April 18, 2014

Lemon Almond Spring Cake

Spring weather in Seattle can be a bit capricious. Several sunny days will raise my hopes that summer is finally on its way - but then two weeks of grey drizzle will drown those hopes as I realize that it's still at least two months before summer is really here. My response to one such dreary day was to make this sping-y cake - even though the flowery sunny cake and the dismal rainy spring weather could not be more different.

Pretty colors!

The design on the cake was inspired by a cup that my aunt gave me for my high school graduation. You may remember it from my tortelette cookies post. I'd been thinking for a while that the simple brush strokes and minimal design would be fairly simple to replicate in buttercream. The trickiest part was getting the colors right. In the end, the colors are a little lighter and closer to pastels than the actual cup, but I think they came out very nicely on the cake anyway.

I decided to make an Italian Meringue Buttercream for this cake since I like its stability. I hadn't actually made a batch of the stuff since I made five batches in a week for a wedding cake. Both the KitchenAid and I were having flashbacks to that week. The meringue for the buttercream needs to cool down to room temperature after being heated by bubbly liquid sugar. The entire time, the KitchenAid is working at full force - beating the meringue until it's cool. For some reason, this takes a very, very long for me - I found that putting an ice pack around the bowl speeds it up just a little.

Poor, overworked, KitchenAid.

I wanted the cake flavors to be bright and spring-y to match the outside of the cake. I chose to make almond cake layers, and to fill and frost it with lemon buttercream. Since I really enjoyed the baumkuchen made from almond paste, I decided to find another cake recipe that used almond paste. My goal was that the almond flavor and lemon flavor were both present - I did not want one to overpower the other.

The cake was a little on the dry side for me, but the flavor balance was perfect - there was almond and lemon in every bite. If I were to do this again, I might have used a bit of moistening syrup on the cake, probably with a lightly lemony flavor.

Lemon Almond Cake
Cake adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes almond-raspberry cake recipe. Makes 3 thick 6" round cakes. Italian Meringue Buttercream recipe adapted from Wedding Cakes You Can Make.

Ingredients for Almond Paste
2 ounces blanched almonds
2 ounces powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 egg white

Ingredients for Cake Layers
2¼ cups cake flour
2¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
5 ounces (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1⅓ cups sugar
½ tablespoon almond extract
3½ ounces almond paste
5 egg whites
¾ cup whole milk

Ingredients for Buttercream
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, and 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
¼ cup water
4 egg whites, at room tempereature
½ teaspoon cream of tarter
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and at room temperature
2 teaspoons lemon extract
zest from ½ lemon

  1. To make the almond paste, place the almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor. Grind the mixture until the almonds are very fine (they should be almost powdery).
  2. Add the almond extract and grind the mixture to combine. Slowly,(teaspoon by teaspoon) add the egg white, grinding to combine. Add just enough for the mixture to come together (for me, this was less than ½ of the egg white). If you add too much egg white and the mixture is sticky, just add some more powdered sugar.
  3. Gather the almond paste into a ball. Use immediately or wrap in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
  4. To make the cake layers, preheat your oven to 350° F.
  5. Line three 6" round cake pans with parchment paper.  Grease and flour.
  6. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
  7. In a stand mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and almond extract on low until combined. Add the almond paste in small chunks and mix at medium speed. Continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy (a couple minutes).
  8. Lower the speed to low. Add the egg whites in one at a time, beating until they are just incorporated.
  9. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk in five additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Keep the speed low and don't overmix.
  10. Divide the batter among the three pans. You can use a kitchen scale to ensure that each layer will be the same thickness.
  11. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  12. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.
  13. To make the buttercream, add the ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar and water to a small saucepan. Place a candy thermometer on the edge of the pan as well.
  14. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Have the cream of tarter and 3 tablespoons sugar ready.
  15. Heat the contents of the saucepan on medium heat. Don't stir the mixture as this could cause sugar crystals to form.
  16. When the candy thermometer reads 230° F, start beating the egg whites on medium-low. When the egg whites start to become frothy, add the cream of tarter and turn up the speed to medium high.
  17. When the soft peaks form, add the 3 tablespoons of sugar gradually. Continue whipping until the egg whites are stiff (you can hold the bowl above your head without them coming out). Don't overmix and get gross crumbly egg whites, however.
  18. Your goal is to have the egg whites stiff and the sugar at 248° F at the same time. If the eggs come first, turn the mixing speed down as far as it will go until the sugar is ready. If the sugar comes first, add a bit of hot water to it to lower the temperature until the eggs are ready.
  19. Once the sugar has reached 248° F, turn the mixer to medium high and pour the syrup in a slow stream into the egg whites. Don't let any syrup get on the whisk or the sides of the bowl - this takes a bit of a steady wrist.
  20. Beat the meringue on high speed until it is room temperature. Most recipes say that this will take 10-15 minutes, but for some reason, this takes me much longer. I've found an ice pack on the outside of the bowl speeds it up a bit (but it's still 30-40 minutes - I guess my house is warm?). It's important to let the mixture get down to room temperature. While making buttercream for a wedding cake, I saw buttercream where I was impatient side-by-side with buttercream where I was not. There is a difference in fluffiness, volume, and even color.
  21. Once the meringue is cool, turn the mixer speed to medium and add the butter one piece at a time. The buttercream will come together (usually after going through an "ugly phase" where it appears to curdle).
  22. Beat in the lemon extract and zest - you can add more or less of these depending on your taste.
  23. To assemble, level and torte (cut in half) each cake layer so that you have 6 even layers.  I like using a cake leveler to do this.
  24. Place your first cake layer on your decorating surface.  Spread a thin layer of buttercream evenly over the cake layer.  Place the next layer on top, and repeat.  Repeat with the remaining layers.
  25. Spread a thin coat of buttercream over the top and sides of the cake.  Don't worry if you get crumbs in the frosting - that's what this layer is for!  Place the cake in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes to allow the frosting to set.
  26. Remove your cake from the refrigerator and frost with a final, thicker layer of buttercream.
  27. At this point, your cake is ready to enjoy. However, if you'd like to beautify it, return it to the refrigerator for another 20 minutes.
  28. While the cake is in the refrigerator, boil some water and separate out 5 portions of the remaining buttercream (you don't need much at all in each portion). Dye the portions the colors you want to use on the cake (I did green, yellow, purple, pink, and magenta). Getting the colors right is a bit of an art (I used some black, green, yellow, and blue in the green color alone). I recommend a gel food coloring set.
  29. Remove the cake from the refrigerator. To smooth the buttercream, run some boiling water over your spatula or knife and wipe dry. Use the heated spatula to smooth the buttercream. When the spatula cools, run the water over it again. Repeat this until you have the smoothness you want.
  30. Use a small spatula or knife like you would a paintbrush to paint the grass and flower dots onto the cake.
  31. Finally, if you have enough buttercream left over, pipe a border around the bottom of your cake.


  1. Absolutely beautiful!! I've never tried an Italian meringue before, I'm intrigued.

  2. This is beautiful. I knew right away it was meant to look like your mug. It sounds really yummy too.

  3. Wish I could make something like that. It is Beautiful! and Edible! Yum, yum! The recipe has an intimidating number of steps. Thank you for sharing your work of art. Its inspiring. You have so many talents.

  4. Nice cake. I am going to try this on 25th wedding anniversary of my sister and give them surprise. Thanks for sharing this recipe.


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