In our household, Cinco de Mayo is not only an excuse to drink margaritas, but Dylan’s birthday as well. This year was a particularly eventful one, as Dylan was turning 30. Not only would that mean he could no longer harass me about my age (having turned 30 last summer), but this milestone birthday would also necessitate a particularly special cake. Nine times out of ten, I’ll opt for a chocolate cake without hesitation, but ever since I spotted this gorgeous cake in Desserts (Best of Martha Stewart Living), I had been waiting for an opportunity to make it. With fresh berries, lemon curd, and soft piles of whipped cream, it seemed the very essence of spring.
A visually arresting alternative to traditional frosted layer cakes, this 1-2-3-4 lemon cake (so called for its 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs) alternates mildly lemon-scented cake layers with rich, thick homemade lemon curd, all topped off with fluffy clouds of whipped cream and a smattering of berries. The ingredient list is heart-stopping, to say the least, and making the lemon curd filling is laborious, but for a special occasion, this cake is a show-stopper. Say what you will about Martha Stewart, but the woman knows how to meld taste and aesthetics with fabulous results.
1-2-3-4 lemon cake (makes one 8-inch round layer cake)
Ingredients for the cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
3 cups all-purpose sifted flour, plus more for pans
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
grated zest of two lemons
12 ounces assorted fresh berries
confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Ingredients for the lemon curd:
12 large egg yolks
grated sezt of two lemons plus 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 5-6 lemons)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
Ingredients for whipped cream:
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp confectioners’ sugar
To make the cake:
1. Arrange two racks in center of oven and preheat to 350. Butter two 8-by-2 inch round cake pans; line bottoms with parchment paper. Dust bottoms and sides of pans with flour, tap out any excess.
2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
3. Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, cream butter on medium speed until softened, 1-2 minutes. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating on medium speed until lightened, 3-4 minutes, scraping down sides occasionally. Drizzle in the eggs, a little at a time, beating after each addition until the batter is no longer slick, about 5 minutes. Stop once or twice to scrape down the sides.
4. On low speed, alternatively add the flour mixture and buttermilk, a little of each at a time, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat in the vanilla and the lemon zest.
5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake 25 minutes, the rotate the pans in the oven for even baking. Continue baking 10-20 minutes longer, until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Transfer pans to a rack to cool, 15 minutes. Turn out cakes and set on racks, tops up, until completely cool.
6. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom of each cake and using a serrated knife, slice each layer in half horizontally. Set aside the prettiest domed layer for the top of the cake. Place the other domed layer, dome-side down, on a serving platter. Spread 1 cup lemon curd over the surface up to the edges. Place the next layer on top and spread another cup of curd over top. Repeat with the third cake layer and remaining cup of curd. Transfer partially assembled cake to refrigerator.
7. Just before serving, place reserved dome on top of cake. Spoon sweetened whipped cream over the top. Sprinkle with mixed berries and dust with confectioners’ sugar through a fine sieve.
To make the lemon curd:
1. Separate 12 eggs, putting the yolks (with as little white as possible) in a heavy saucepan. (The whites will not be needed- make a meringue or pavlova with them!) Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar. Whisk to combine. Set over medium heat; stir constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure to stir all the sides and edges of the saucepan. Cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the wooden spoon, 20-25 minutes.
2. Remove saucepan from heat. Add the butter, one piece at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon into a smooth mixture. Transfer curd to a medium bowl. Lay plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and chill until firm, at least one hour.
To make the whipped cream:
1. Just before serving the cake, whip the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed until soft peaks form, 2-4 minutes. Add the vanilla and confectioners’ sugar; continue whipping on medium speed until the soft peaks return, 2-3 minutes. Use immediately.