Blueberry lemon cake with lemon cream cheese frosting

It’s amazing what a little lemon zest can do for one’s spirits.  There’s a reason why another definition of “zest” is “quality that increases enjoyment“; citrus does just that. 

The coconut cake has receded into the distant past, along with the snow.  Instead, my mind has shifted to another of my favorite cakes, this blueberry lemon cake with lemon cream cheese frosting.  For me, this cake is synonymous with spring. 

The grass hasn’t quite greened up yet out the window, but lemon flavor reminds us that the sun is here, getting stronger by the day, and spring is kicking winter to the curb.

I love making cakes with three layers – they look more dramatic, plus there’s increased opportunity to enjoy the frosting.

The problem for me making these cakes is that there is so much cake.  A recipe like this makes 10-12 servings, and for this cake in particular with its cream cheese frosting, very rich servings. 

Unless you’re baking a cake for an event, I find it hard to use up a full-size cake like this, and often the last section gets thrown away.  I mean, there’s only so much cake you can eat, right? Even if it tastes wonderful, you get sick of it after a while. 

(Alternately, you can give the remaining cake away.  If you live within a six-block radius of me, chances are that the Baking Fairy will visit you at some point.)

***

But what if there was a way for you to have your cake and be able to eat all of it too?

A while back, I discovered that you can take most regular 9-inch layer cake recipes and halve the ingredients to make a 6-inch cake.  A 6-inch cake yields about 6-8 servings, which can be just the right amount for a family of four, with a little left over to relive the cake glory the next day.

The cake doesn’t look quite as elegant in the smaller size, but who’s complaining?  You have a fabulous cake in front of you to eat.

Six-inch cake pans are less common than nine-inch pans; you can find them at kitchen supply stores (I bought mine at Cooks of Crocus Hill in St. Paul) or purchase them online.  If you bake much I think they’re useful to have on hand, for cakes for kids’ birthdays or small dinner parties.

Using cake flour results in a delicate, tender crumb.  You can find cake flour in a box under the brand name “Softasilk” in supermarkets, or it is sold in the bulk area at natural foods stores.  

This cake does not call for lemon juice, only lemon zest.  It’s amazing to me that such a small amount of zest can infuse an entire cake with lemon flavor.  Make sure to wash the lemons prior to zesting them, to remove any wax or other harmful stuff. My favorite zesting tool is my Microplane fine grater pictured below; it makes zesting a breeze. 

The original instructions indicate that you can make this cake up to a day ahead of time and refrigerate, then let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature before serving.  We have very little spare space in our fridge to do this, though, so sometimes I bake the cake layers the day before I plan to serve it, and make the frosting the same day it’s served.

With all of the butter and cream cheese in the frosting, it’s probably best to refrigerate any remaining cake if you have it on hand for more than a day.

***

Blueberry Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

(Adapted from Bon Appetit, makes one 6-inch, 3-layer cake)

[NOTE: If you'd like to make the full-size version of this cake with 9-inch cake pans, either refer to the original recipe or double the ingredients listed below.]

CAKE
Ingredients:
1 cup plus 3 T. cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel (zest)
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries (about two half-pint packages)

Instructions:
Preheat the oven ton 350 degrees.  Butter three 6-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper, then butter the parchment and dust the pans with flour.

Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.

Combine the milk, vanilla and lemon zest and set aside. Rinse the blueberries and pat dry.  Grab 1 1/2 tsp. of the flour mixture and toss the blueberries with it until the berries are all coated.

Beat the butter on medium to high speed with a mixer until fluffy.  Gradually add the sugar and beat well.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. 

Turn the mixer speed to low, and alternately add the flour mixture and milk mixture in three equal portions each, until the ingredients are incorporated.  Do not overmix or use a high speed as that can cause the cake batter to toughen.

Gently fold the blueberries into the batter, then divide among the three cake pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick in center comes out clean. 

Remove from oven, and allow the layers to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully remove them from the pan to cool completely on a wire rack. Peel the parchment paper from the bottoms of the layers.

Make frosting (recipe below).

FROSTING
Ingredients:
1 8-oz. package cream cheese, room temperature
6 T. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel (zest)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:
Beat the cream cheese and butter together until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating well.  Add the lemon zest and vanilla extract and mix to incorporate. 

If the frosting seems too runny or floppy to spread, refrigerate it for about 30 minutes to firm it up.

To frost the cake, place one layer on a platter and spread about 1/3 cup of frosting on the top.  Add another layer, and spread another 1/3 of frosting on the top.  Then, add the third layer, and frost the top and the sides of the cake.  Garnish with thin, twisted lemon slices and fresh blueberries if desired.

Ahhh, spring…it’s finally here.

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