My birthday was yesterday and so — in keeping with tradition — I made myself a cake!
(Well, two cakes. I love my 6″ cake pans, in part because they leave me with leftovers, like this 3-incher.)
Every year when I tell people I’m baking myself a cake for my birthday at least one person gets kind of sad on my behalf and offers to bake a cake for me instead. Which is, of course, extremely thoughtful. But then I explain that I do in fact like baking for myself on my birthday. It might have started as a perfectionist thing, but now it’s more an excuse to have people over to share the finished product. (And act as hand models for your nerdy food blog. See: final photo of this post.)
I suppose it is a little strange that I like to bake myself a cake on my birthday. If I had a favorite cake spot in Milwaukee, I might consider getting myself a cake from there instead. I do have a favorite bakery here, but I don’t think they really do cakes. (If I was in New York, though, watch out, I might never bake myself a cake again. I’m thinking of this place. Oh man, THIS PLACE. What I wouldn’t give for a cake from there. Close second: thiiiis. Drool. Can you tell I’m in NYC withdrawal since finishing grad school?)
But! I digress. I found this cake on Pinterest last week, and it just looked so simple and pretty from the beautiful photographs on Spoon Fork Bacon that I couldn’t resist! Plus, longtime readers around here know I’m an herb-and-sweets fiend, and it was high time I broke out of my lavender obsession to try something new.
And indeed, this cake is pretty darn good. Since it was my birthday, I adapted this into a two-layer cake (rather than a one-layer as the original recipe suggests), making a slightly stiffer frosting to hold up the heavy layers.
I will admit that I could not detect much of a thyme flavor — I’m not sure if the thyme in my apartment building’s garden was too young, perhaps, or if I should have gone a little heavier handed on my tablespoonsful (let’s be real, I got tired of mincing), but no matter: the lemon-sweet flavor of this cake is STRONG. In fact, if you balk at herbed cakes, you can just leave out the thyme. This recipe really does makes the most lovely, super lemony cake.
So, I’ll leave you with some more pictures of my birthday cake (now half-demolished with remains making their way to work with me tomorrow, along with the baby cake, which is going to my fantastic catsitter as an extra thank you for putting up with my needy cats for pretty much the entire month of June while I was off grad-school-ing).
As I said in my previous post, not sure when I’ll next have the urge to bake, but stay tuned. In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming of my vacation to NYC next month, where I plan to continue my baked-good-fueled-birthday-celebrations…
2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk
3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (this took about 2 lemons for me)
1 tsp almond extract
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh minced thyme
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
zest of 1 lemon
lemon slices and fresh thyme sprigs for decoration, if desired
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two 6″ cake pans with parchment paper (or butter and flour the pans) as well as your 4″ cake pan, if desired.
In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a stand mixer, combine sugar, butter, and eggs and beat until combined. Pour flour mixture into the egg mixture and beat until thick. Stir milk, lemon juice, and almond extract until smooth. Finally, fold in the lemon zest and thyme until just evenly distributed.
If making a 6″ cake, take about 3/4 cup of batter and place it into your small 3″ cake pan. Set aside. Evenly divide the rest of the batter into the 6″ cake pans. Bake 6″ cakes for 25-30 minutes (check at 20 minutes) or until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The 3″ cake will take about 20 minutes, but I’d check at 10-15 minutes and again, do the toothpick test.
Allow cakes to cool completely before decorating. NOTE: This recipe makes just enough frosting for a thin layer of frosting on your cake, seen above. If you prefer frosting-heavy cake, double the frosting recipe. For frosting, place butter in a stand mixer and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add sifted powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until incorporated. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth and fluffy. (You can add more cream if you desire a smoother, less stiff frosting, but the stiff consistency works best for holding up the layers).
To decorate, slice off the domed tops of the cakes for a flat surface. Do a thin crumb coat and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Remove from fridge and do the final layer. Decorate with lemon slices and fresh thyme sprigs!