I’m not sure what this lemon, almond & raspberry layer cake is celebrating. Maybe it is a half way mark cake – marking the start of the second half of my university degree (2.5 years to go!), or just a much-too-fancy afternoon tea cake. Though I have been making it on and off all year as a 21st birthday cake, there was no such event or excuse this weekend. Just a desire for cake, the time to spend on icing and layers, and the willingness to sit and create silky drips of ganache, sliding gently down the sides. It’s not as sleek and precise as many these days, with the drips imperfect, the buttercream with edges and nicks, and the whole entity threatening to tilt on a slight angle – but it is one of the best tasting cakes I have discovered. It’s the sort of cake that improves over a day or two and having it dry out is never a concern – ground almonds and berries add moisture, lemon zest and juice infuses it, and the tangy cream cheese buttercream is the sort you could eat straight from the bowl.
The sort of cake that always makes your day a little brighter.
I wish life in the hospital was as simple as that – giving patients cake for a miraculous cure, or at least a smile. Hospital food is dull. The smell wafts through the wards as we finish our rounds, lunches of watery, pale orange pumpkin soup and overcooked broccoli, accompanied by some unidentifiable curry – or, if you are diabetic, it is dry wheat sandwiches, vaguely soggy with tomato and cheese. Anything eaten in the hospital never tastes as good anyway, even if it formerly was. Maybe it is the smell – antiseptics and sterility and something I can never quite put my finger on but is instantly recognizable as the scent of illness.
Then patients have to deal with us – a whole group of doctors and students, from the registrar to the interns, the fifth year trailing along with the notes, scribbling away madly, and the third years just following like sheep. We surround their bed, standing there all healthy and harried, distracted by all the other patients on the list and ticking them off like an itemised box on the morning round. If you’re in a room of four, privacy is non-existent – a thin curtain separates you from your neighbour. I can’t imagine trying to recover from illness surrounded by the voices of other patients, nurses and visitors on top of the constant beeping and hum of equipment.
It’s strange as a student too. Like being an observer to some of the toughest times of people’s lives, not really contributing anything but there for the purpose of learning. Privy to the most personal of conversations and procedures – the older man with chronic pain and suicidal thoughts, the young woman in with infection but struggling with an ongoing drug habit, the woman with teenage children and a new terminal cancer diagnosis.
It’s hard to remember, rushing around on wardrounds between thirty different patients, that these are people just like me – with complex situations, with family and friends and thoughts and opinions, with LIVES outside this hospital room. It is all too easy to switch off and brush over them as a condition to diagnose, rather than a person in pain. But I can see that there has to be a balance too, because doctors also can’t take on that suffering themselves – to an certain extent, they have to be able to leave the cases and patients behind when they go home.
Enough of the rambling – we’ll get back to the cake. It’s a lemon, almond & raspberry layer cake with cream cheese buttercream and white chocolate ganache drips, flowers optional. I’ve made it a few times in much bigger forms for birthdays – see instructions below on how to achieve that. Not too rich, so a perfect daytime cake, and full of juicy raspberries and the scent of lemon. The sort of cake that makes your day a little better.
- If rhubarb is in season, it also works beautifully – just cut the rhubarb stems into 1-2cm pieces and fold into the batter after the lemon juice and zest
- I made it in 2 x 15cm tins, which resulted in a deep cake and a darker crust than usual – though initially concerned it was overcooked, I had comments that the crust, caremelised and dark, was the best bit. However, to avoid this, make it in 3 x 15cm tins for 3 more even layers. This also avoids having to split the layers in half.
- You could also make the cake in 2 x 20cm cake tins for a thinner, double layer cake. Watch the baking time carefully as it will probably only take about 20 minutes.
- For a large celebration cake to serve 60-80 people (see picture here):
- Make 3 x 26cm layers, each using a 2/3 mix (200g butter, 4 eggs per cake)
- Make 3 x 20 cm layers, each using a 1/2 mix (150g butter, 3 eggs per cake)
- Make a double mix of cream cheese buttercream.
- Stack together the same way, but you may want to use a couple of skewers to make the height a little more stable!
- 300g butter, softened
- 300g caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 6 eggs
- 300g ground almonds
- 75g flour (or buckwheat flour to make gluten free), sifted
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- zest and juice of 2 lemons
- 1⅓ cups fresh or frozen raspberries
- 225g butter, softened
- 375g icing sugar, sifted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 150g cream cheese
- zest of 1 lemon (optional)
- ⅓ cup cream
- 120g white chocolate, chopped finely
- a few drops pink gel food colouring (it needs to be gel as water-based colouring messes with the thickness and consistency of the ganache).
- Preheat oven to 170°C. Line 3 x 15cm round cake tins with baking paper.
- In the bowl of a stand beater or with an electric mixer, cream the butter and caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.
- Fold in the ground almonds, sifted flour and baking powder.
- Fold in the lemon zest and juice.
- Divide the batter equally between the three tins, and dot the top of each with raspberries.
- Bake for 25-35minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out just clean.
- Remove and leave to cool in the tins for 15 minutes, then remove to a cake rack to cool completely.
- Beat the butter with an electric or stand mixer until very pale, about 5 minutes.
- Add the icing sugar and beat again until combined and very pale, another 5 minutes.
- Add the vanilla extract.
- With the mixture on a medium speed, gradually add the cream cheese, teaspoon by teaspoon, until just combined.
- Add the lemon zest and mix to just combine (optional)
- Put the finely chopped white chcolate in a bowl.
- Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just reaches boiling point.
- Pour the cream over the chocolate and leave for 3-4 minutes. Stir with a fork to combine to make a silky ganache (if the chocolate hasn’t quite melted, carefully microwave for 5-10 seconds and stir again).
- Add the pink gel food colouring, a little bit at a time, until the ganache reaches the colour you want.
- Place one cake layer on the plate, cakeboard or cake stand you plan to serve it on.
- Top with a spoonful of cream cheese buttercream and use an offset spatula to spread evenly over the cake at about ½ cm - 1 cm thick. (I try to get on eye level to make sure the icing is level, as this is key to a straight cake!). See photos above as a guide to icing thickness.
- Gently place a second cake on top. Repeat with the icing, then another cake layer, then icing again. If it is warm in your kitchen, at this point you may want to place the cake in the fridge for 20 minutes to make it easier to ice the sides.
- Gently spread icing around the sides of the cake. I use an offset spatula as I find this makes it easier to get a smooth layer. It may take a little bit of patience to get it even and smooth.
- To drip the pink chocolate ganache down the cake, use a small teaspoon and do a trial drip to check the consistency of the ganache. Gently spoon ganache onto the edge of the cake and nudge over the side - the ganache should run down the side of the cake slowly, and stop before the bottom. If it is too thick, quickly microwave for 10 seconds and stir again. Continue adding drips around the side of the cake. Carefully fill in the top of the cake with the remaining pink ganache, smoothing the surface.
- If it is summer/warm, refrigerate for another 30 minutes to set the cake together.
- Decorate with edible flowers and serve.