended to a smooth, thick batter.
Sprinkle the lemon zest across the top & stir in well.
Using your whisk, give it one last beating for about 30 seconds, just to get a good gust of air in at the end.
Spoon into the prepare tins equally, smoothing down the mixture until level.
Bake on the shelf just down from the centre of the oven for approximately 18-20 minutes, until well-risen & lightly golden on top.
Using a stem of spaghetti or a skewer, gently poke the cake in the centre – if it comes out clean, it’s cooked. Place the cakes in their tins on a cooling rack for a minute.
Slide a pallet knife between the edge of the tin & the cake to loosen it. Turn it out very gently onto a cooling rack & peel off the greaseproof paper circle by pulling it slowly back on itself – don’t lift it up or it will bring half your cake with it. Turn your cake over very carefully & leave to cool completely.
While the cakes are cooling, time to make the buttercream. This is my method to blend puff-free powdered icing sugar with the butter. It just requires a little effort & will mean you don’t have a cloud of sugar.
Tip the butter into a bowl & using a soft spatula, beat & spread it around the bowl (I usually spread it halfway up around the edges).
Very slowly add all the icing sugar – do not tip it in, use a tablespoon to scoop it into the bowl & add it as close to the butter as possible.
Using the spatula, press it into the butter & scoop from the sides of the bowl, folding & pressing until all the sugar is squished into the butter to form a very stiff paste.
Once it’s all incorporated, add a little of the lemon juice & give everything a good beating with the spatula until very light textured & fluffy. It should be the palest, creamy colour by now.
Spoon into a piping bag with your preferred nozzle (I used a large star nozzle because that’s my favourite for this). Fold the end & pop it into the fridge while you make the syrup.
Strain 100ml of the lemon juice into a measuring jug. Add the sugar evenly until the liquid has risen to 150ml – you should have an equal stripe of sugar & lemon juice in the jug.
Add the lemon zest & give everything a good stir. Either pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes on full power or dissolve in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Once the sugar has disappeared completely, your syrup is ready. Give it a stir again & set aside to cool slightly.
Time to start assembling your cake! Get yourself a lovely serving plate & remove the buttercream from the fridge. I’m going to give you a couple of tips here that I’ve learned over the years too.
Firstly, take your buttercream & pipe a small half inch splodge in the centre of your serving plate. This will stop your cake from sliding around while you’re stacking the layers.
Take your first cake layer & flip it over, so it’s flat side up. Lay it onto the splodge of buttercream on the plate.
Using a stem of spaghetti or a skewer, poke several holes all over the cake.
Spoon about a third of the lemon syrup evenly all over the cake – remember, you just want to drizzle not drown the cake, so don’t overdo it or it will go soggy. Just drizzle enough syrup all over & don’t worry if a bit goes over the edges, it will soak in.
Pipe decorative swirls around the top of the cake, to make a buttercream ring around the edge. Fill the centre in by piping around the inner edge, getting smaller until in the middle.
Take the next layer of cake, flip it over as before & carefully lay it on top of the buttercream, making sure it’s level & even.
Repeat the above steps, poking little holes in carefully – you don’t want to go through the cake, just make little vents for the syrup to seep into. Again, don’t worry if it goes over the edges, it will be fine. Pipe the buttercream as before.
Place the final layer of cake on top carefully, ensuring it is level & your cake layers are all in line with each other (give it a little nudge until you’re happy with it).
Carefully poke some holes in the top cake, as before for the previous layers & add the syrup. If you have some syrup left at the end, freeze it in ice cube trays (it’s perfect poured over ice-cream or plopped in a glass of Prosecco).
Sprinkle strands of fresh lemon zest all over the top of your cake, with a few on the plate around the edge. That’s it, your cake is ready to slice & share! I recommend keeping it as simple as this for an afternoon treat with friends, but if it’s for a birthday or celebration, decorate as you like!
So if you need a little sunshine, try my de-luscious & delightful Lemon Drizzle cake! Stay hungry! Aimee 😉 x