As it happens, I spend an exorbitant amount of my time thinking about cake. While it’s not surprising, it’s a little embarrassing to say, when talking to people who are not sweet/cake/baking-obsessed, that I spend at least a portion of everyday thinking about cake. These kinds of things cease to be embarrassing, however, when you have a legitimate excuse. It was my birthday last Wednesday, making it totally reasonable for me to think about cake for, oh, the better part of June and July. Totally reasonable, I assure you.

 When I started thinking about my birthday cake in June, I had great aspirations. I’m going to make a super duper tall layer cake! It’s going to somehow contain everything I love, hazelnuts, chocolate, strawberries, buttercream, jam, like some sort of Mary Poppins magical bag. Except a cake. I researched cakes up and down, finding really awesome recipes, like this one and this one.

Time comes for me to bake a cake and, guess what, it’s over a hundred degrees outside. Anyone living in the continental US, and especially in the Northeast, knows how it was. In Boston we’re just not prepared for that kind of heat, mentally, emotionally, or physically. The thought of eating chocolate cake made me wince, as I was sitting in my kitchen beading sweat (a beautiful image, I know). What’s a birthday girl to do? She needs a cake! I remembered my roommate’s herb garden and wanted to somehow incorporate mint leaves, maybe chocolate? I was dead-set on chocolate until finding lemon-mint cake with lemon syrup.

As soon as I stumbled upon this recipe, I knew it was the one. Making it was a funny thing, to me, because the mint leaves made the batter, before adding whipped egg whites, look like quiche filling. I giggled, asking myself “cake or quiche” over and over, until successfully killing the joke. I wanted to whip the whites by hand, even though it was sauna-hot in my kitchen, so ended up doing that and taking forever, but spend the time listening to my favorite music and singing for my roommates. My kitchen shenanigans continue until the very last step, making the syrup, where I pretended to be Chef. Making this cake was so much fun that I forgot the heat. It ended up being a perfect birthday-cake experience, making the cake in a leisurely and ridiculous manner, then eating the cake with my friends- who are the bestest and funniest and most wonderful people you can imagine. Happy Birthday to me!

Lemon-Mint Cake with Lemon Syrup

(Recipe adapted from Giada de Laurentiis at the Food Network)

Yields one 8 inch or 9 inch round cake, enough for 8 to 10 people

Notes: I zested and juiced 4 lemons, ending up with just a tad more juice and zest than the recipe desires. I added the teaspoon or so of extra zest to cake batter and the extra tablespoon lemon juice to syrup, and everything seems to have worked out!

For the Cake

Ingredients:

3 eggs, separated

1 cup granulated sugar, divided in half

¼ cup vegetable or canola oil

1/8 teaspoon salt

Scant ¼ cup chopped mint leaves (8 mint sprigs)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 cup all-purpose flour

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare an 8 inch or 9 inch round pan by buttering and flouring bottom and sides.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whip egg whites to soft peaks. Add one half cup of the divided sugar and beat until stiff peaks.

3. In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together oil, remaining one half cup of sugar, and salt. Add egg yolks one at a time, then chopped mint, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Fold in flour until just combined.

4. Add one half egg white mixture to flour mixture and stir just to loosen batter. Gently fold in the remaining half of egg white mixture until combined.

5. Evenly pour batter into prepared cake pan. If using an 8 inch round pan, bake cake 40 to 45 minutes, and if using a 9 inch round pan, bake 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

6. Let cake cool to room temperature before slicing.

Cake will keep, covered in plastic wrap at room temperature, up to 3 days.

For the Lemon Syrup

Ingredients:

1 cup granulated sugar

¼ cup water

¼ cup lemon juice

Method:

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring all ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves.

2. Remove syrup from heat and cool at least 20 minutes before serving.

3. If desired, strain zest from syrup before serving.

Syrup will store, refrigerated in an airtight container, up to a week.

Does it ever happen to you that the busier your week is the more you crave a project? I’ve been spending a lot of mental energy on things that are necessary but aren’t necessarily my favorite things to think about, and I figured it’s time to re-calibrate by a baking project from which I would usually back down.

Piping frosting. I think the stigma of piped frosting comes from growing up in a household where such steps as those were deemed a pointless use of time in the face of enjoying delicious cake. If you look through the archives of this blog, even, you’ll see that I rarely, RARELY pipe frosting and almost always mention how much I dislike doing it, and if you know me, you’ve probably heard the rant a billion times before. The reality is that I don’t mind the piping part, it’s getting the frosting in the darn bag that gets me every time. I always end up with frosting all over me and all over everything else, everything besides the cupcakes. A few months back I got some Julia Child cooking DVDs from the local bookstore and have watched her put frosting in a piping bag countless times. But as you all know and have experienced, she makes things look really easy, especially when you’re a novice.

This time around wasn’t so bad; my mess was contained and I managed to have extra frosting after successfully frosting my cupcakes. The piping itself needs a little practice, to be sure, and I might be convinced to do it more often now that I’m confident enough to face a bag with frosting without being terrified of the impending mess. I would suggest clicking through to the original recipe, her cupcakes are filled with lemon curd! Even though I wanted a more elaborate baking project, the lemon curd was overshadowed by my desire to pipe some frosting. Because the two are mutually exclusive? I’m just talking all over the place, now. Go, enjoy some cupcakes, and I’ll work on formulating some thoughts!

 Lemon Cupcakes

(Recipe adapted from My Baking Addiction)

Yields 24 cupcakes (but halves beautifully if need be)

Ingredients:

2 ¼ cups cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cups buttermilk, room temperature (or 1 ¼ cups milk with about 1 tablespoon vinegar)

4 egg whites, room temperature

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

Zest from two lemons, as finely grated as possible

½ cup, or 8 tablespoons, or 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon lemon extract

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line the cups of a cupcake tin with paper liners or grease with baking spray. Center a rack in the oven.

2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl or large liquid measuring cup, whisk together egg whites and milk.

4. If using a stand mixer, combine sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of the stand mixer. Combine zest and sugar with your fingers until moist and fragrant.

5. Add butter to lemon/sugar mixture and beat until light, about 3 minutes if using an electric/stand mixer. Beat in lemon and vanilla extracts.

6. Add flour mixture in thirds, alternating with two additions of one half milk mixture, making sure to start and end with the addition of flour. Beat until just incorporated between each addition, and then beat for an additional 2 minutes after all ingredients have been added, until batter is homogenous.

7. Divide mixture evenly among cupcake cups, filling each cup about two thirds of the way full.

8. Bake cupcakes in preheated oven for 18 to 22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean and cupcakes spring back when touched.

9. Move cupcake pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 to 10 minutes before removing cupcakes from cups and cooling completely on a wire rack.

 

Lemon Buttercream

(Recipe adapted from My Baking Addiction)

Yields a lot of frosting – if you don’t plan on piping, you might want to halve it

Ingredients:

2 cups, or 4 sticks, unsalted butter, softened

2 pounds powdered sugar, sifted to remove lumps

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Zest of one lemon

1-3 tablespoons milk (to add until you reach desired consistency)

**½ cup blueberries, pureed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice

**I added the equivalent measure of strawberry syrup from these baked strawberries, made last week. Can’t wait to try this frosting with fresh, pureed fruit, though!

Method:

1. In a large mixing bowl cream butter until fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes on medium speed (this is easiest if you have access to an electric mixer).

2. Slowly add powdered sugar and beat until blended.

3. Add in extract, salt, zest, and fruit puree. Beat frosting, on high speed, until fluffy.

4. Add milk, if necessary, to help reach desired consistency.

 

Assembly: Frost cupcakes with desired amount of frosting!

Storage: Cupcakes are best enjoyed as soon as possible after frosting. Mine lasted pretty well sitting at room temperature, in an airtight container, for one day. Otherwise, store refrigerated in an airtight container up to 3 days, bringing to room temperature before eating.