Lemon Thyme Cake

Hello! Tea and Fog is officially back! I have returned from blog vacation refreshed and somewhat blonder! That last part has no bearing on the food but sure is fun.  I tentatively dipped my toe back in the blogging waters with my Palm Springs post a couple weeks ago, but as of today I'm back with more recipes for your enjoyment, starting with a celebratory cake! 


 Lemons & Thyme Cake

I was going to call this a Three Lemon Thyme Cake, because I planned for it to include three types of lemons, but my Whole Foods remains reliable in its unreliableness.

Where were the meyer lemons, Whole Foods? Explain yourself. 

So, there are really only two kinds of lemon in this cake, and, am I the only one who doesn't really get that excited about something called a two-lemon cake?

Well, it's ok, because names are misleading, and I assure you this cake is no less wonderful even with only one lemon in the title. Because there are actually about 3 lemons in it! And thyme! And if you try really hard you can even taste the thyme!

Yeah, so I haven't perfected this particular cake yet, but it was too pretty and delicious not to share as is. The cake is lemony and perfectly baked, and the frosting isn't overly sweet, with just a hint of extra lemon, and the thyme (in theory) gives the whole thing a little herby, earthy something extra that just might make you ask, "What's that?" 

Also, those candied lemons. Don't they just look like little sunny jewels? Beyond gorgeous.

But really, to me, the element that really turns this cake into something special is the filling, a lemon curd made with - wait for it- PRESERVED LEMONS! 

I know.

Are you a little appalled? Horrified? Confused? Don't be! Excuse my blog hyperbole, but it's the most amazing lemon curd I've ever tried, seriously. The brininess of the preserved lemon juice cuts through the richness of the curd in just the right way, and sandwiching it between the layers in this cake really gives it a brightness that screams "Spring!"  I never even want to make another version of lemon curd.

Also, let's all take a moment to recognize that I made curd again. And it worked! I can now go on with my life, pretending January's blood orange disaster was all just a bad dream. Double boilers FTW.

 bowl of lemons
 stacking lemon cake
 candied lemon
 Lemon Thyme cake
 sliced lemon thyme cake

So, remember back in February when I mentioned I had another project planned for this year? Well, it's cake! Over the past year I've dreamed up so many different cakes I want to make, and I've decided it's time! And of course, given the nature of cooking and the internet, not one of them is a wholly original idea, but they are still burning holes in my "to make" list and I hope you enjoy them!  


Lemon Thyme Cake

Cake and frosting adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Party Cake, and Preserved Lemon Curd adapted from Melissa Clark. There are a lot of parts to this cake, but don't be put off by that! The cake, curd, and syrup can all be made ahead, and the buttercream and the candied lemons are really easier than they may sound. My original version only had thyme steeped in the buttermilk for the cake mix, but I really couldn't taste it, so you could chop up some thyme and add to the cake, or do as I've suggested below and add a thyme syrup soak. 

For the cake:

  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 1/4 cup cake flour
  • 1 tbs baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • zest of 1 large lemon
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees with the rack in middle level. Prep two, 6-inch cake pans (or 4 if you've got that many, or see note). Butter cake pans, line with a 6-inch circle of parchment, and butter the parchment, then flour the pans. Set aside.
  2. Bring the buttermilk to a simmer in a saucepan, then crush the thyme sprigs between your hands and add to the milk. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for about 20 minutes. Strain out the thyme leaves then set aside to continue cooling.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Whisk the milk and egg whites together in another bowl and set aside. In the bowl of standing mixer or another mixing bowl, add the sugar and zest and rub together for a few minutes, until the sugar is fragrant and feels a bit damp. 
  4. Add the butter to the sugar and beat on medium speed for 3 minutes, then beat in the vanilla. Scrape down the bowl, then add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then half the milk mixture, and repeat until all remaining flour is added. Beat well after each addition. Beat for 1-2 more minutes until cake batter is light and well combined.
  5. Divide half the batter between the 2 pans and bake for 25 minutes (or all the batter between 4 pans). Test with a toothpick for doneness. If it comes out clean, your done! Transfer pans to a cooling rack and cool cakes in the pans for 5 minutes, then invert cake layers onto the rack to cool completely, flipped back to right side up. Repeat prep process with pans and bake off remaining batter (let the pans cool first!). Once cool, cakes can be wrapped tightly in plastic and stored overnight in the refrigerator or the freezer for 2 months.

Notes:

  • You can divide all of the cake batter between two pans to bake and then cut the layers in half to stack. I didn't want to do this so I baked mine off separately. If you do want to only bake 2 layers, bake for about 30-35 minutes.

For the buttercream:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/8 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  1. Add the sugar and egg whites to a heat proof mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk continuously, about 3 minutes, until sugar is dissolved and the mixture is shiny and resembles marshmallow cream.
  2. Remove from the heat and beat with a whisk attachment on medium speed until cool, about 5 minutes.
  3. Switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter, one 1/2 stick at a time, beating each addition until smooth, then beat all for 6 minutes on medium high until very smooth (the mixture may separate at this point but just keep beating, it will come together).
  4. Lower speed to medium and gradually beat in the lemon juice and vanilla. Set aside until ready to use, covered with plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface. Don't chill or you won't be able to frost with it!

Notes:

  • This makes enough frosting for a 4-layer, 6-inch, semi-naked cake. If you want to fully frost the cake, double the recipe or increase by one half.

For the Preserved Lemon Curd:

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3/4 tsp powdered gelatin
  • 1 large egg + 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 + 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/8 cup preserved lemon juice (strained from the jar)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3/8 tsp kosher salt
  1. In a small bowl, combine 1/8 cup lemon juice and the gelatin, and set aside to bloom. In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg and the yolks.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, butter, remaining lemon juice, preserved lemon juice, zest, and salt. Place over a pot of simmering water until very warm to the touch. Remove from the double boiler and whisk into the eggs slowly in a thin stream, whisking constantly. The goal here is to temper the eggs so they don't curdle.
  3. Place the bowl over the simmer water again and cook, stirring constantly, until 175 degrees and thickened a bit, about 5-6 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the gelatin mixture until fully incorporated, then pour all through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl over an ice bath, and stir until cool. Then chill for at least one hour.

For the Thyme Syrup:

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  1. In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil, add the thyme and then simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Set aside to cool. Once cool, remove the thyme.

For the Candied Lemon Slices:

  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add the lemon slices. Boil for 1 minute, until softened, then drain and add lemons to an ice bath. Drain.
  2. In a skillet, bring sugar and water to a boil and simmer until sugar is dissolved, then lower heat and add the lemon slices (with tongs!) in a single layer. Simmer on very low heat until syrup mixture has evaporated and lemons are coated and starting to color just a bit.
  3. Remove from skillet with tongs and place on a parchment lined baking sheet to cool. 

To assemble the cake:

  1. Level off each of the cake layers. Starting with the first layer, brush on the thyme syrup, then pipe an edge of frosting around the edge, then spoon in the curd to fill. Stack on the next layer and repeat, until you have stacked on your top layer. You may need to pop the layers in the refrigerator to set up a bit between stacking.
  2. Frost the sides and top of cake with the remaining buttercream however you wish. Then decorate with candied lemon slices and a few time sprigs, if desired.