My Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream disaster!
It was a bank holiday weekend and I decided I needed a baking challenge. Something that would take a long time and was slightly out of my comfort level. I found this lovely recipe for a lemon layer cake on Sally's Baking Addiction and knew I had to give it a try. It was a three layer cake which was a first for me, involved lemons which meant major bonus points for me and would fill a day where leaving the house was not exactly promoted. Lockdown life continues! I love a good lemon cake. Overall, this might be the lightest and tastiest cake I have ever made but damn it was ugly! A visual disaster but 100% a work in progress. I will try this again soon as I refuse to be defeated by a cake!
I started the day early by popping into Co-op to grab all the essential ingredients. Of course in true lockdown fashion, that was a naive and hopeful plan. I could not find icing sugar anywhere, and only located this sweet luxury item after visiting three separate stores. I honestly will never take for granted our normal simple, pre-lockdown life again when things hopefully return to normal. Remember when you used to go to supermarkets and they just had all the things you wanted there. Honestly, feels like a dream at this point!
Anyways, with all my ingredients in toll I was ready to give this lemon layer cake challenge a go. The lemon cake recipe was from my favourite baking website Sally's Baking Addiction. I followed the recipe as closely as I could accounting for the fact that I don't own a electric hand whisk or stand mixer, just elbow grease for me.
For the cake
345 g plain flour (sifted)
2.5 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp baking soda
0.5 tsp salt
230 g unsalted butter, (room temperature)
350 g granulated sugar
3 large eggs (room temperature)
2 tsp vanilla extract
240 ml buttermilk (room temperature)
1 heaped tbsp lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
80ml fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting
230 g unsalted butter (room temperature)
224 g Cream cheese (room temperature)
600 g icing sugar
2 tbsp (30ml) fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch salt, to taste
To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter three 23 cm sandwich tins and line with baking paper.
Cream the butter and sugar together.
Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract until combined.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add the dry ingredients and mix well.
Slowly add the buttermilk, lemon juice and lemon zest and mix together
Divide the batter evenly between the three sandwich tins and bake for 21-26 minutes or until the cakes are golden and a skewer comes out clean.
Make sure the cakes have completely cooled before icing.
To make the icing:
To make the icing beat the butter until creamy.
Add the cream cheese and beat until completely smooth and combined.
Mix in the vanilla extract, lemon juice and icing sugar
If required, adjust the icing by adding lemon juice if it is too thick or icing sugar if it is too thick.
To assemble and decorate:
To create flat cakes, cut a thin layer off each sponge.
To assemble the cakes, place layer 1 on your plate or stand. Spread with 1 cup of icing, then cover with layer 2. Top layer 2 with 1 cup of icing, and finally cover with layer 3. Spread the left over icing over the top and the slides of the 3 cakes.
Place in the fridge for 35-45 mins before serving.
The cake should stay fresh for up to 5 days if kept well covered in the fridge.
My recipe attempt: In preparation I kept all the ingredients out of the fridge to bring them to room temperature while I popped out on my daily walk. This is really important for making sure that when you combine the butter, sugar and eggs you create an emulsion which traps air allowing your cakes to rise better when baked. This is also why sieving your flour is important because it aerates it, again creating a better rise. You got to love Science! Saying all of this I definitely forgot to take my buttermilk out in advance so used that cold. But you can't win all the battles.
I followed the recipe and combined my sugar, butter, vanilla extract and eggs. Added the dry ingredients to create a large batter. I then mixed in the buttermilk, lemon juice and zest. I used the buttermilk I had leftover from making the Buttermilk & Berry slices earlier in the week. Unfortunately, I only had half the volume required for the recipe so I topped up the rest with semi-skimmed milk.
I only had two 22cm sandwich tins so I split the batter between the two tins, and left the final 1/3 aside to bake later. 500 g of mixture was used for each sponge and my sponges took 21 mins to bake. The cakes were light and springy to touch which let me know they were ready. I left them to cool slightly, before re-using one tin to bake the final sponge. The recipe said to cut the tops off the cakes to create a flat top, but my cakes were pretty flat so I decided against it.
After all 3 sponges had cooled completely I started on the icing. At this point I realised I had only bought 180 g of cream cheese instead of the 224 g needed, so I scaled down the whole icing, which meant I only had 80% of what I needed. This is where things started going pear shaped. At first it all seemed to be going to plan as I assembled my 3 layers.
I started by topping layer 1 with 1 cup worth of icing.
I added layer 2, and proceeded to top it with 1 cup of icing. I was still not that worried at this point. It was looking promising.
I popped layer 3 on, and overall it was looking good. The only problem was that the top layer appeared a bit smaller than the other 2 layers. No idea why that happened but I figured the icing would hide that easily.
It is at this point that things started to go wrong, when I attempted to ice the sides of the cake. I realised that I had not paid enough attention to the icing texture that I was trying to achieve, and it was much thinner than it was supposed to be. It was definitely not the thick cream cheese icing I saw on the website. I think the combination of it being a crazy hot day in London, which meant my butter was way too soft and my lack of attention to adjust for the softness by adding more icing sugar caused many issues.
The icing did not coat the cakes well. The cake was looking bad, like really bad! So bad I forgot to take a picture of the final product, then tried to hide the disaster by garnishing with sliced lemons on top. The lemons did not help!
Eventually I realised the lemons were adding liquid and were sliding off the cake so they had to be removed too. Feeling a bit gutted about how bad the cake looked despite my 4 hours of work, I gave up and just served up some slices!
This cake although it looked like a right mess was the lightest fluffiest cake I think I have ever made. The subtle lemon flavour from the cake was beyond lush. As a lemon lover I would probably push it and add even more lemon into the mix. I am going to make this again because the state it was in was just embarrassing. But it did look a tad better after being in the fridge overnight. I will be trying this again because if you look at Sally's version and then mine it is quite clear this did not go to plan. Check out Sally's picture here and have a laugh with me about how bad this turned out!
Have you ever had a baking fail? Did you fix it or bin it?
Happy Baking! Hopefully your next bake is more successful than this one!