strawberry lemonade cake

by jennifer lynne latham

a slice of summer.

A cake is something that needs a good reason to come into being.  It needs a robust celebration, unlike cookies or candies which will happen with a very small excuse (I feel like cookies! will usually do.)  I think this is partially because it takes a village to eat a cake, and partially because a cake taken at all seriously is more like a work of architecture (all that building up and spackling) than it is like other baked goods.

I had been itching to bake a cake, but with no milestone events or holidays in the middle of summer I hadn’t quite mustered up the mustard to put one together.  So when Omnivore Books announced a cake contest last week, I decided that was plenty good enough reason to bake one.

I actually couldn’t sleep the first night after I heard about the contest.  I lay imagining what I was going to make; I wanted to make something summery (sorry chocolate, I love you, but not now) and classic.  I dug out all my favorite baking books and spent a few hours in my favorite blue paisley armchair and came out with a Maida Heatter recipe for a lemon cake and someone’s grandmother’s esoteric buttercream icing recipe from Chowhound. I decided I would make a few layers of the lemon cake and soak them with the same lemon verbena syrup I have been making lemonade with lately and then make a few layers of a strawberry cake using similar proportions as the lemon cake but with buttermilk and strawberries.  The icing recipe called for starting with a roux made from flour and milk and then whipping the cooled roux into creamed sugar and butter.  It called for much less sugar and butter than any other recipe I could find and I had high hopes.  I have long been looking for an icing recipe that would hold up to whimsical decorations but not make the eater feel ill after a few bites.

The cakes  came out beautifully flat, even and moist thanks to wet strips of towel tied around the springform pans and to a soaking of the lemon verbena simple syrup.  Even the strawberry, which I was kind of winging, turned out pretty pink and very strawberry flavored.  The icing turned out better than I could have even hoped; perfectly textured, very durable, and lightly flavored not at all sickly sweet.  I used an adorable tutorial from I am Baker for making simple, large roses with the buttercream.

I decorated the towering cake on an awesome Target cake plate and made an elaborate system of support involving a big plastic tub, my cast iron dutch oven for support, and very many kitchen towels.  I cranked up the AC and directed all blowers at the cake and then….

Sat on the Bay Bridge.

For an hour

and a half.

And missed the contest.

But I had gotten the excuse I needed to undertake a cake and had found a holy grail of a buttercream recipe to boot.  I cut into the cake and tried to feed as much of it as I could to anyone who would take who was left at the bookstore but I still ended up with a half of a five layer cake-no mean feat to eat.  I took it to my neighbors. I pushed it on my husband.  I took it to the climbing gym and had the nice guys behind the counter announce over the PA; “free cake!”

It’s finally all gone, but I can’t wait to do it again.  I just need a good enough excuse…