First, a confession: I am terrified of making cakes. That is not an exaggeration. It feels like there are too many variables; like any little thing could cause your cake to fail. The very idea of a failed cake is enough to make me want to lock myself up in my room for a whole day. But I refuse to live in fear! And so, last week, for my thirtieth birthday, I decided to make myself a cake.
I knew I wanted it to be a citrus-y cake. I also knew that I wanted it to be green. So, here we have a zesty lime cake with lime buttercream frosting. The cake recipe I used was adapted from Christopher Kimball’s excellent and very helpful Dessert Bible, with just a few adjustments because I wanted to make a three layer cake. It’s about as foolproof as a cake recipe gets. I’m happy to report that even a cake n00b like me was able to get pretty good results.
I stuck to making a pretty classic American buttercream frosting and honestly, I found it too sweet. I think the cake will go better with a German buttercream or a sour cream frosting. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I make this cake.
For the cake:
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cup milk
8 large egg whites
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened but still firm
1 tsp salt
5 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp lime zest
1-2 tbsp lime juice
For the lime curd (to be put in between layers):
1 stick butter
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup lime juice
For the buttercream frosting:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened but not melted
3-4 cups confectioners/powdered sugar
1/4 tsp table salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp lime zest
3-4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
1-2 tsp green food coloring (optional)
For the cake: Preheat oven to 350. Set rack in the middle. Grease three 9-inch cake pans. Cover bottom of each pan with parchment or wax paper.
Stir milk, egg whites and vanilla extract in one bowl. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in another.
Beat butter in a large bowl. Gradually add sugar while beating. Beat for 2-3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed.
Add 1/3 of milk mixture and 1/3 of flour mixture to butter and sugar. Beat until just incorporated. Add remaining milk and flour mixtures in two separate batches. Beat between additions to fully incorporate. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir by hand to finish.
Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake for 15 minutes then rotate pans 180 degrees. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until top of cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center.
Move pans to cooling rack. Rest for 5 minutes. Run small metal spatula or knife around sides of pan. Invert cakes onto a lightly greased rack. Cool for at least 1 1/2 hours.
For the curd: Mix lime juice and egg yolks together in microwave safe bowl. Stir in the sugar and then add the butter. Cook the mixture on medium high for one minute. Remove and give the mixture a stir. Return the bowl to the microwave and cook on medium for five minutes until curd thickens. Whisk after every minute to prevent mixture from curdling. Whisk until the mixture cools down. The curd will thicken upon cooling.
For the frosting: Beat butter in a large bowl until soft. Add half of powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Add remaining sugar. Add milk or heavy cream, one tablespoon at a time to loosen mixture. Beat mixture until smooth and creamy. Add zest and food coloring. Stir until well-combined.
Lesson learned: I still think it requires much more effort than a pie, but I don’t have to be afraid. All it takes is (a lot of) patience and care. Other than that, I just need to learn how to trust the scientific process. I think I can get better at this (which is good because I have got a lot of family birthdays lined up in the next couple of weeks).
P.S. I am now officially out of my twenties. Thank goodness. Truth be told, I rounded off as soon as this year started. I’ve seen lots of other people freak out about turning thirty. Personally, I find it comforting. Don’t get me wrong, I think the twenties were pretty good to me. I’d like to think that I used that time to learn a lot and leave behind the things that I don’t need anymore. Of course, there’s still a hell of a lot of growing up to do. Wish me luck.