Tuesday, October 20, 2020


I've been baking up a storm since the pandemic started, with an emphasis on cake. I don't know which is best - the joy that comes from tackling a recipe, the joy from eating the finished product, or the joy from sharing baked goods with friends and loved ones. (Yes! I have friends who will gladly take part of a cake, thereby keeping me from eating the whole thing!)

This was one of the easier cakes I've baked, so I made a Swiss meringue buttercream for the first time. I've always been intimated by the steps involved in a meringue buttercream recipe (heating egg whites, using a candy thermometer, whipping heated egg whites into a meringue) but it was much simpler than I expected.

The unusual tea frosting is what attracted me to the recipe, and it worked beautifully with the lemon cake and curd. I think it's fair to say that it brought joy to all of us.


The asters shake from stem to flower                                                                                                    waiting for the monarchs to alight. 

Every butterfly knows that the end                                                                                                          is different from the beginning 

and that it is always a part                                                                                                                    of a longer story, in which we are always 

transformed. When it’s time to fly,                                                                                                            you know how, just the way you knew 

how to breathe, just the way the air                                                                                                        knew to find its way into your lungs, 

the way the geese know when to depart,                                                                                            the way their wings know how to 

speak to the wind, a partnership of feather                                                                                              and glide, lifting into the blue dream. 

 - “Joy” by Stuart Kestenbaum 

Sweet Tea and Lemon Cake
(inspired by Layered, by Tessa Huff)

For the lemon butter cake:
2 1/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 Tbsp finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks (reserve the egg whites for the icing)
1 cup buttermilk

For the sweet tea buttercream:
1/2 cup granulated sugar (first amount)
5 black tea bags, paper tags removed
1/2 cup large egg whites (about four)
1 cup granulated sugar (second amount)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

To assemble:
3/4 - 1 cup lemon curd

For the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 6-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. 

Place the sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl. Rub them together between your fingertips until fragrant. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar mixture and mix on medium-high until the butter is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on medium for 30 seconds after the last streaks of the dry ingredients are combined.

Evenly divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Let cakes cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before removing from pans.

For the icing

Place 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and add the tea bags. Simmer for 8 minutes. Carefully remove the tea bags and continue to simmer until the syrup has reduced to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool fully.

While the sweet tea syrup is cooling, place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to combine. Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and place over medium-high heat. Pleace the mixer bowl on the saucepan to create a double boiler. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Whisking occasionally, heat the egg mixture until it registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Carefully fit the mixer bowl back onto the stand mixer.

With the whisk attachement, beat egg whites for 8 to 10 minutes, until they hold medium-stiff peaks. When done, the outside of the mixer bowl should have returned to room temperature. Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle. With the mixer on low, add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, then the vanilla. Once incorporated, turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 2 minutes. Stop and scrape down the sides, then add 3 Tbsp of the sweet tea syrup. Beat another 2-3 minutes, until smooth.

To assemble

Place the first cake on a cake plate, and spread with half the lemon curd. Place the second cake evenly on top, and spread with the remainder of the lemon curd. Place the third cake on top, and use an offset spatula to spread the buttercream icing over the top and sides of the cake. If desired, use an icing comb to create a striped finish, and adorn with fresh flowers.