Lemon Cake with Honey Balsamic Roasted Strawberries

This is my very first cake. I'm sure those of you who are cake masters can tell this is my very first cake based on the uneven layers and shoddy frosting job, but I am proud of it nonetheless. You'd think with my very first cake, I'd go for something a bit more basic. Nope.

In my head, I envisioned this cake being really easy to make. I mean, come on, make the buttercream, bake the cake, roast the strawberries, and assemble! How hard could that be?

Once again, the cake masters are probably having a good chuckle at my expense. It was not that easy.

I measured my cake and make incisions where the exact middle would be - yet somehow the layers were not even. And this is just a two layer cake. I can't imagine making a 6 or even 8 layer cake and trying to get all the layers even. 

Frosting the cake started out easy enough. The middle and tops weren't that bad to frost. But the sides. Those awful sides. No matter what I did, it seemed uneven. I would even out one spot, just to have another side become uneven. Oh my goodness. Cakes are not as easy as I thought. 

While it may not look like the prettiest cake out, it sure it a tasty one. You might see balsamic strawberries and shy away from this recipe, but don't! The balsamic is not at all mouth-twistingly bitter. When the strawberries are roasted with a little bit of honey and balsamic vinegar, it makes them intensely flavourful and sweet, with just a tiny little hint of the balsamic vinegar at the end, but in a nice way. Trust me on this.

Since the strawberries are the main show going on here, I wanted more subtle flavours for the cake and frosting. The cake is not over-lemony, just a little bit to add a little contrast to the strawberries and the vanilla frosting just ties everything in together. 

I used a wonderful local honey that I bought at my farmers market. I first bought their honey two years ago, right at the end of summer when their wildflower honey was coming in. I was hooked. Every year, I buy the wildflower honey because it is just so darn tasty. This year, along with my wildflower honey, I bought a cranberry and blackberry blossom honey. The honey itself doesn't taste like cranberries or blackberries, but it is very flavourful and sweet. You can use any old honey that you want with the strawberries, or even just use sugar. It's up to you!

As you can see, I don't have a cake stand or a turntable and instead used a cardboard box to frost me cake on. I also don't have a cake stand and instead used the cake tin itself. I'll spare you the photos of that though, it wasn't pretty. I might invest in a pretty little cake stand one of these days because this certainly will not be my last cake!

Lemon Cake with Balsamic Roasted Strawberries

French Buttercream
Recipe from Bouchon Bakery

76 g granulated sugar
76 g granulated sugar
126 g egg yolks
150 g whole milk
500 g unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean

Lemon Cake
Recipe adapted from Dahlia Bakery Cookbook

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into several pieces
2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt or 3/4 teaspoon regular salt
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 large yolks at room temperature

Honey Balsamic Roasted Strawberries
Recipe adapted from Flourishing Foodie

1 pound (3 3/4 cup) strawberries, halved
3 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon honey

First, make the buttercream. If you wish, the buttercream can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 5 days. Take the buttercream out of the fridge thirty minutes before you need to use it and place it in the bowl of a stand mixer. Allow it to soften and then mix on low speed until it is the proper consistency.

Whisk 38 grams sugar and the yolks together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine the milk and remaining 38 grams of sugar in a medium saucepan, set over medium heat, and stir to dissolve the sugar. When the milk is just below a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and, whisking constantly, pour it into the egg mixture. Return the mixture to the pan and place over medium heat. Whisking constantly, bring to a gentle simmer and simmer for 1 minute, lowering the heat if necessary to prevent the mixture from curdling. It should be very thick.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer. fit the mixer with a whisk attachment, turn the mixture to medium, and whisk for about 8 minutes, until the mixture is completely cool.

Add the butter, a few pieces at a time, to the egg yolk mixture. If at any point the mixture looks broken, increase the speed to re-emulsify it, then reduce the speed and continue adding the butter. Check the consistency: if the buttercream is too loose to hod its shape, it should be refrigerated for a few hours to harden, then beaten again to return it to the proper consistency.

Scrape the seeds from half a vanilla bean into the buttercream and fold in. The buttercream can be made a couple days ahead and refrigerated. 30 minutes before you intend to use the buttercream, take it out of the fridge. After 30 minutes, beat it with a stand mixer to return it to the proper consistency.

For the cake, it is important that the butter is softened and the buttermilk and eggs are at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch cake pan and cut a 9-inch round of parchment paper for the bottom of the pan. Butter the paper, then flour the pan, shake out the excess, and chill it.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Sift twice more, then add the salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Set aside.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle and cream on medium-high speed until pale, light, and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle as needed.

Add one of the whole eggs while beating on medium speed. Turn the mixer to medium-high and beat for 30 seconds. Return the mixer to medium speed and add the second whole egg. Then turn the mixer to medium-high and beat for another 30 seconds.

Scrape down the bowl and the paddle. Beat the batter on medium-high speed for 15 seconds. The batter should look very smooth. Add the yolks on medium speed, then turn the mixer to medium-high speed and beat for 20 seconds. The batter should be shiny and glossy. Scrape down the bowl and paddle. It's important to scrape the bowl and paddle thoroughly so you will be able to work the dry ingredients in as quickly as possible without a lot of scraping down of the bowl.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and, folding by hand using a rubber spatula, add the dry ingredients in 4 additions aternately with the vanilla-lemon buttermilk in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Work quickly and gently to fold everything together.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula. Place the pan in the oven and bake until done, about 1 hour and 8 to 10 minutes (it only took me 1 hour), rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. The top of the cake should be golden brown and domed and a skewer inserted into the cake should come out free of batter but with a few crumbs clinging. Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then unmold onto a 9-inch round cake cardboard (or, if you're me, a cardboard box). Allow the cake to cool completely before splitting, frosting, and filling.

For the strawberries, lower the temperature of the oven to 300 degrees. Combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar, and honey in a bowl. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the strawberries on the sheet, making sure they all lie flat.

Bake for 30 minutes, turning the strawberries with a spatula halfway through the baking time. Remove from the oven, scoop them into a bowl, and let them cool completely.

For assembly, cut the cake in half horizontally using a large serrated knife. To cut the cake, score all the way around with a large serrated knife, then start going deeper and deeper until the cake is cut horizontally into 2 layers. Each layer should be 1 inch tall. Remove the top layer and set it aside using a cake cardboard. 

Set the bottom layer onto a turntable, if you have one, or on a work surface. Next, put a quarter of the frosting on top of the first layer of the split cake. Use either an offset or a straight icing spatula to spread the filling, working from the center out. 

Spread the strawberries in an even layer, spooning any leftover liquid over the strawberries. Try to leave a 1/2 inch border between the strawberries and the edge of the cake.

Then take the top layer and put it on top of the strawberries and press gently. Put half of the remaining frosting on top of the cake and spread it with an offset spatula to cover the top, working from the center out.

Run the frosting around the sides using the remaining frosting. Continue until the frosting completely covers the sides of the cake, rotating the cake turntable as you work. 

Leave the cake at room temperature until you are ready to slice and serve. If your kitchen is quite warm, refrigerate the cake and take it out 15 to 20 minutes before you are ready to serve.

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