Easter is one time of year when I am seized with the desire to bake a pretty cake. I always feel that the Easter meal should be one of the most special of the year, and what's more special than a lovingly decorated spring cake? Here's my favorite — from the year I went looking for the best lemon cake recipe and the best buttercream, and when I even dared to try a Martha Stewart icing technique! Read on to see a few cake decorating tips, and my thoughts on this lemon cake.
First, all about the recipe. I was looking for a really good lemon cake recipe, with plenty of lemon zing and not too difficult to whip up. I found review after review of Ina Garten's lemon pound cake recipe, which is usually baked in a loaf pan and drenched with lemon syrup and drizzled with glaze.
So I went for it, and baked the recipe in two 9" cake tins, and they baked up beautifully. They were easy to put together, and the pound cake texture was a great thing to work with when leveling and frosting the cakes. The crumb is finer and denser, while still soft.
And the lemon syrup gave this such a kick of lemon! The cakes already had the zest of about seven lemons, but the syrup put it over the top. Tender, sweet, and so tangy.
I used a basic Swiss buttercream for the icing, and this was very light and creamy -- not too sweet. I substituted about a cup of shortening for some of the butter; this can help the buttercream emulsify. It also just felt lighter and creamier than an all buttercream icing.
A few more tips from the icing process:
• 1 Level the dome off the cake - This cake doesn't have much of a dome, but slicing it off will help you get an even, flat top. Freeze the top and save up your cake scraps to make a batch of cake pops in the future.
• 2 Use a rotating cake base - Even an inexpensive rotating cake base like this one will make icing a cake so much easier.
• 3 Do a crumb coat on the cake first - I almost always do a thin layer of icing (called a crumb coat) on the cake and let it sit in the fridge for an hour. Then I do a second coat over that smoothed-out surface to polish it off.
• 4 Set up all your icing ahead of time - When doing some more involved decorations like flowers or piped dots, set up each color in a disposable bag with the appropriate tip. It's such a pain (and often messy!) to try to change tips or set up bags while in the middle of a project.
• 5 Practice decorations on wax paper first! - I was so smitten by those chrysanthemum cupcakes from Martha Stewart that I wanted to try my own. I experimented with the flowers first on wax paper, though, to get a feel for them before trying them on the cake.
I still don't think my flowers looked quite like Martha's (of course!) but I did love the bright colors and the fun three-dimensional flowers. I don't know if I would call them chrysanthemums (sea anemones, perhaps)? But my Easter guests loved it, and the cake itself with the tangy lemon and light, creamy icing was a wonderful way to end an Easter meal.
Originally published April 13, 2009.
(Images: Faith Durand)