Apparently by age 12, kids move to the more sophisticated side of childhood. For years, I have made the birthday cakes for my cousins’ kids. And somewhere along the way, we went from working volcanoes and penguin and french fry cakes, to a simple white layer cake sporting the birthday boy’s (“B”) favorite team logo. In this case, it’s the Oregon Ducks, the football team of my cousin’s husband’s alma mater, the University of Oregon.
B wanted a vanilla cake with citrus filling. He was even willing to go with mango. I wasn’t ready to take on mango, especially because I believe mango season at Costco has already passed us for the year. So I settled on lemon, a tried and true winner, and made my favorite lemon curd recipe. From there, it was Swiss Meringue Buttercream frosting, with 3/4 cup of lemon curd mixed in (instead of the berries noted in the link), and a lovely vanilla cake that I tried for the first time.
For the cake, I looked to Sweetapolita, a beautiful blogger with a beautiful blog that makes and beautifully displays what always appear to be – you guessed it – beautiful (and tasty) desserts. I made her Fluffy Vanilla Cake.
I loved it because it required much less work than my typical white cake recipe, with a lovely tight crumb texture. While mine fell a bit (user error, most definitely), the texture, taste and moisture factors were divine. Also, the dips in my cake were nothing that a little citrus-spiked buttercream couldn’t fix.
My favorite part of this cake – surprise, surprise – were the decorations. While strolling through World Market while planning for the cake (and otherwise living my life), I stumbled upon lemon flavored Jordan almonds with a fantastic, slightly orange tinted candy shell. This made me think of the University of Oregon’s colors (bright yellow and green). Then I landed on Lemon Heads and lime green sour apple twists (I went to Walmart for those).
I decided to make a simple mosaic of the Ducks’ “O” from crushed Lemon Heads and green twists cut into bead-like pieces, arranged around a huge “O” template in the Times Roman font. I placed the green “beads” first, then removed and discarded the paper “O” template. Then I added the crushed lemon heads in a tile-like manner.
While it took a little longer than expected (as these things always do), B and I were happy with the results. Almost enough for me to yearn for a team obsession of my own or to stop mourning those cute penguin cakes. Almost.
Lemon Curd Recipe
8 large egg yolks
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
Combine yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a saucepan; whisk to combine. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (be sure to scrape the sides of the pan), until the mixture is this thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, 8 to 10 minutes, and registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
Remove saucepan from heat. Add salt and butter, one piece at a time, stilling until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve into a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled and set, at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.
(slightly adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook).