A belated birthday cake for my 19th year!
The actual date was last week in the hours prior to a major exam – it didn’t give me much of chance to celebrate. More hectic days of exams, packing up my life from where it had scattered over the little square box of my college room, saying goodbyes for the summer, and heading home to Auckland followed. The first priority (okay, maybe not quite the first..but up there!) was to solidify my status as one of those people that make their own birthday cake. Is it sad? I would argue that I love the process of creating it so much, thinking of possible flavour combinations, colours, decorations – that it is like a gift in itself, an excuse to break out as much butter and sugar as I can handle and construct something really out-there, epically over the top.
I have been following Sydney’s Andy Bowdy on instagram for the past year or so, and love his style of cake decorating – the flavours he dreams up, the dolloped meringue spilling dramatically over the side, and the mounds of colour and texture adorning the top. It was only a matter of time before I tried it for myself, and my birthday was the perfect opportunity.
The three layers of cake have a lemon base, moist and textured with desiccated coconut and folded through with berries. Between each layer is a tangy cream cheese buttercream and swirls of rich lemon curd, while torched Italian meringue as a topping adds another dimension. Fresh berries and spare drips of lemon curd finish it off.
(just be prepared for a whole load of photos…I had great difficulty deciding which I like best!)
It wasn’t without its trials, however – I had few cream cheese buttercream issues along the way. WAY too runny the first time, and I couldn’t get it to thicken, even in the fridge. I attempted in vain to stack the cake together, but the layers slid over each other, buttercream spurted out the sides, and the whole thing threatened to collapse. I did read that extra sugar can just make it even more runny because of the cream cheese forming water with it – can anyone shed some light on that for me? I ended up rushing to the supermarket (literally took me 10 minutes door to door) and making another batch – a different recipe this time, where I used equal parts butter and cream cheese. It ended up much thicker and more stable, so once I scraped the former batch off the cakes and started it again it all held together. If anyone has any cream cheese buttercream tips though, I would love to hear them – I couldn’t figure out whether you should beat it until fluffy after adding the icing sugar, or whether that would just make it runny and you should just stir the sugar in gently. So many conflicting accounts!
Apart from the buttercream struggles, the cake really it isn’t as hard as it might look – I started the cakes around 10am, finished the lemon curd as they baked, made the cream cheese icing before construction, stacked the cakes and chilled them to set the icing for an hour while making the meringue, then put it all together. If you didn’t have the day, you could easily make the cakes and lemon curd the day before (just store the cakes tightly wrapped in gladwrap in an airtight container and the curd in the fridge). And it doesn’t matter if it gets a bit messy – rustic and well-loved is what we are going for here.
The tiredness has finally caught up to me in the last few days – heavy with fatigue, my eyes seem to want to drift shut every time I sit down in the afternoon, and the screen is starting to blur – so I will sign off here. But if you need an over-the-top, impressive layer cake for any occasion (especially if someone isn’t a chocolate fan!), or are just seized with the desire to construct one, here is your answer.
- 300g butter, softened
- 2½ cups caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
- 7 eggs
- 2½ cups flour (330g)
- 2½ teaspoons baking powder
- 5 cups desiccated coconut
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 cups berries, tossed in a tablespoon of flour (frozen is fine. I used 1 cup raspberries and 1 cup blueberries).
- Finely grated zest of 4 lemons - just the outer yellow part, as anything below this will make it bitter.
- ¾ cup lemon juice
- 1 cup sugar
- 100g butter
- 3 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 250g Philadelphia cream cheese, room temprature
- 225g butter, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla essence (or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste)
- 4 cups icing sugar
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ¼ cup water (60ml)
- ¼ cup egg whites - about 2 large egg whites, or 60g
- Fresh berries
- Toasted coconut
- Lemon Curd and Buttercream (recipes below)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line the base and sides of 3 x 20cm round cake tins with baking paper.
- In a large bowl using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer (or an electric hand beater), beat together the butter and caster sugar until pale and creamy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating until fully combined. Stir in the vanilla.
- Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix to just combine.
- Fold in the desiccated coconut and buttermilk to just combine, then very gently stir in the berries.
- Divide the mixture between the three tins, and smooth the surface.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the cakes spring back when touched and a skewer inserted comes out just clean.
- Leave to cool for half an hour, then remove from tins and place on wire racks to cool completely.
- While the cakes are baking, make the lemon curd.
- Heat the lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar and butter in a medium pot over low heat until the butter is melted.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk until starting to get frothy
- Add the eggs to the lemon mixture, keeping the heat on low. Whisk constantly until the curd starts to thicken - about 5 minutes. You may see little bubbles appear on this surface as this happens. Be very careful here as it can happen quickly.
- Tip the lemon curd into another bowl and set aside to cool. Once cool, if you would like it ultra smooth, strain the curd through a sieve and discard any lumps and the zest
- Using an electric mixer (if a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment), beat the butter until creamy. Add the cream cheese & vanilla and beat until fully incorporated. Gradually increase the mixer speed and beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
- Gradually add the icing sugar, beating on low speed until combined.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Heat over low heat until the sugar has dissolved, and then heat on medium-high until the syrup comes to the boil.
- Meanwhile, beat the egg whites to foamy soft peaks in a medium bowl (mixer fitted with whisk attachment or hand beater).
- Once the syrup is boiling, cook until it reaches 116°C (240°F) on a candy/sugar thermometer. remove from the heat, and, while whisking the egg whites continuously, slowly drizzle the syrup into the bowl. Aim for a spot close to the whisk.
- Once all the syrup has been added, continue mixing until the bottom of the bowl feels cool to touch and the meringue is very thick, shiny and sticky.
- Use immediately or keep in the fridge (covered) until ready to use (up to a day)
- If the tops of the cakes have domed at all, cut the domes off with a serrated knife so they are completely flat.
- Place one cake on a large plate or cake stand, sliding strips of baking paper underneath the edges (to catch the icing drips - when you are finished you can remove these without making a mess of the plate or cake stand).
- Cover the cake with just under a third of the cream cheese buttercream in an even layer. Drizzle a few tablespoons of lemon curd on top of this. Top with a second cake.
- Repeat the buttercream and lemon curd coating. Top with the final cake.
- Spread the remaining cream cheese over the top of the cake and around the outside, scraping it over and then off the sides of the cake for a ‘naked’ look.
- Place in the fridge for an hour to firm up.
- Dollop the Italian meringue over the top of the cake in whatever pattern you wish, swirling it around a bit. Using a blow torch, brown the edges.
- Decorate the cake with berries, extra lemon curd and toasted coconut.