Wednesday, April 20, 2016

April Birthday Cake // Lemon-Rosemary Olive Oil Cake with Elderflower Honey Buttercream

After November, April is the biggest month for birthdays in my family. My nephew Lucian and niece Kayla, who frequently appear on my Instagram feed, my sister and her boyfriend are all Spring babies. When I lived in Boston, I didn't get to see much of any of them; short visits during winter and summer breaks meant that I got to see them quickly once or twice. A combination of school and suburban ennui made me eager to leave home, but once I was away I realized how much I missed being surrounded by family. Being back at home has given me the opportunity to spend time with my family and really appreciate their company. When Robbie and I move, I'll know that I'll have these last few years of memories to ease my homesickness.

My sister Katie was the one who always baked birthday cakes for family members. In high school I made ice cream, cookies and pies, but never cakes. I think the first birthday cake I ever made was for Robbie. It seemed like the right time to bake something to say thank you for being my best friend for 25 years.

The inspiration for this cake came from my parents' home, which is currently surrounded on all sides by daffodils and forsythia. Another thing I never appreciated growing up here was all of the flowers that bloomed in April. One side of our lawn is completely taken over with yellow blooms, although the tulips will be fighting for space soon. Forsythia is everywhere the daffodils aren't. During the colder months, the woody shrubs aren't much to look at, but it's worth it for the few weeks where they cover the yards around us in yellow.

Besides being an opportunity to slow down and think about the April birthdays in my life, this cake was also an exercise in humility. I started this cake thinking it would be easy. I've baked plenty of things that I've been really proud to share, so how hard could a three layer cake be? My first attempt at olive oil cake was a disaster. It was terribly dense and ended up coming out of the oven raw. I fixed the recipe, and tried again. The cake came out great and the buttercream was amazing. I began to assemble, and I thought everything couldn't go smoother. Then I stepped back and realized, as you may have too, that the top layer was a little lopsided. I felt pretty defeated, but I remembered this Martha Stewart quote:  "So the pie isn't perfect? Cut it into wedges. Stay in control, and never panic." This is why I always say "what would 1990's Martha do?" Just kidding, maybe.

Lemon Rosemary Olive Oil Cake with Elderflower Honey Buttercream:

For the cake:
Zest and juice of 6 lemons
2 1/2 tbsp  finely chopped rosemary
2 c sugar
1 c buttermilk
6 large eggs
1 1/3 c olive oil
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 1/2 c AP flour

For the buttercream:
1 c of alfalfa honey
2/3 c elderflower tea*
5 large egg whites, cold
1 pinch cream of tartar
1 lb of unsalted butter, cold and cubed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil and flour three 5" cake pans.

Rub the lemon zest and rosemary into the sugar with your hands. Whisk the eggs and buttermilk into the sugar mixture. Whisk in the lemon juice and buttermilk. Add the olive oil and eggs. Sift the remaining dry ingredients and add them to the wet ingredients. Whisk until smooth without overmixing.

Divide the batter between the three pans and bake for 45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Cool the cakes for 15 minutes before removing them from their pans. Transfer to a wire rack and cool further. With a serrated knife, cut the rounded tops of each cake. Transfer the cakes to your refrigerator.

While the cakes cool, begin the buttercream. Combine the honey and elderflower tea in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook the mixture until it reaches 238 degrees on a candy thermometer, increasing the heat to medium high if necessary.

In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat on medium speed just until the egg whites become stiff.

Take the elderflower honey, still hot, and slowly add it to the egg whites while beating on high speed. Once the honey is incorporated, reduce the speed to medium and begin to add the butter one cube at a time.

Remove the cakes from the refrigerator and begin to assemble. With the cut side down, cover the tops and sides with a thin layer of buttercream to form a crumb coat. Put the cakes in your freezer for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes. Spread a scant cup of buttercream on top of your bottom layer and spread it evenly until the buttercream is hanging off of the sides, add the second layer on top and repeat. Repeat again with the third layer. Use the excess buttercream to cover the sides. Dipping your offset spatula in warm water will help to spread the buttercream smooth.

To create splashes of yellow, reserve a 1/2 cup of buttercream and add yellow food coloring gel a drop at a time until the buttercream is bright yellow. When the cake is frosted, take small scoops of yellow buttercream and spread them sporadically around the sides.

*To make elderflower tea, brew 1 heaping tablespoon of dried elderflowers in 1 cup of boiling water for five minutes. You can find elderflower at your local herbalist or apothecary or here!