Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fresh Bluberry and Lemon Cake

I was so pleased with the fresh strawberry cake I made a few weeks ago that I decided right then that I would make it again for my dad's birthday later in the month but with the modification of using his favorite - bluberries - instead of strawberries. I made a couple of other changes as well to make it more of a birthday celebration cake (ie: layers, and frosting!) but both versions are fantastic.

The rest of the meal was slightly mediterranean-inspired so incorporated a couple of Italian touches with my ingredients as well (limoncello, ricotta) but you can substitute as you wish. My dad grilled salmon and prawns with lemon and garlic, I made a Tuscan white bean salad with olives, artichokes, and sun-dried tomatoes, and my mom made asparagus and squash. We also started with Aperol sprizter aperitifs.

These kinds of party cakes always require planning as there are multiple steps, but each one is easy if you have a schedule organized in advance to complete the preparation. For example, the cream cheese filling can be made well in advance and kept in the fridge (or even the freezer). I just used a thin layer of the filling in the middle and to seal the sides, then frosted with whipped cream to keep it light, summery, and not too sweet. You can frost the top too, but I organized the berries on the top layer in an orderly pattern and thought they were really pretty as their own decoration with just a bit of piped cream and a swirl of lemon zest to hint at the flavor inside.

Lemon Bluberry Cake
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour3  teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 cups yogurt (I used Dannon Vanilla Light & Fit, but I'm sure plain, lowfat or regular fat yogurt would be even better)
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 large eggs
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 cup vegetable oil

about 1 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, salt, and zest.
In a separate bowl, blend yogurt, sugar, eggs, and oil. Fold in dry ingredients just until incorporated.
Divide batter evenly between two well-greased 9" (or 8") round baking pans. If they do not have removable bottoms, you might want to line them with parchment paper. Arrange berries atop batter, in a decorative pattern or scatter evenly.
Bake 25-30 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Meanwhile, prepare glaze (recipe below).

Handful of blueberries

lemon juice or limoncello liqueur, enough to almost cover fruit

Combine berries and liquid in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer until fruit is starting to burst. Remove from heat. Brushlightly but evenly over baked cake when it is done and return cake to oven for 2-3 minutes just to set glaze. Cool cake 15 minutes on a rack, then remove from pan and cook completely.

Cream Cheese Filling
I used about 1 cup of my favorite cream cheese frosting from Joy of Cooking and lightened it with 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese. The cake itself is relatively sweet, and the cream cheese frosting is also sweet and a bit sticky, so the ricotta just gives it an airier, tangier flavor more representative of European desserts. If I'd had marscapone, I would have used that in the frosting instead. Let me know if you decide to try it that way!

8 ounces cold cream cheese
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or limoncello liqueur
3 cups sifted powdered sugar

Beat cheese and butter with electric mixer until blended. Stir in lemon. Add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition until incorporated.

Whipped Cream Frosting
Beat 250 ml of cold whipped cream in a chilled stainless steel bowl with chilled beaters, just until soft peaks form. Stir in 2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste - with a sweet enough cake, I like the sweetner just to take the sour out of the cream but not really leave it tasting sweet on it's own) and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Do not overbeat or you won't be able to spread it smoothly on the cake.

To assemble the cake, place one layer on the platter, berry side up. Frost with a layer of the cream cheese filling. Top with a layer of whipped cream and place the second cake layer, decorative berry side up, evenly atop. Frost the sides of the cakes with a very thin layer of cream cheese frosting, just to "crumb coat" (a light layer to lock the cake crumbs on to the sides.) Leave the top of the cake without frosting if you wish to copy the look in my photos above. Using generous swipes with a knife or offset spatula, frost the sides of the cake with the whipped cream. Fill a pastry bag with whipped cream and pipe a decorative border along the base of the cake, and around the top edge. Decorate with more fresh berries or lemon zest. Serve within 2 hours, or refrigerate, but try to bring to room temperature before serving to give the cake maximum flavor. If the cake layers are too chilled, the mouth feel of the cake is not as good and the overall flavor will be diminished.

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