Recipe: Lemon Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

A great summer cake that's photo-ready too.
I've always wanted to make a lemon cake. ALWAYS. Good timing it was sister-in-law's birthday so I was sooooo excited to make this for her. We always celebrate each others' birthdays and have cake ready to blow candles together. I love that it doesn't matter whether there's a pandemic or not, we always seem to have stuck to this. No matter the distance. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are both in Manila so we always have cake ready to wish them well on their birthdays. And they too would always have one ready to celebrate ours. Especially fitting because August 15th is also officially "National Lemon Meringue Pie Day". I know, I know.... why didn't I make a pie instead? Well.... at least I got the "lemon" part right. HAHA. The actual "National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day" is celebrated on March 29th (... another possible day I can make this cake since that's my second eldest sister's actual birthday). 

I bought a whole bag of lemons with so many recipes in my head. I guess you can say that lemons have always been a staple in our grocery list. I even just drink lemon water to help my circulation (it also has a ton of other benefits - helps in weight loss, digestion, helps in making your skin bright, and of course, a good natural source of Vitamin C). I'm sure you know by now that I loooove lemon recipes. I've made Lemon Sugar Cookies (recipe here) and Lemon Ricotta Blueberry Pancakes (recipe here). I still plan to make lemon scones and a lemon pound cake (since Starbucks always robs me of my money when I see lemon poppy seed slices on display in their pastry selection). So I was ecstatic to make this recipe... and also extra happy to have made it for my sister-in-law (Love you, Camille 😘).

With regards to the origin on the Lemon Cake, well... no one really knows for sure. The earliest recording was from England around the 1700's of a lemon pound cake. I guess it's fitting it came from there because they do love their cakes come tea time. But honestly, I actually thought it came from the Mediterranean where lemons naturally grow, like Spain or Italy or even California. In any case, I thank the genius who ever tasted the first lemon and thought, "Hey! This would be good on ANYTHING!"

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Lemon Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
I used a 10x16 inch baking sheet. I actually didn't have a smaller sheet pan. So at least it worked out well. I ended up making a 4 layer cake, that's 5x8 inches. If you have round pans, you'll need 3 of the 6-inch or 2 of the 8-inch pans. Or, if you only have 1 round pan, you can still slice it horizontally in the middle to make a layered cake.

You'll need the following equipment to make this pocket of sunshine: some mixing bowls, a hand mixer, some spatulas, an offset spatula, a baking sheet (9x13 or 10x16 will do), parchment paper, a whisk, and a cooling wire rack.

Lemon Cake Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter, unsalted and softened
1 cup white sugar
2 tbsp lemon zest
2 eggs, large
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
1 block of cream cheese (225g)
2 sticks of butter, unsalted and softened
2 to 3 1/2 cups confectioner's/icing sugar (Since this is a cream cheese frosting, it will hold well already especially when the butter hardens, it adds more structure to the frosting. So the sweetness level is up to you. I personally did 3 cups and I wish I had stuck to 2 1/2 cups instead, just to hit my spot-on sugar satisfaction-point level.)
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice (*optional, you can leave this out if you just want plain cream cheese frosting and just flavour with the 2 tsp vanilla extract)

Lemon Cake and Frosting Procedure
1. Preheat the oven to 350℉ degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and lemon juice. Set both bowls aside.
3. Using your hand mixer, another bowl, beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest until fluffy. Add in the eggs 1 at a time and vanilla extract.
  
4. Beat about 1/3 of the flour mixture into the creamed butter mixture, then 1/3 of the buttermilk and lemon mixture. Repeat this until you've fully incorporated all the dry and wet ingredients, alternating as you go. Don't forget to scrape the sides of the bowl so you get everything mixed in.
  
 
5. Transfer the batter into a sheet pan and level with an offset spatula. Bake on the middle rack of your oven for 16 minutes (maximum of 18 minutes or your cake will dry out).
 
6. Let this cool completely for about 20 minutes. Top with another sheet pan and flip it upside down. Slowly remove the parchment paper and peel it off. You can now section this or make round cake portions. I opted to section into 4 quadrants (just so I don't waste anything as well and throw it out).
 
 

----------- while waiting for the cake to cool, you can make the Cream Cheese Frosting!------------

7. In a bowl, using your hand mixer, cream together softened butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add your sugar in 2 or 3 parts (....more because you don't want to let a cloud of sugar envelop you like a coke or meth drug lab).
 
    
8. Time to ice up the cake! Place a small amount of icing on the centre of your board or plate to hold the first cake layer in place. Using an offset spatula, ice the first layer and repeat for all 4 layers. Crumb coat (a technical baking term to "seal the crumbs in" by smearing a thin layer of frosting on the cake with icing) the sides of the cake as well. Let this set in the refrigerator, chill for 15-20 minutes. Apply and finish off icing the cake, applying a thicker layer of the frosting. Chill for another 10 minutes.
 
   
 
 
9. Decorate your cake with some flowers, berries, or lemon slices. I made candied lemon slices* (lemon slices coated in sugar, baked in 350℉ and left to caramelize for 20 minutes, then transferred to a wire rack for another 15 minutes).
 
 
10. YEHEEEYYY!!! TIME TO ENJOY!!! Slice the corner and have the most amount of frosting!

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*Here are some process photos for the candied lemon slices* 
 
 

**You can definitely make this recipe to make lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting instead. However, for cupcakes, you will really need to use 3 1/2 cups of icing sugar for the frosting for it to hold well when you pipe it. This will probably make around 12-14 cupcakes.

***If you're feeling extra extra, make this into a loaf cake and add 2/3 cup of buttermilk, sour cream, or greek yogurt. Also add some poppy seeds as well (probably 2 tbsp). Use a loaf pan and bake for 40-50 mins at 350℉. You can definitely use the cream cheese frosting to spread a thin layer of frosting on top. If cream cheese isn't your thing, you can make a glaze out of powdered sugar, milk, and some lemon juice and zest. Makes for a great gift and a very welcome companion to afternoon tea. 

****Because this is a citrus cake, you can definitely try oranges instead. Please just be very careful with the orange zest because the white rind is very bitter. If you've got other citrus options like key lime or even dalandan or calamansi (native to tropical countries... like the Philippines), give it a go. You'll never know until you try it. If it fails, then.... stick to lemons.




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